Arlington, VA

A small plot on Wilson Blvd bisected by a gravel trail will be reopening as a park with paved central walkway.

The Oakland Park project is centered around plans to bring the park in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and adding overall enhancements to the green space at 3705 Wilson Blvd.

“Design elements include all-new site furnishings, decorative paving, wood decking, native plantings and new park signage,” the county said on the project website. “A highlight in the park will be a public art piece created by Foon Sham.”

Earlier this week, workers were laying some of the final bricks in the walkway, though other work remains to be done across the park.

Construction at the park is on schedule, and Arlington Dept. of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish said the project should be open by the end of the year.

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Arlington County is asking residents to share their thoughts on a developer’s plan to turn areas of a lot at 1900 S. Eads Street into public parks.

The plan is part of the Crystal City Houses redevelopment project to build four new apartment buildings at S. Eads Street and 18th Street near the existing, 12-story Crystal House apartment buildings. The project is two blocks from Amazon’s planned permanent HQ2.

As part of the proposed 798-unit construction, the developer pledged to provide a 31,000 square feet of space in the center of the buildings as public space, and another, 23,986 square feet of space in the corner of the lot by S. Fern Street and 22nd Street as another privately-owned, public park.

Now the Department of Parks and Recreation is asking residents to share their feedback on this second park proposal via an online feedback form.

“The significant additional open space will also be a crucial addition to the Crystal City community,” the developer wrote in site plans revised earlier this year.

The county says it will stop accepting feedback via the form at midnight next Friday, September 6.

Feedback will used to finalize draft designs scheduled to be shared on September 16 from 5:30-7 p.m. at county government headquarters in Courthouse (2100 Clarendon Blvd), per the county’s website. The Long Range Planning Commission will also review the feedback during their own meeting later that night from 7 -9 p.m.

County staff expects to present the final designs to the Arlington County Board in October.

Image via Arlington County

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Arlington County is hoping residents can help inspire the artist designing the public art component of renovations to Jennie Dean Park near Shirlington.

Residents will be able to meet the Brooklyn-based artist Mark Reigelman on two days in early September during his first visit to Arlington to share their stories and memories of the 12-acre park.

“The input gathered will inform the art work design,” said officials in a press release.

Reigelman will give two presentations about his past work on Tuesday, September at 6:30 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. at the New District Brewery (2709 S. Oakland Street) and is also expected to open the floor for stories from residents. He is scheduled to host another, open house-style, meeting on Wednesday, September 4 from 8-9:30 a.m. at Busboys and Poets (4251 Campbell Avenue).

Reigelman has worked on two park projects before in New York City and San Jose, California, according to his website — which heralds him as a “genius” whose intellect is “only exceeded by his modesty and benevolence.”

The future artwork planned is part a fiercely debated redesign of the park that includes moving a baseball field near S. Nelson Street, installing a new bathroom near Four Mile Run Drive, and building basketball and tennis courts near where a WETA-TV production building now stands. The county held a public feedback session on the renovations last month.

The park redesign itself is also part of a larger plan to revitalize the Four Mile Run Valley area, solve overcrowding at sites like the Trades Center, and prioritize storm protections for the floodprone area.

New art for the park could pay homage to the park’s namesake, former slave Jennie Serepta Dean, who helped found a trades school for African Americans, per a 2018 staff report for the Arlington County Board about the project.

Map via Arlington County 

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The county is planning to give Henry Clay Park in the Lyon Park neighborhood a makeover.

The Arlington County Board will consider awarding a $1,4 million contract to Falls Church-based Pivot Construction LLC for the renovations. A staff report to the Board says there will be “minimal changes” to the park layout and that the work will focus on “current facility standards, storm water requirements and Americans with Disability Act (ADA) compliance.”

The report notes that Henry Clay Park (3011 7th Street N.) is a “heavily used facility” and that “the outdoor amenities for Henry Clay Park are now past their useful life and are in need of replacement.”

