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A hiker crosses a stream in Arlington (via Arlington County)

Going for a hike in Arlington? The trail you use might cause harm to the environment.

That’s according to a study on unpaved hiking trails released earlier this month. The Natural Surface Trail Condition Assessment, a first-of-its-kind project for the county, aims to be a comprehensive survey of Arlington’s 20+ miles of trails free from surfacing materials such as pavement or asphalt.

The study, published on Jan. 18, finds that long stretches of local trails need improvement. Some areas cause ecological harm by running through wetlands while others cause soil erosion, are riddled with trip hazards or are difficult to maintain.

“The important bottom line from our trail assessment is that approximately 60% of that trail mileage needs work in order for it to be sustainable and minimize environmental impacts,” Ryan Delaney, project manager for the Natural Surface Trails Project, said in a county video.

The problem, according to an overview of the study, is a lack of planning.

No one ever formally designed Arlington’s network of county-owned trails, which mostly run through forested areas such as Glencarlyn and Gulf Branch parks, and include examples such as the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail and Donaldson Run Trail. Instead, the trails formed piecemeal through volunteer projects, county initiatives and the whims of hikers repeatedly walking through certain areas.

“Until this project was initiated, a full database of these trails and their condition did not exist,” the overview says. “Because of this, many of the trails in the system are not sustainable.”

To study local trails, surveyors combined existing maps with real-world observations of nature routes in 29 different parks. They found that many “social” trails created by hikers are especially troublesome, sometimes winding too closely together or running up steep inclines — both of which are bad for the environment.

Delaney says trails can also be unsustainable if they are hard for the parks department to manage or are too difficult or hazardous for residents to use.

The county is trying to fix this by developing a plan for trail management going forward.

A map of Arlington’s natural surface trails (via Arlington County)

As it develops this plan, Arlington’s Dept. of Parks and Recreation is soliciting feedback from respondents via a questionnaire, now open through Wednesday, Feb. 22.

The survey asks respondents to list any particularly troublesome trails, weigh in on “trail experiences” they want to see and provide input on how they use existing routes. People can also let the county know about any trails not included in the trail condition assessment.

The county plans to combine research, community input and design and maintenance guidance to present a revised map of what Arlington’s trails should look like in the future. Another engagement opportunity is slated for this summer before a trail management framework is implemented in the fall, per a county timeline.

Delaney hopes to ensure that all Arlingtonians can enjoy the county’s natural beauty for years to come.

“We want to make sure that our trails are considered safe and inviting by every member of our community,” he said. “Trails are one of the primary ways that we can experience all the benefits of nature, and in Arlington we want that to be available to everybody, regardless of their background.”

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Arlington County police are investigating a pair of gun-related incidents from Sunday.

First, they responded to a report of shots fired near Glencarlyn Park early Sunday morning. No injuries were reported but evidence of gunfire was found.

From today’s ACPD crime report:

SHOTS FIRED, 2023-12100033, 300 block of S. Harrison Street. At approximately 1:33 a.m. on December 10, police were dispatched to the report of shots heard. Upon arrival, officers recovered evidence confirming several shots had been fired. No victims or property damage were reported. There is no suspect description(s). The investigation is ongoing.

Sunday night, amid heavy rain, a woman who had just parked her car was robbed by an armed suspect in the Douglas Park neighborhood.

More, below, from ACPD.

ROBBERY, 2023-12100220, 4300 block of 16th Street S. At approximately 9:46 p.m. on December 10, police were dispatched to the report of an armed robbery. Upon arrival, it was determined the victim was driving in the area when she observed the suspect vehicle, a black sedan, behind her. The victim then parked and exited her vehicle during which the suspect exited his vehicle, brandished what appeared to be a firearm and demanded the victim’s property. The suspect then fled the area in his vehicle with the victim’s stolen purse and cell phone. A lookout was broadcast and officers canvassed the area for the suspect yielding negative results. The suspect is described as a Black male, approximately 6’3”-6’4” wearing a black jacket, gray mask and hat. No injuries were reported. The investigation is ongoing.

Arlington County is working on a replacement for the two bridges over Lubber Run destroyed in severe flash flooding four years ago.

The Arlington County Board is set to discuss a $360,000 construction contract for a new pedestrian bridge at its meeting this weekend.

Flash flooding in 2019 washed away six pedestrian bridges in Arlington, including two in Lubber Run Park and four in Glencarlyn Park. The overall damage to county property was estimated at $6 million at the time.

On Saturday, the Board will consider approving the new bridge in Lubber Run, in place of the two that were destroyed. The contract — of about $329,000 with a $33,000 contingency — is expected to go to Fairfax-based Bright Masonry.

