Arlington, VA

Good news for kids and parents: two weeks after dog parks and tennis courts reopened, playgrounds and outdoor public restrooms are opening up today.

Arlington’s Dept. of Parks and Recreation made the announcement Thursday afternoon, amid the slowing rate of new COVID-19 infections. In addition to the reopening of playgrounds and restrooms, athletic field and court lights will be turned back on and organized sports allowed in parks.

Park users are asked to continue adhering to social distancing guidelines, and anyone with flu-like symptoms or recent contact with a known COVID-19 case is asked to refrain from using park amenities.

More from the parks department:

Effective Fri., June 26, Arlington County will reopen playgrounds and outdoor restrooms, including playgrounds located at Arlington Public Schools. Athletic field and court lighting will return to regular schedules. Park users must continue to social distance and comply with and follow the appropriate usage  guidelines. Here is a list of open park amenities and their usage guidelines:

  • Athletic fields (with restrictions)
  • Basketball courts
  • Batting cages
  • Bocce courts
  • Community gardens
  • Disc golf course
  • Dog parks
  • Playgrounds
  • Pickleball courts
  • Picnic shelters (with restrictions)
  • Restrooms
  • Skate park
  • Tennis courts
  • Tracks
  • Trails
  • Volleyball courts

Organized and drop-in games are allowed on athletic fields. Continue to practice social distancing when possible. Avoid physical contact during sports or fitness activities.

Access to various amenities, such as courts and shelters continue to be first-come, first-served at this time.

Do not use any Arlington County park amenity, if you have a fever, cough or difficulty breathing, or have been in contact with someone with COVID-19 in the last 14 days.

Park visitors are asked to adhere to the physical distancing and small group guidelines – keep at least six feet of distance from others and groups should not exceed 50 people. Wearing a cloth face covering is encouraged.

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(Updated at 9:25 a.m.) In addition to the official woodlands paths and trails through Arlington parks, a visitor is likely to find countless other well-worn paths that criss-cross the park built from decades of use.

As Arlingtonians venture into nature for a social-distanced outdoors experience, a local group is hoping to legalize the natural trails and make them sustainable.

An over 200-member Facebook page called Arlington Trails advocates for preserving and sustaining natural trails across Arlington — particularly for local mountain bikers.

“Arlington County is the only area that doesn’t allow mountain biking,” said Matthew Levine, who runs Arlington Trails. “It’s a great way of getting kids into nature. Right now, a lot of people need to be outside.”

Susan Kalish, a spokeswoman for the parks department, verified that natural trail use is restricted to walking humans and dogs on leashes, due to the damage caused by bicycles.

“Bikes are not allowed on a natural trail in Arlington,” Kalish said. “Wheels on trails compact the ground and have a greater impact on the flora and fauna that make up our natural trails. Wheeled transport on natural trails compacts the soil and can destroy plants and damage tree roots. Compacted soils and less vegetation lead to water runoff and degradation of our streams. There are also safety issues as these trails are narrow and the walkers and bikers can’t easily step to the side without harming more vegetation and possibly themselves on steep embankments.”

Kalish said those trails have been damaged in recent months by irresponsible users.

“We find rogue, bushwhacked trails where trees have been cut down and plants pulled out,” Kalish said. “We’ve also found places where bikers have built ramps, jumps and holes.”

For Levine, the recent damage shows that cyclists are still using these trails despite local ordinance, and legalizing that use while providing less destructive options for use.

“Part of it is making these trails legal, otherwise there are rogue trails being built with thrillseekers going straight down,” Levine said. “If they’re not sanctioned and following protocol — that’s why you have kids in the woods building jumps.”

Nora Palmatier, an Arlington resident and a member of Tree Stewards of Arlington and Alexandria, said that the trails through the parks are currently unsafe for mountain biking.

“It is too dangerous for off-road biking in small parks,” Palmatier said. “Several of us have been hit getting off trails by speeding bikes. I discovered 13 holly saplings 6-10 feet tall chopped down for bike trails which is just wrong in Lacey Woods. I love to bike ride but not where it destroys wildflowers and trees or where it is too dangerous.”