Work includes “reconstruction of the basketball court, playground, athletic field, picnic shelter, site circulation, site furnishings, fencing, drainage, and landscaping.” Other planned renovations include:

  • removing the park’s gazebo and adding a shade canopy and a tall slide
  • expanding the east children’s playground by adding a swingset, a tall slide, benches, and new trees
  • adding a ramp and benches around the west children’s playground
  • adding a water fountain on the southside of the park’s green space and improving the field turf
  • adding new trees and a drainage system between the green space and the basketball court

Google Maps describes the one acre lot as a “tiny park.”

Board members will vote on the contract during their next meeting this Saturday, July 13. Approving the contract for the renovations is listed on the County Board’s consent agenda for the upcoming meeting — a space usually reserved for items expected to pass without debate.

The park was created three decades ago and named after the Henry Clay School, which once stood where the park is now.

The school’s namesake is Kentucky political Henry Clay who is known for his efforts to stave off the Civil War, and for dueling Virginia political John Randolph on what is now the intersection of N. Randolph Street and N. Glebe Road.

Image 1 via Yelp, Images 2-3 via Arlington County

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(Updated at 10:15 a.m.) The Arlington County Board is set to vote on planned renovations to Madison Manor Park.

Board members will decide whether to approve a $2.82 million contract for upgrades to the 5.4 acre park at 6225 12th Road N., in the Madison Manor neighborhood, along the W&OD Trail.

County staff members have discussed the upgrades with residents since 2017. The final version of the plans shared in a staff report to the Board include:

  • Renovating and painting the basketball court for basketball and volleyball
  • Renovating the combination athletic field, picnic shelter and playground
  • Installing some fencing around the playground, athletic field, and basketball court
  • Landscaping improvements with 70 percent native species

If approved, the Board would award the contract to Gaithersburg, Maryland-based construction company Highway and Safety Services, Inc.

The playground, picnic area, walkways, signage, and parking area are also listed in the project’s description but no details were shared on the intended changes to those parts of the park.

The county has said one goal of the renovations is to better comply with the standards from the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The county’s Department of Parks and Recreation designed the new park upgrades, according to its website on the project.

Photo via Arlington County

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Arlington’s sometimes controversial Public Spaces Master Plan was approved in a unanimous vote by the County Board on Thursday (April 25).

The idea of the update is to provide a framework for the county’s plans to preserve natural resources and public activities as part of the broader comprehensive plan. However, the meeting launched discussions over whether the county relies too much on paved public spaces, and how sports fields and mountain biking fits in.

Michael Hanna, a member of the Environment and Energy Conservation Commission, noted that while the plan would add to public spaces, more needed to be done to differentiate green space from other uses. County Board Member Katie Cristol agreed with Hanna later in the meeting, saying moving forward the county would need to do more to separate those uses.

“For a long time in our site plans, we’ve let concrete be public spaces,” Cristol said. “Plazas have a role, but in recent years [we] have tried to recognize the nature of biophilia.”

During the years-long public engagement process about the plan, which was last updated in 2005, arguments emerged over what shape Arlington’s public space should take. County staff said there were several issues raised by the public in the final stretch of the approval process that would require future assessment after the plan’s approval.

One source of public consternation throughout the planning process was what critics said was inflated estimates of demand for sports fields. Peter Rousselot, an ARLnow columnist and leader of the Parks4Everyone advocacy group, argued that athletics fields were being over-reserved rather than over-used, an inefficiency leading to an artificial appearance of demand.

County Manager Mark Schwartz noted that the county is reviewing its scheduling process. The plan includes analyzing field utilization to improve data on current and projected uses as a priority for the plan.

The final version of the plan also swapped the earlier estimates of future need with a more general arrow indicating whether demand is expected to increase or decrease. The language concerning the need for two additional diamond fields by 2035 was changed from “Arlington will need…” to “Arlington could need…”

Still, Justin Wilt, a member of the county’s Sports Commission, stood by the earlier projected needs and said his commission urged the construction of at least one multi-use athletic center in Arlington, citing a lack of indoor recreation activities in the county.

Another group advocating for a space in the plan were mountain biking enthusiasts. Several mountain biking advocates attended the meeting, including a parent who said he had to take his children out to Reston to access mountain biking trails.

“I’m here to support off-road cycling facilities in Public Spaces Master Plan,” said Grant Mandsager, a public speaker at the hearing. “These facilities are in high demand and can be a great benefit to Arlington residents.”

