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Letter to the Editor: Proposed Jennie Dean Park Plan Is a Significant Improvement

The following Letter to the Editor was submitted by Edith Wilson, president of the Shirlington Civic Association and a member of the Four Mile Run Valley Working Group, regarding plans for Jennie Dean Park.

On February 6, the Parks & Recreation Department provided the Four Mile Run Valley (4MRV) Working Group with the staff policy framework for Jennie Dean Park over the next 20 years. Here’s a different view of the situation faced by decision-makers.

This park concept is vastly improved over initial proposals, reflecting many compromises where there is no perfect solution, Markedly responsive to a wide range of sharply competing interests and community input, it does right by the environment by respecting the flood plain and resource conservation area (RPA) and planting many more trees. It increases total recreation facilities by creating a new rectangular field where soccer and other casual sports can be played. A brand new playground would be located in the center of the park amid greenery and away from noisy trucks and buses from County facilities and the cement plant. It leaves the majority of new parkland along S. Four Mile Run Drive for landscaping and open space.

There is a lot of history to our valley, but part of that history is the new elements too. Take us for example. Over the last 40 years, residential multi-unit housing was built along the south side of the stream from the Village westward to S. Walter Reed Drive. Twenty years ago Arlington County worked hard to create the Village of Shirlington, a landmark mixed-use urban village with a population that celebrates its diversity. The Shirlington neighborhood now has over 2,200 households with tens of thousands of regular visitors to its business areas. How can this work, though, since there is no park, playground, not even a school or church with open space, in this area? What was the County thinking?

The answer is that literally across the street, though not within the boundaries of the Shirlington neighborhood, are the parks our community depends on: the long landscaped strip along S. Arlington Mill Drive, the dog park, and Jennie Dean Park. Arlington residents from all over come here with their families and pets. Shirlington residents are out there every single day, often several times.

What makes the valley between Shirlington and Nauck special is our beautiful section of Four Mile Run stream. This is presided over by Marvin, the elegant Great Blue heron who lives on a small rocky island in the lower stream, a stretch few visit because it is blocked by a large softball field fence. The Great Blue heron is the largest of all the North America herons, If you are lucky, you can see Marvin gliding down the center of the stream at dusk, dipping like a trick pilot under the pedestrian bridge. There are raccoons, turtles, ducks, geese, snakes, fish and lots of other birds too. Providing public access to the stream and wildlife such as this was the guiding principle of the enormously successful 20-year-old stream restoration project from Shirlington Road eastward to the Potomac River. Now it’s time to extend that principle westward.

This area has a high risk of flooding. – why do you think WETA needs to leave its old production center in the middle of the park? Environmental rules and common sense mandate addressing these conditions but the current softball field location stands in the way. The proposal shifts this field away from the stream, leaving a large open space for many more water-absorbing trees, traditional picnic areas, a nature overlook and a riparian pathway. Moving this field, in turn, also creates space for a new rectangular playing field lying across the back of two slightly repositioned diamond fields. Again, two-thirds of the frontage along Four Mile Run Drive would still be turned into casual space with landscaping and room for an impressive park entrance.

As Arlington’s population and density increases, demand for park and recreation space is shooting up. No one neighborhood owns any of these parks, not even those of us close by. Let’s absolutely respect and honor the important history of this particular neighborhood – including the baseball and softball leagues that have been played here for decades — but let’s focus on the future we need to build together. Let’s share.

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected]. Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

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