Currently, many of those trails are desire paths — reflecting the most direct routes park users take from one place to another. Levine said those paths aren’t made with concerns about erosion and other issues in mind, which is why Levine and local organization Mid Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts (MORE) work to adapt those trails into sustainable paths. Emails Levine provided of his offers to do so in Arlington show park managers rebuffing those efforts.

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Dog parks, basketball courts and volleyball courts will reopen Friday, along with gyms and restaurant dining rooms.

Arlington County announced that it was reopening the additional park facilities as Northern Virginia enters Phase 2 of the reopening. The county previously reopened athletic fields, batting cages, tennis courts, tracks and picnic shelters last Friday.

Arlington Public Library, meanwhile, will offer book returns and pickup service at Arlington Central Library (1015 N. Quincy Street) starting Monday, June 15.

Under state guidelines, the Phase 2 reopening will allow restaurants to open indoor areas at 50% capacity and indoor gyms to open at 30% capacity. Social gatherings of up to 50 people will now be permitted.

In a press release about the reopening today, Arlington County encouraged residents to continue taking safety precautions to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection.

“Arlington will maintain a Safer at Home strategy, with continued recommendations for social distancing, teleworking and requiring individuals to wear face coverings in indoor public settings,” the county said.

The press release also contained a gentle reminder that parking restrictions were never lifted during the pandemic.

“The public is reminded that parking meters are being enforced,” the county said. “Motorists should be particularly mindful of posted signage in commercial areas as businesses are beginning to reopen.”

More from Arlington County, below.

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Some currently closed amenities at Arlington County parks will be reopening Friday.

Arlington’s Dept. of Parks and Recreation announced this afternoon that park amenities which can be utilized safely while maintaining social distancing will be reopening. That includes athletic fields, batting cages, tennis courts, tracks and picnic shelters.

Organized sports, special events and organized activities, however, will remain verboten. Community and nature centers, basketball courts, dog parks, playgrounds, restrooms, including portable restrooms, spraygrounds, and volleyball courts will all remain closed.

“We are cautiously opening up some of our park amenities as we move through this unprecedented time,”  Parks and Recreation Director Jane Rudolph said in a statement. “We’re pleased to be able to give our community more opportunities to be active in our parks. We ask that people continue to stay safe and practice social distancing, which will help us stop the spread and stay open.”

Officials noted that some facilities may remain locked on Friday, as crews work to remove signs and padlocks around the county.

Arlington’s rate of new coronavirus cases has slowed dramatically over the past five days, and the risk of infection outdoors is generally considered low.

Parks initially reopened for passive recreation on Saturday, May 23, just before Memorial Day. Prior to that, only use of trails was allowed. During the parks closure, police frequently responded to local tracks and athletic fields for reports of people using the closed facilities.

More on the amenities reopening, from a county press release:

Effective Friday, June 5, Arlington County will reopen numerous park amenities for people who practice social distancing and follow the posted guidelines. Reopened amenities will include:

  • Athletic fields (with restrictions)
  • Batting cages
  • Bocce courts
  • Disc golf course
  • Pickleball courts
  • Picnic shelters (with restrictions)
  • Skate park
  • Tennis courts
  • Tracks

“We are cautiously opening up some of our park amenities as we move through this unprecedented time,” said Parks & Recreation Director Jane Rudolph. “We’re pleased to be able to give our community more opportunities to be active in our parks. We ask that people continue to stay safe and practice social distancing, which will help us stop the spread and stay open.

At this time, organized sports, special events and organized activities and instruction are not permitted. Access to various amenities, such as courts and shelters are first-come, first-served; there are no court reservations at this time. Signage in the parks outlines specific guidance for each amenity.

Due to health safety concerns, these park amenities continue to be closed: community and nature centers, basketball courts, dog parks, playgrounds, restrooms, including portable restrooms, spraygrounds, and volleyball courts. While previously planned to be opened during this phase, dog parks will remain closed because the number of people who use them would prevent proper social distancing.

As the County looks towards reopening additional park amenities, staff will continue to monitor guidance from national, state and local health officials. Park visitors are asked to adhere to the physical distancing and small group guidelines. Don’t use any closed park amenities. Face masks are recommended where proper distancing is not possible. People who are sick or who have recently been exposed to COVID-19 should stay home.