While staff said there was a demand to add mountain biking-specific paths to the plan, the potential impact on natural resources in areas those paths would cut through would require further study.

“The advisory committee felt this issue raised too late in the process,” said Hanna. “To proceed with mountain biking… all ramifications need to be examined, particularly the threat to natural resources.”

In the end, the approved version of the plan settled on:

“Interest was also expressed in mountain biking, however, prior to exploring potential locations for mountain biking, the community would need to have a more robust and broad conversation.”

Parks4Everyone said in a statement this weekend that it was pleased with the final Public Spaces Master Plan, which “has the potential to address community needs, maintenance, and field priorities through data-driven transparency and prioritization of financial resources and land being appropriately allocated.”

“Only after residents pushing, Commissions digging in, and a decisive January 8th Civic Federation vote… did the PSMP become more reflective of the core issues affecting our parks,” the group said. “The PSMP needed to convey the priorities and needs of the vast majority of Arlingtonians including more trails, green open space parks, and natural areas.”

The final version of the plan also included several recommendations highlighted as actions critical to the success of Arlington’s public space system:

  • Add at least 30 acres of new public space over the next 10 years.
  • Secure or expand the public spaces envisioned by sector, corridor and other plans adopted by the County Board – including the Clarendon Sector Plan, Virginia Square Sector Plan, Courthouse Sector Plan, Rosslyn Sector Plan, Crystal City Sector Plan, and Columbia Pike Form Based Codes – and ensure they provide amenities that meet the county’s needs.
  • Utilize level of service as a planning tool to manage public space assets efficiently.
  • Analyze athletic field utilization to improve data on the current use and assess future athletic field needs.
  • Ensure access to spaces that are intentionally designed to support casual, impromptu use and connection with nature.
  • Complete the implementation of adopted park master plans.
  • Develop park master plans for all new parks or when renovation of an existing park requires a major rearrangement of park amenities.
  • Ensure and enhance access to the Potomac River, Four Mile Run and their tributaries while improving the tree canopy, native vegetation, and other natural resources along waterways.
  • Expand Arlington’s network of connected multi-use trails.
  • Update the Urban Forest Master Plan and Natural Resources Management Plan through a combined process.
  • Protect, restore, and expand natural resources and trees

Prior to the County Board’s 5-0 approval of the plan, Chair Christian Dorsey noted that few parties would be fully pleased with the compromises made in the plan.

“It’s an exceptional document that reflects an extraordinary effort,” said Dorsey. “I realize there are people engaged in this project who aren’t thrilled with everything that they see, but again, if we take that non-specific, line by line lenses and look at it comprehensively, we have to recognize that this is a tremendous step forward.”

Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick

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(Updated at 12:33 a.m.) A row of trees lining the railroad tracks near Long Bridge Park in Crystal City is no more after CSX crews began removing them last week, upsetting some residents who say they were an important part of the park’s aesthetic.

Dominique Williams lives nearby in Crystal City and says she comes to the park every day for an afternoon walk. After not visiting for the last week, she was shocked to see the trees gone when she went on a stroll earlier this week.

“When I saw it this morning I said what is going on?” said Williams, gesturing at the pile of broken limbs once a part of the trees she said gave a je ne sais quoi to her daily stroll.

“This takes a lot away from the park,” she said. “It had a vibe, really, and now it’s not there anymore.”

Crews could be seen cutting up stumps and gathering timber for the shredder along the train tracks on Tuesday.

Arlington Dept. of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish told ARLnow that CSX is removing the trees, not the county, as the land where the trees were growing belongs to the freight rail company.

CSX spokeswoman Sheriee S. Bowman said the company to aims to “positively impact the environment” but had to remove the trees due to an ongoing construction project to build a road running parallel to the tracks.

“This project was designed with the goal of disturbing as few trees as possible, but due to property limitations parallel to the tracks, some tree removal on CSX’s right-of-way was unavoidable,” said Bowman. “Upon completion of the road, CSX will plant 220 new trees and 188 new shrubs in the project area – more than the 217 that will be removed.”