A lower bidder — by just over $30,000 — was “deemed nonresponsive” by county staff, according to a report to the Board.

The project’s goal is to “design one new bridge in the most suitable location for enhancing accessibility around the park,” the staff report said.

One of the bridges in Glencarlyn Park that was washed away was replaced in February of last year.

The proposed construction for Lubber Run involves building one new bridge in the southwest portion of the park to replace the previous two, as explained in the county’s project webpage.

“Through our community engagement and engineers’ analysis, we have found that this location will provide a significant, positive impact on park users and supports the community’s interest,” the webpage noted.

For parkgoers, the proposed bridge will provide access from Lubber Run to Edison Park, staff said. The bridge would also provide a connection between the southwest portion of the park and its east side.

Construction is estimated by staff to take around 12 months and seeks to minimize environmental harm.

“One tree, with exposed roots on the bank, will need to be removed. It already has a very low chance of survival due to its current condition,” the project webpage said. “We will plant healthy trees in the same general areas, which will better support our tree canopy in the long term.”

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A $2.1 million contract to restore Sparrow Pond in Glencarlyn Park is set for Arlington County Board consideration this weekend.

The planning of the Sparrow Pond restoration project began in the spring of 2019. It will add new stormwater management facilities while restoring the sediment-laden pond.

At its upcoming Saturday meeting, the Board is set to consider a contract with construction company Triangle Contracting that includes a base of about $1.8 million and a contingency of around $300,000.

Construction is now projected to take six to nine months to complete, wrapping up sometime in 2024, according to the county’s project webpage. With the project’s permitting phase now complete, construction is anticipated to start by the end of this summer or early this fall.

The work is necessary because the pond has become filled with sediment and overgrown vegetation since being built in 2001-2002, according to county staff.

“The project will convert the pond to a constructed wetland to restore its stormwater management functions, as well as improve water quality, increase wildlife habitat, and restore native plant species,” a staff report to the County Board said.

“Planned improvements include adding a forebay to accommodate accumulation and removal of sediments, a maintenance access path, a riser structure, and an outfall culvert to safely convey the stormwater runoff to the Four Mile Run stream during high storm events,” staff noted.

A community meeting, open to the public, will be held regarding construction plans before the project begins. The specific date of the meeting will be posted on the project webpage.

The restoration will benefit residents in the area of the pond, county staff said, along with W&OD Trail users and local wildlife.

Reducing sediment infiltration from stormwater and improving water quality will “restore the pond to the original depth,” the county said, and improve the “habitat for herons, ducks, turtles, frogs and fish.”

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Sparrow Pond, located in Glencarlyn Park and off the Washington & Old Dominion Trail (via Arlington County)

Arlington County is looking to restore and replant a man-made pond along the Washington & Old Dominion Trail starting in 2023.

Since it was built between 2001-2002, significant sediment deposits have settled in Sparrow Pond in Glencarlyn Park, harming the wildlife habitat and the water quality. About a decade ago, the county decided to defer cleaning up the sediment and instead, redesign and restore the pond, according to a staff presentation.

Fast forward to 2022 and the county is finally wrapping up the project’s planning phase and preparing for construction.

Planned work includes an access path from S. Park Drive, a residential street off Arlington Blvd that dead-ends behind Glencarlyn Park, to the pond. The county intends to dig a sediment forebay and larger pools “to better filter stormwater and restore habitat for herons, ducks, turtles, frogs and fish,” according to the project webpage.

Additional, new stormwater management facilities will redirect runoff to the Four Mile Run stream, which could cut down on pollution and clouding downstream in the Chesapeake Bay. These changes should also prevent the W&OD Trail embankment from flooding during “100-year storm events” — or storms with a 1% chance of occurring every year — such as the 2019 flood precipitated by a torrential rainstorm, according to a staff report.

Two aerial views from Arlington County of Sparrow Pond, in 2003 and 2018

Before it can start, however, the Arlington County Board needs to approve agreements with the NOVA Parks and Dominion Energy, both of which own or control parts of the land surrounding the pond, where the new access path and stormwater facilities will be located.

The Board is slated to review these contracts on Saturday.

New designs for Sparrow Pond (via Arlington County)

If the project is approved, construction would begin next year and take between six and nine months.

Preparatory work is already underway with special attention to wildlife, at the insistence of community members.

In the spring of 2021, the county installed a beaver baffle to help keep water levels stable and prevent the W&OD Trail embankment from flooding, all while not disturbing a beaver encampment in the pond area.

“The beaver baffle was an elegant solution that allowed the beaver to stay without endangering the W&OD trail embankment,” the county said in a project update.”The water levels came down and the pools on the bottom of the slope dried up. The slope and trail were safer again.”