Through Friday, June 5, Department of Parks and Recreation personnel will be working to replace signage, unlock and prep amenities, and conduct general park maintenance. Work may not be complete in every park by Friday. If you see an incorrect sign or a facility that should be unlocked, email [email protected]

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With parks reopening on Saturday, some Arlingtonians were eager to walk around some of the county’s nationally ranked parklands, only to find a padlock secured across the front entrance.

At Hayes Park, the front gates were secured, keeping visitors away from the three-acre park north of Virginia Square.

Arlington County Parks & Recreation said on Twitter that the park remained closed because the playground on the site could not be secured. Playgrounds across the region remain closed, with leaders in neighboring Alexandria suggesting they could remain closed until September.

Hayes Park was still locked up last night (Wednesday) but Susan Kalish, spokeswoman for the parks department, said the padlock has been removed and the park reopened this morning (Thursday).

“In our efforts to reopen park spaces for May 23, we had some bumps,” said Kalish. “The park spaces at Hayes Park are open for people to enjoy if they social distance. The playground and tennis courts, like all in Arlington, are off-limits.”

With parks back open for passive recreation and Arlington about to enter “Phase 1” of a regional reopening, county officials are hoping that locals abide by the remaining restrictions.

“Our park spaces are open and people should be able to access them now,” Kalish added. “We should have caution tape around the playgrounds and specific signage that the playground, shelter, field, court and other amenities are closed. If people are confused, they can connect with us on Twitter or Facebook or at [email protected] or 703-228-4747.”

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Exactly two months after closing amid the pandemic, Arlington’s parks are partially reopening in time for Memorial Day weekend.

Arlington County made the announcement shortly before 1 p.m., noting that a number of park amenities will remain closed.

“While parks will reopen, amenities in the parks such as playgrounds, picnic shelters, athletic courts, restrooms and dog parks will remain closed,” said a press release. “The County’s nearly 49 miles of trails and community gardens remain open, as they have throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Spraygrounds, tracks and skate parks are also still closed, the county said in a Q&A page. Some facilities may reopen early next month.

“Arlington anticipates a phased reopening of its Parks and Recreation facilities, with open spaces as a first step,” county officials wrote. “In early June, the County plans to reopen athletic fields (with restrictions), batting cages, dog parks, pickleball courts, shelters (with restrictions), tennis courts and outdoor tracks. As the County looks towards reopening additional park amenities, we will continue to monitor guidance from the national, state and local health officials.”

Summer camps and programs, however, remain cancelled.

Park-goers are being asked to maintain physical distancing — staying at least 6 feet apart — and groups of visitors should not exceed 10 people. Organized sports are still banned.

“Arlington County Police, park rangers, and park rovers will be monitoring parks, trails, playgrounds and fields to ensure people are social distancing and that groups are no bigger than 10 people,” the county said.

A growing scientific consensus suggests that the risk of coronavirus transmission outdoors is very low, though those who cannot maintain a safe distance from others are still encouraged to wear masks. Brief exposure from walking and jogging is likewise thought to carry few risks, though talking or singing in close proximity to one another for a sustained period of time may still be risky, even outdoors.

More on the park reopening from the county press release, below.

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County-run summer camps have been cancelled this year due to the pandemic.

Arlington’s Dept. of Parks and Recreation made the cancellation announcement around noon on Wednesday, saying it “was not confident all campers and staff would be able to safely enjoy an even modified camp experience.”

Credits will be provided to all who previously signed up, DPR said, and refunds of payments can be requested.

The camp cancellation follows the April 30 announcement that the parks department’s summer programs had been cancelled. Arlington’s parks, athletic fields, playgrounds and communities centers remain closed, though trails are open.

More from a press release:

In accordance with the health and safety guidelines of state, national  and camp officials during the COVID-19 pandemic, Arlington County is cancelling summer camps for 2020.

This difficult decision was reached after County staff considered many options to determine if camps could be held with proper social distancing, appropriate cleaning protocols and other safety measures. The health and safety of campers and staff is the County’s number one priority, and ultimately, the County was not confident all campers and staff would be able to safely enjoy an even modified camp experience.