More from CSX’s statement:

“We have chosen native tree and shrub species which will provide a more robust green space than what was previously in place. Additionally, crews will clean trash and debris that has accumulated in this area. The project has been scheduled in close coordination with Arlington County and CSX has maintained open lines of communication with the Crystal City Civic Association and local residents on local impacts. Construction for this project began on March 4th and should be completed by early May.”

Late last year the company notified the Crystal City Civic Association that it intended to remove trees for the construction of a planned access road near the park.

More from the civic association, via a December Facebook post:

CSX has submitted plans for County permits to install an access gate at the 12th Street entrance to Long Bridge Park and an access road along the tracks. This replacement is needed since the current access at the northern end of Long Bridge Park will end when the County’s construction of the Aquatics and Fitness Center starts. The issue will come before the County Board this Saturday, December 15, for approval.

CSX has shown that the gate and road will be built on its property. There will be no changes to the entrance to the park, 12th Street, or Crystal Drive. Beyond the end of the map shown, the road will run parallel to the tracks for about a half mile up to the signals. It will be asphalt from the gate down to the track level and gravel the remainder to the signals.

CSX designed the project with the goal of disturbing as few trees as possible, but due to the limited property parallel to the tracks, some removal on CSX Right of Way is unavoidable. However, the plan includes extensive tree and shrub replanting after construction with more trees and shrubs than are there today. After construction, the new access road (which will be on CSX ROW parallel to the tracks) will be used by light pickup trucks for the signal maintainers and track inspectors. Under normal circumstances, they would probably use the access road 2-3 times a week.

Another Crystal City resident said it’s important to balance business needs with the community but that her family will miss the trees when they come to the park now.

“You can’t stop progress but we would have liked if they kept the trees,” she said

Jim, a retired Fairfax resident who also uses the park, said “overall it’s a positive” that the trees are gone because it also led to the removal of litter and construction debris — what he described as a “garbage dump” — next to the tracks.

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Arlington’s lengthy, detailed public space planning documents might seem dry and technical at first glance, but an impending update to those plans has sparked a bitter fight in the county.

Though the sparring centers largely around reams of statistics and data, the debate cuts to the heart of a key question for leaders in the 26-square-mile county: how should Arlington divvy up its limited amount of public land?

The newly revised “Public Spaces Master Plan” is designed to provide lots of answers to that question for Arlington officials. Last updated in 2005, the document sketches out the county’s goals for building and maintaining its parks, fields, trails and other open spaces.

Since 2015, community leaders have been working to update the document in a process commonly known as “POPS,” or “A Plan for Our Places and Spaces.” A county advisory committee has been sharpening the document’s specifics for months, and the County Board now looks ready to schedule public hearings and a vote on the plan’s update this weekend.

But critics charge that the plan is fatally flawed, and some have spent more than a year working to build opposition to one of its key elements. Chiefly, they’re concerned that the new document calls for the county to set aside more space for athletic fields than it actually needs, which could gobble up room for other important facilities (namely, schools and parks).

Opponents of the plan also argue that county staff have been deceptive in providing data to guide this process, undermining many of the master plan’s conclusions.

Others close to the process, especially those representing parks or sports groups, feel those concerns are misguided, and insist that the new plan will provide an adequate roadmap for meeting the growing demand for field space in Arlington. But, with the issue coming to a head in the coming weeks, the plan’s critics are hopeful that the Board will take their concerns seriously and act accordingly.

“The county is going to use this document to make decisions for the next 20 years,” said Peter Rousselot, a leader with the “Parks for Everyone” advocacy group and a regular ARLnow columnist. “But through it all, we’ve had the sense that [county staff] weren’t an honest broker on this. And that matters, when this stuff might someday be taken as gospel, and staff might point to it and say ‘the County Board voted 5-0 to approve this.'”

Both critics and supporters of the plan acknowledge that the latest draft of the document has gone through sufficient changes since it was released last fall to be a lot more appealing to all involved. Yet emotions around the issue are, undoubtedly, still running high.

“There have been lots of accusations against county staff, and we’ve met with [the plan’s critics] several times,” said Caroline Haynes, a co-chair of the POPS advisory group and the chair of the county’s Parks and Recreation Commission. “But some people we’re just never going to please. We’re just not.”