Community members have emphasized in project meetings the importance of protecting wildlife, including beavers and the pond’s namesake swallows.

“We will work together to rescue native plants and affected animals like turtles and fish before beginning construction,” the county said. “Before being released, staff will test the animals so we don’t spread disease around the County.”

Plant and animal rescues will be planned for fall 2022, according to the project page.

This project — like the ongoing dredge work at Four Mile Run to prevent extreme flooding — is part of county efforts to improve stormwater management as storms appear to intensify, which many scientists attribute to climate change.

County staff and environmental advocates have attributed some flooding, at least in part, to development — including the construction of large homes — and the associated loss of trees and other plantings that absorb water.

Fewer trees and shrubs mean more water runs into stream banks, causing erosion, water pollution and sediment build-up. That, in turn, causes more tree loss and harms to wildlife habitats, including the critters of Sparrow Pond. The county has worked to mitigate such effects through stringent stormwater requirements for new construction, though some homebuilders have complained about the cost of such measures.

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A new bridge in Glencarlyn Park (courtesy Dennis Dimick)

Update at 4 p.m. on 3/15/22 — President Joe Biden has signed a $1.5 trillion spending bill with funding for three projects in Arlington. 

In the 10 months it took for the funding to pass, Arlington County substantially completed two of the projects: repaving parts of the Bluemont Junction Trail and replacing a pedestrian bridge in Glencarlyn Park.

The county moved forward with them in the interim due to safety concerns and the uncertain nature of federal funding, Department of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish told ARLnow on Tuesday.

The funding will pay for any remaining work and Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) is considering how to repurpose any unspent funds on similar projects, she said. 

Earlier: A $1.5 trillion spending bill that cleared Congress on Friday has funding for three projects in Arlington.

The bill includes $13.6 billion in emergency aid for Ukraine’s fight against Russia and will fund the federal government through September, avoiding an impending government shutdown. Now the 2,741-page bill is headed to the desk of President Joe Biden, who is expected to sign it this week.

The bill also sends Arlington County more than $1.4 million to pay for a health initiative and two parks projects, for which Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) requested federal assistance last May. In total, the spending package has $5.4 million earmarked for 10 projects in Northern Virginia, at Beyer’s request.

“This funding will translate to significant, beneficial projects in Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church and Fairfax County,” he said in a statement on Friday. “I am thankful to my colleagues who enacted the legislation to fund these initiatives, and to the local leaders who worked with me to identify and develop the initial requests. These projects will make a real, positive difference in our region.”

Arlington County’s Department of Human Services is getting $390,000 to purchase two medically equipped vehicles for a forthcoming mobile crisis response team. While not yet in existence, the team will be responsible for responding to behavioral health crises and providing on-site treatment.

The team was a recommendation of the Police Practices Group, which identified about 100 ways policing could be reformed in Arlington, including some ways the county could remove police officers from its mental health crisis response.

The county earmarked $574,000 in the current budget to staff the team with a physician’s assistant, nurse and clinician, and to buy a transport van and operating supplies.

DHS spokesman Kurt Larrick says the vehicles will be purchased once the County Board officially accepts and allocates the federal funding, which will take a couple of months. The mobile crisis response team, meanwhile, is “not up and running yet,” he said.

“County residents do have access to Community Regional Crisis Response services, however, which is a mobile crisis response,” he said. “And our Emergency Services staff can and do go into the community when need arises and staffing allows.”

The county will receive $325,000 to fund repaving and repairs for a segment of the Bluemont Junction Trail and adjacent connector paths. A 2018 trails assessment determined the Bluemont Junction Trail needed significant investments, as the condition of the asphalt is deteriorating in many sections.

The section paid for by the federal government spans the intersection of N. George Mason Drive and Wilson Blvd to the intersection of the trail with the Washington & Old Dominion Trail.

This project is divided into two phases, according to the county. The first phase, completed late last year, updated the main trail and most of its connecting paths. The second phase will update three remaining trail connectors, which need to be realigned to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Phase two construction is expected to begin and end this spring and early summer.

Arlington budgeted $550,000 in its 2022-24 Capital Improvements Plan for the project.

The county will also receive $800,000 for the replacement of a pedestrian bridge in Glencarlyn Park. The bridge, lost during the July 2019 flash flooding, was recently installed. The project was part of the adopted 2021 Capital Improvements Plan.

Outside of Arlington, local earmarks in the bill will support storm sewer and climate resilience improvements in the City of Alexandria and Falls Church City and improve information technology services in Fairfax County. It will also support a pilot program for the deployment of body-worn cameras in the Alexandria Police Department and safety improvements to the GW Parkway.