“We recognize how important camps are to our residents, and we are truly saddened to have to cancel for the summer,” said Parks & Recreation Director Jane Rudolph. “Ultimately, it is the best decision for the safety and health of our community. We will continue to explore opportunities to provide programs and services as national, state and local guidelines allow. We appreciate your patience as we work through this difficult time.”

Cancelling summer camps was primarily based on guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Camp Association (ACA), as well as Virginia’s guidelines for summer camps. Given the number of unknown variables still present, the risks of bringing our community together, in-person, for a traditional camp season are far too great.

If you registered for an Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation camp, you will receive a full refund. If you signed up for a camp with one of the County’s contractors, contact the contractor directly regarding their refund policy. The 2020 Guide to Summer Camps in Arlington County lists all County camps, along with information for contractor camps.

County refunds will be issued in the form of a household credit. After the refund has been applied to an account, contact the Department of Parks & Recreation to request the refund be processed back to the original form of payment. Questions regarding cancellation should be directed to [email protected]

Visit the Summer Camp FAQs for more information and details.

Image via Flickr/Kevin Smith

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A ranking of park systems in cities across the country (yes, we know Arlington is not a city) placed Arlington’s fourth, not far behind neighboring D.C.

The Trust for Public Land’s ParkScore index ranked the top 100 localities on their parks, based on access, acreage, amenities and investment.

Arlington ranked 100 out of 100 for investment, meaning the amount spent on parks per resident. It also ranked 99 out of 100 on access to parks (the portion of residents within a ten-minute walk to a park) and 89 out of 100 on amenities (features like basketball hoops, playgrounds and dog parks). A press release noted that the park access score had inched up from 98% last year and exceeded D.C. in both access and amenities.

At 38 out of 100, Arlington scored lowest on acreage — the median park size and percent of area dedicated to parks.

“Arlington fell behind on park acreage,” a press release noted. “The [county] reserves 11 percent of city area for parks, compared to the District’s 24 percent. The nonprofit organization reported overall progress for parks this year but warned that city park systems have reached a critical tipping point, as widening inequities [in] park access and COVID-related budget cuts risk irreversible damage in 2020 and beyond.”

This is the third year in a row that Arlington has been ranked fourth, recovering from a sixth-place ranking in 2017.

“We are proud to be recognized again this year for our outstanding park and recreation system,” Jane Rudolph, Director of Arlington’s Department of Parks and Recreation, said in a county press release. “The County’s ongoing commitment coupled with the involvement and support of our residents make Arlington’s park and recreation system what it is today – a valued resource for our diverse community. And though our parks are temporarily closed due to COVID-19, our great park system is one that can be used long into the future.”

The top three locations on the ranking were Minneapolis, D.C. and Saint Paul, Minnesota.

“When stay-at-home orders permitted, people increasingly turned to parks, trails, and public open spaces to connect with nature, exercise, and enhance their mental and physical health,” said Diane Regas, President and CEO of The Trust for Public Land, in a press release. “Residents deeply value parks, but continued inequity and the risk of future budget cuts threaten severe damage to the park systems that make many cities so livable.”

Trails in Arlington’s parks have remained open and busy during the pandemic, while the parks themselves are closed to everything other than those walking to and from trails.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Morning Notes

Arlington Waiving Affordable Housing Loan Payments — “The Board approved allowing borrowers of County Multifamily Revolving Loan Funds the option of waiving their 2020 loan payments if they commit to using the money to address rent and vacancy losses and emergency needs that are associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.” [Arlington County]

County Delaying Purchase of Property Near Shirlington — “In order to keep their options open, the Arlington County Board will make another $175,000 payment to hold open the possibility of acquiring two parcels adjacent to the Arlington Cultural Affairs facility in the Four Mile Run corridor.” [InsideNova]

Masks Required at County Courthouse — “Beginning May 22, 2020, cloth facial coverings will be available for all people who do not have one as they enter the Arlington County Courthouse, Sheriff Beth Arthur announced. This comes after the Honorable Judge Newman, Arlington County Chief Judge, ordered that all patrons who enter the Courthouse will be required to wear a cloth face covering or face mask.” [Arlington County]