How many more fields does Arlington need?

Rousselot, who has long been active in county politics, says he became interested in the issue as other local activists began to bring it to his attention. Kari Klaus was a key driver of those early efforts, based on her previous work examining the county’s plans for parks in Aurora Highlands, and the pair worked with some other concerned community members to found Parks for Everyone.

Chiefly, Klaus and Rousselot became concerned about the plan because of one, highly technical, piece of data contained within the document: something called “population-based level of service” analysis.

In essence, the calculation involves county staff looking at Arlington’s population data, national averages and other “peer localities” to see how many parks and fields Arlington needs to serve its residents. In this case, staff judged Arlington’s peers to be other suburbs of major cities including: Alexandria; Bellevue, Washington; Berkeley, California; and St. Paul, Minnesota.

Using that data, staff came up with ratios designed to guide how many facilities the county needs to add going forward.

For instance, Arlington currently has 53 rectangular, athletic fields — the plan’s estimates suggest the county should be striving to have closer to 61 instead. Similarly, the document shows that Arlington has 43 “diamond” baseball fields, while 54 might be a better number to serve its current population. And both of those projections will only grow as the county swells with new residents over time.

Those estimates disturbed and frustrated Rousselot and Klaus. They say they couldn’t understand how the county landed on those figures, instead of relying on current data showing how often people use the county’s existing fields.

Several people interested in the matter filed a series of public records requests to get more county data, and became increasingly frustrated that staff would only release limited information about their process for calculating those numbers.

But, from what they did find, Rousselot and his fellow critics became convinced that the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation wasn’t following the industry’s best practices for coming up with “level of service” calculations. They argue that the number of people actively seeking to use county fields would provide a much better baseline to work off of than simply the number of people living in the county in total.

“DPR had lots of data on supply and demand, but staff didn’t use it to inform themselves about what this population-based LOS number ought to be,” Rousselot said. “And it was so hard to even get them to acknowledge they had this data.”

In response to the group’s extensive criticisms, County Manager Mark Schwartz released a lengthy statement defending staff’s methods. Chiefly, he argued that “population is an easily understood way to project needs and is used regularly by the county and [the school system] to anticipate future capacity.”

Haynes echoed that point, stressing that all of the advisory committee’s work suggested that the population-based calculations were the “most straightforward method” possible for staff to use. Otherwise, she says the county would have to rely on a cascading series of assumptions about how much field use would increase (or decrease) over time, which might prove increasingly inaccurate as time goes by.

Rousselot, however, argues that such a standard for calculating field needs is “deceptively simple,” and doesn’t allow much room for nuance as decisions get made in the future.

“There is something quite appealing at first blush about how simple it is,” Rousselot said. “But the way history tells us DPR operates is that these numbers become much more gospel like than they deserve.”

Is demand real, or deceptive?

But Haynes vigorously defended county staff’s management of the process, and their willingness to re-examine their own methods. She said the advisory committee has broadly been “very pleased” with the county throughout the process, which she finds slightly “incredible” given that they’ve been working together for the better part of four years now.

And she believes that the open space plan’s critics miss an obvious point about the county’s current conditions — field space is already at a premium for sports teams and casual users alike.

“Arlington is growing and we need more of everything,” Haynes said. “Sometimes we have four to six teams playing on any given field.”

But Rousselot and the plan’s critics charge that field demand can be deceptive — he sees the county’s management of its fields as the root cause of any problems. Many field reservations are managed by volunteers, not county staff, which he feels has led to plenty of inefficiencies. Other fields are unusable because they haven’t been maintained well, which Rousselot chalks up to the county’s shrinking maintenance budget.

“It’s left a lot of sports teams angry and under the impression that they can’t get fields,” Rousselot said. “But the process of scheduling and maintenance has been, to put it diplomatically, a mess.”

Haynes argues it would not be “an efficient use of county resources” to task staff with managing fields, and says the county has done some work with its Sports Commission to encourage better communication with sports leagues to determine who needs certain fields and when.

And Schwartz pointed out in his statement that the county is currently reviewing its processes on both those fronts.