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The new bridge in Glencarlyn Park (courtesy Dennis Dimick)

A pedestrian bridge in Glencarlyn Park that washed away during a severe flash flood nearly three years ago has been replaced.

On Monday, a contractor installed a new bridge over Four Mile Run in Glencarlyn Park (301 S. Harrison Street). The installation was completed before noon, Dept. of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish tells ARLnow.

The new bridge is in the same location as the old one, per the project webpage.

Location of the Glencarlyn Park pedestrian bridge (via Arlington County)

Although the new bridge is in place, pedestrians and cyclists can’t walk or bike over it just yet.

“Our contractor has final work to do that is weather dependent,” Kalish said. “The bridge should be open to the public by the end of March.”

https://twitter.com/WalkArlington/status/1493408479435968512

In July 2019, six pedestrian bridges in Arlington were washed away after torrential rain caused heavy flooding. The Glencarlyn bridge suffered some of the worst damage in the storm, along with two bridges at Lubber Run Park.

The parks department has funds to replace one bridge at Lubber Run, and selected the bridge at the park’s southern end, per a webpage for the project.

Plans for the replacement are in the design stage, and construction could begin late this summer and end next spring.

An illustration of the new Lubber Run Park pedestrian bridge (via Arlington County)
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(Updated 03/11/22) Rep. Don Beyer announced yesterday that he has requested federal funds to go toward a health initiative and two parks projects in Arlington County.

If approved, the funding would fund repaving a section of the Bluemont Junction Trail and repairing replacing a key pedestrian bridge in Glencarlyn Park. It would also purchase vehicles needed by a mobile response team that would respond to behavioral health crises rather than police.

The money would come from the Fiscal Year 2022 Community Project Funding Program, which provides targeted funding for local projects nationwide. Representatives were able to submit requests for up to 10 projects but there is no guarantee of approval. Beyer also requested money for projects benefiting the cities of Alexandria and Falls Church as well as Fairfax County.

“The infrastructure requests would enhance pedestrian routes in the region, support [electric vehicles] and other environmentally friendly initiatives, fund mental health resources, and support a pilot program for the deployment of body-worn cameras for the Alexandria Police Department,” Beyer said. “These are worthy projects deserving of federal funding.”

For the Bluemont Junction Trail, Beyer requested $325,000 to repave a segment of the trail and adjacent connector paths, improvements that the county identified during a 2018 trails assessment.

“The current trail pavement and connectors are in deteriorating condition with limited or poor access from adjacent and intersecting streets,” the announcement said.

Separately, the county is using capital funding to improve where the trail intersects with N. Kensington Street, N. Emerson Street and N. Buchanan Street.

Beyer requested $800,000 to replace the Glencarlyn Park pedestrian bridge lost during the July 2019 flash flooding. The Glencarlyn bridge was also included in Arlington’s adopted 2021 Capital Improvements Plan(This article incorrectly said the Lubber Run bridge had been replaced. At the time, funding had been secured for its replacement. The project to replace one of the park’s two destroyed bridges is now in its design phase.) 

“Of the six pedestrian bridges lost in the flooding event, the most important one for connectivity is the bridge in Glencarlyn Park,” Beyer’s announcement said. “This bridge connects the main park area, dog exercise area and neighboring communities to the west of Four Mile Run to the Washington & Old Dominion Trail. The bridge connection is important as both a commuter connection and for recreation and leisure walks on the W&OD Trail.”

On behalf of Arlington County, Beyer requested $390,000 to purchase two medically-equipped vehicles to be used by a team tasked with responding to mental health crises. Arlington’s Police Practices Group recently recommended that the county transition from dispatching police to such incidents to sending out a specialized mobile crisis response unit.

“The requested funds will support a ‘Help not Handcuffs’ approach to ensure that persons in behavioral health crises receive the most appropriate assistance needed when and where they need it,” Beyer’s announcement said. “A behavioral health response vs. a law enforcement response will increase community-based mental health care, decrease emergency department use, reduce inpatient admissions, divert from the criminal justice system and supports racial justice.”

In its lengthy report, the Police Practices Group also recommended procuring specialized vehicles or retrofitting existing ones for the mobile crisis unit.

The vehicles would supplement $574,000 in the county’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget to support an enhanced mental health crisis response program in the Department of Human Services. That allocation would fund a physician’s assistant, nurse, clinician, transport van and operating supplies.

Photo via Flickr pool user Tom Mockler

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Next week, county officials will present details and ask for feedback on a long-awaited project to restore a pond along the W&OD Trail.