“We do not have it figured out yet — but we are doing better maintenance, better scheduling, and creating more opportunities for the fields to be available for casual use when not scheduled,” Schwartz wrote.

What happens next?

Fundamentally, Haynes believes that the county has been responsive to all of the concerns Rousselot and others have raised.

And she doesn’t want the concerns of a few critics derail the passage of a plan that’s been years in the making, particularly when many others support it. A petition backed by the Arlington Sports Foundation supporting the plan now has nearly 1,300 signatories.

“What we’ve heard is a very small group of people who have been very vocal about it,” Haynes said. “There is so much good stuff in here, but we’ve really gotten sidetracked on just a few issues.”

But Rousselot and his allies believe they’ve convinced enough people around the county of their point of view that they are more than just lone voices in the wilderness.

Most notably, the Arlington Civic Federation, one of the county’s oldest and most revered civic organizations, threw its support behind their efforts. Rousselot and other critics presented their case at one of the group’s meetings, and after some follow-up study of the plan, the federation’s members voted 66-17-3 to issue a resolution broadly echoing Rousselot’s critiques of the plan.

Specifically, the group urged the county to strip those level of service recommendations from the plan, arguing that “available data appears to demonstrate that the LOS for athletic fields has been significantly overstated.”

“The fact that they have come out so overwhelmingly in favor of this makes it pretty hard for people trying to argue that it’s four or five malcontents raising these issues,” Rousselot said.

Rousselot credited the group’s intervention for spurring some changes to the plan, and even Haynes would agree that staff and her committee has been able to make some tweaks to the document in recent weeks.

Specifically, she said they’ve sought to stress that “this is a high level planning document, it’s not proscriptive,” particularly when it comes to how closely the county should follow its recommendations about how many fields it needs to build. As Rousselot puts it, the revised plan “softens the Moses tablet-like” quality of those recommendations, making it a bit less likely that officials hew quite so closely to those numbers in the future.

Still, the document’s critics would rather see the population-based level of service recommendations removed entirely before the plan is passed, but that looks increasingly unlikely.

Then-County Board Chair Katie Cristol wrote an October letter to Klaus and Rousselot saying that four of the Board’s five members supported leaving that section of the plan in place. She said Board members felt the metric was “the more appropriate one for our community, where different stakeholders have widely divergent assumptions about future [field] utilization.”

The lone Board member to support revisions to that part of the plan was John Vihstadt, Cristol wrote, but the independent lost his seat to Democrat Matt de Ferranti last fall.

Accordingly, it would seem the current plan has enough support to pass in its current form sometime this spring. The Planning Commission voted last night (Wednesday) to recommend that the County Board advertise public hearings on the plan at its meeting Saturday — that would set the stage for a final vote on the plan in April.

With the process nearing its conclusion, Rousselot is encouraged that Parks for Everyone achieved some of its goals. But he’s still holding out hope that leaders will just go a few steps further in tweaking the plan’s prescriptions.

“Assuming the Board adopts at least some of the changes we recommended, then we’ll be better off than we would’ve been if we hadn’t raised the issue,” Rousselot said. “How much better off will depend on what happens next.”

Photo via Arlington County

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Alcova Heights Park is set to see some renovations next year, and county officials are getting ready to unveil their plans for the park’s improvements.

The county plans to hold a meeting Thursday (Feb. 21) at 7 p.m. at the Arlington Mill Community Center (909 S. Dinwiddie Street) to discuss new designs for the park.

Officials began planning for a refresh of the green space, located at 901 S. George Mason Drive, this past fall and held a few community meetings on the topic.

Though the county will only detail the full extent of its plans at the meeting later this week, proposed improvements include the renovation of the park’s basketball court and lights, as well as its sand volleyball court, according to the county’s website.

The park’s large picnic shelter and restroom could be in for some upgrades, and the county also hopes to add improved signage and landscaping to the area. Improving the park’s drainage and stormwater management will be another key focus of the work, particularly after several residents mentioned muddy conditions at the park in a survey seeking to identify potential improvements.

The county hopes to finalize designs and start construction on the renovation work by the third quarter of 2020, then wrap up that work by the second quarter of 2021.

Eventually, officials plan to overhaul the Alcova Heights playground and diamond field in a second phase of the project, but the county’s current funding squeeze means they aren’t yet sure when they’ll be able to afford that work.

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The following letter to the editor comes from Craig Esherick, a former chair of the Arlington County Sports Commission, former coach of the Georgetown Hoyas and husband of Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos.

Esherick writes to express his support for the county’s recommendations in a draft of an updated Public Spaces Master Plan, a process otherwise commonly known as a “Plan for Our Places and Spaces” or POPS.

The draft has come under fire from some county residents in recent months, who have argued that the document demands more land for new athletic fields than the county actually needs, particularly as Arlington grapples with a lack of land for all manner of public facilities. The Arlington Civic Federation also recently passed a resolution overwhelmingly urging county staff to withdraw some of their recommendations involving athletic fields. 

But Esherick argues that sports have a vital role to play in the county, and urges the County Board to consider their importance as it prepares to adopt a final version of the plan in the coming weeks.

As a longtime resident of Arlington County and one who has dedicated my life’s work to sports as a coach, author, TV commentator and academic, I felt compelled to weigh in on a subject that is getting lost in the current debate about sports fields versus open spaces: the many benefits of sports to a vast cross-section of our community.

My views are shaped by decades of county involvement through a period of tremendous growth and change. When I moved to Arlington in 1990, the population was 171,000. Today, it is 235,000 and expected to grow to 290,000 by 2030, but our footprint isn’t getting any bigger.

Over the years, I’ve seen recreational and youth sports evolve to reflect the times. Both my sons played several sports in the county-sponsored leagues and for Arlington school teams. Demand for field space has exploded as our youth population grows and new sports have entered the scene. Compared to just 10 years ago, this demand had resulted in less weekly practice time, smaller practice spaces, and bigger teams in order to share limited field space among so many users. And this trend is likely to continue.

Adults in Arlington are active field users as well. Adults of all ages enjoy playing soccer, softball, Ultimate Frisbee, kickball and other sports near where they live and work, and then socializing together afterwards in nearby parks or at area restaurants.

Are these sports activities important to our community? As a lifelong sports enthusiast, the answer seems obvious. Yes, sports teach kids about leadership, teamwork, and working hard to perfect your craft. I’ve seen first-hand how character is built from lessons learned on the sports field. Yes, sports lure kids away from electronic devices and keep them physically active.

Sports also provide myriad health benefits to young and old alike.

But I would argue that the most important role that sports plays in our modern world is that it connects us to each other, and that is good for the community. As our kids participate in sports, they make friends from across the county which expands their world and breaks down barriers. Many of these friendships endure throughout high school and into adulthood. Studies show that the more young people play sports, the more they are engaged in school and in their community. These community benefits transfer to parents, who make new friendships and engage with others through the sports participation of their children. Sports also offer new residents a way to make friends and become part of the Arlington fabric.

As Arlington continues developing its new 10-year Public Spaces Master Plan – a comprehensive, long term plan that provides direction on how the county should develop and maintain public spaces to serve a growing population – it is important not to lose sight of why this matters to the health and vitality of Arlington over the long term. Arlington values trees and parks and trails and dog parks, and it values its sports fields.

Sports provide a community good and making room in our limited acreage to accommodate them is in the community interest.

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. 

Photo courtesy Dennis Dimick

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After two years of design and one year of construction, Tyrol Hill Park has finished the last phase of its construction and is open to the public.

Tyrol Hill Park is a two-acre park adjoining the Forest Glen and Arlington Mill Neighborhoods, with connections branching out into the nature trails of Glencarlyn Park.

Phase Four of the project finalized the park with a new restroom, picnic shelter, and paved plaza. Phase Four also added several furnishings to the site and added accessibility and stormwater management improvements. Earlier phases relocated and upgraded the Basketball and Volleyball Courts on the site, added a new gateway entrance, installed a new playground and added a picnic shelter.

The Tyrol Hill Master Plan was adopted by the County Board in 2003, but after years of inactivity the project was revisited in 2016 when a community survey conducted by Arlington County staff showed there was still support for adding a unisex bathroom to the site and that renovating the paths around the site was a top priority.

Photo via Arlington County Department of Parks & Recreation

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