On Tuesday, October 1, Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services will present a draft plan for digging the Swallow Pond in Glencarlyn Park deeper, and restoring some of the wild habitat in and around the pond.

People interested in learning more about the designs can attend the meeting at the Long Branch Nature Center (625 S. Carlin Springs Road) from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Officials are also welcoming feedback from community members.

“The project goal is to restore the pond to the original depth by removing sediment, add a sediment collection forebay to allow easier maintenance and sediment removal, maximize water quality benefits, and restore habitat,” the county wrote on the project webpage.

Officials hope that clearing sediment means clearer water will flow from the pond to Four Mile Run — making this project one of several the county is hoping can cut down on pollution and clouding downstream in the Chesapeake Bay.

Sparrow Pond was man made in 2001 and has been slowly filling up with sediment ever since.

Sparrow Pond in 2018 after years of sediment build up, filling in the manmade waterway (Image via Arlington County)

Sediment was first cleared out of the pond 2007, per a county presentation. The pond was due for another clean-up in 2012, but the work was delayed. Several studies later, the pond is now slated for a full restoration project.

During a March community meeting, residents expressed concerns that construction could introduce invasive plants like Japanese knotweed via machinery that’s worked in places already seeded with the fast-growing shrub. Residents also requested crews do the work outside of the sparrow breeding cycle (roughly March to August) to protect the pond’s namesake avian inhabitants.

Image 1 via Flickr Pool/Dennis Dimick, others via Arlington County

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With summer around the corner, Arlington County has shared an update regarding four newly renovated parks.

The parks have either recently completed renovations or are planned to open soon.

The Fairlington Park playground opened in March. The project included a complete redesign and reconstruction of the playground, exercise equipment, park trail and more. The renovated play area offers options for different age groups and exercise equipment for all ages.

For a more subdued park experience, Glencarlyn Park has also recently opened a new picnic structure surrounded by forest. The shelter includes accessible picnic tables and power outlets with USB ports. The project page noted that renovations also brought the park into compliance with Americans With Disability Act standards.

While there has been no ribbon-cutting yet at McCoy Park, it is fully accessible to the public. Enhancements at the park, which is wedged between Lee Highway and I-66, include a realigned sidewalk and a seating deck with tables and chairs.

Dawson Terrace Park hasn’t reopened yet, but the Arlington County website says it will be “later this spring.” Plans are for the two small courts at the site to be replaced with a single, lighted court that can be used for basketball, volleyball or other court games. A separate playground area will cater to kids and the park will have have upgraded picnic areas and trail connections.

Images 1, 2, 3 via Arlington County

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Morning Notes

Rare, Tropical Dragonfly Spotted in Arlington — “There was quite the discovery at this year’s Bioblitz in Glencarlyn Park. After a photo posted on the crowd-sourcing tracker, iNaturalist, started to spark a lot of interest… the consensus was that what had been photographed was a Great Pondhawk Dragonfly (Erythemis vesiculosa).” [Arlington County]

Frost Fest Rescheduled — Frost Fest at Pentagon Row, originally planned for Saturday, has been rescheduled due to expected rainy weather. It will now take place this Sunday from 4-7 p.m. [Twitter]

County to Open Garages During Snowstorms — “If a big winter storm – or two, or three – hits the region in coming months, Arlington residents will be able to leave their cars safe and sound in county-owned garages for the duration. It’s all part of an effort to keep residential streets as free of vehicles as possible so snow-plow operators can do their job.” [InsideNova]

Crafthouse Going Big — Beer-centric local restaurant chain Crafthouse, which has a location in Ballston, has inked a $250 million deal to franchise nationally. [Reston Now]

Portion of W&OD Trail to Get Separate Lanes — “A major 1.2-mile stretch of the W&OD Trail bike path that traverses the City of Falls Church… will soon be enhanced with the benefit of $3.2 million from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority and turned into a dual path — one for bikes and the other for pedestrians.” [Falls Church News-Press]

Amazon News Roundup — Virginia economic development officials say they have “accounted for a host of risks that might arise related to Amazon, from a shift in direction for the company to antitrust litigation.” The Arlington Civic Federation “will host a discussion of the proposed Amazon economic-incentive package at its monthly meeting, to be held on Tuesday, Dec. 11 at 7 p.m. at Virginia Hospital Center.” Arlington County’s building and permitting staff “won’t be doing anything out of the ordinary to accommodate Amazon, such as fast-tracking, a common incentive offered to big economic development prizes.” And, in a new report on the oft-reported subject, “Amazon’s Northern Virginia headquarters could exacerbate existing economic disparities.”

Flickr pool photo by David Giambarresi

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