Chamber Supports Extra Outdoor Dining Space — “Allowing restaurants to use parking lots and street parking spaces for additional outdoor capacity, similar to how they have been allowed to reserve parking space for carryout patrons, will provide additional flexibility for socially distanced service. We also encourage the County to consider block closures where restaurants may set up tables on a pedestrianized right of way to expand overall capacity.” [Arlington Chamber of Commerce]

Pair in Stolen SUV Crash into Parked Cars — “The victim’s Ford F-150 was parked when he observed the unknown suspect enter it and and drive away. An officer en route to the call for service observed the F-150 and a Toyota Land Cruiser in the area travelling at high rates of speed. The officer attempted to effect a traffic stop on the F-150, however, it the driver refused to stop and fled onto I-395 NB. The Land Cruiser, which had previously been reported stolen out of Arlington, was later located, unoccupied, after it crashed into multiple parked vehicles.” [Arlington County]

Fund Established for Gutshall’s Kids — “A memorial fund to support the education of the late County Board member Erik Gutshall’s children has been established… The fund was established by a ‘generous donor who wishes to remain anonymous.'” [InsideNova]

Nearby: Fairfax Parks Reopening — “The Park Authority has begun reopening of parking lots and parks in the park system to be open for the Memorial Day weekend. Park Authority staff will begin the process of clearing barricades and opening parking lots at all 427 parks for our community on Wednesday, May 20 through Friday, May 22. These parks will reopen for limited use in accordance with COVID-19 safety guidelines.” [Fairfax County]

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Arlington officials are asking residents to refrain from dumping their yard waste in county parks.

The request, which is being made via neighborhood newsletters, comes after the county suspended the curbside collection of yard waste due to the pandemic. Collection crews have been strained by significant increases in residential trash and recycling collection volumes, necessitating the temporary suspension.

With no more curbside collection of twigs, lawn clippings, leaves and other organic material, some residents have apparently been illegally dumping their yard waste in local parks. But that can be harmful to the environment, the Arlington Dept. of Parks and Recreation said in a note to residents (below) to be published by local civic associations.

The parks department is instead requesting that residents bring their yard waste to designated drop off sites, request a brush pick up, or start a compost pile.

More from the parks department (some formatting has been modified by ARLnow):

As you know Arlington County has suspended the pickup of yard waste collection and bulk trash pickup due to health and safety concerns of the crews who had been doing it. While it may be tempting to dump excess yard waste in a nearby park, it is actually harmful to the environment (and illegal). Most yard waste contains non-native plants which may grow and take over, thereby decreasing support for native wildlife. Help us by being good stewards to the environment and good neighbors.

Here are options if you have excess yard waste:

1. Temporary Drop-off Yard Waste Sites

Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-noon (no appointment necessary, identification required)

  • Earth Products Yard at the Trades Center (4300 29th St. S.)
  • Mulch pick-up site at 26th St. N. and Yorktown Blvd.
  • Pick up free paper yard waste bags weekdays at the Bozman Government Center or Earth Products Yard at the Trades Center (4300 29th St. S.)

2. Curbside pickup is still available for large-scale material (like brush and limbs). Schedule your pickup here.

3. Consider a compost/brush pile. It reduces yard and food waste!

Thank you to everyone taking these extra steps to make sure that not only our neighborhood, but our beloved parks are clean and neat.

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(Updated 5/18) Large portions of the state partially reopened today, but not Northern Virginia.

As the region moves closer to a potential reopening after Memorial Day, however, Arlington officials say residents should expect things to move slowly, and a bit unevenly.

Within the parks department, for instance, officials said in a virtual town hall today (Friday) that different facilities will be reopening at different stages of recovery.

While some trails in Arlington remain open to socially distant outdoor uses, Assistant County Manager Jim Schwartz said facilities like basketball and tennis courts will continue to be closed until at least May 29, the earliest that Northern Virginia is expected to join other parts of the Commonwealth in a phased reopening plan.

Schwartz also said that some facilities within the parks department could experience further delays in reopening.

“Recreation centers may be opened later,” Schwartz said. “Indoor activities have to be managed differently.”

The county has not reached a decision on whether or not to cancel summer camps, he added.

“We will be making a decision next week for upcoming summer camps,” Schwartz said. “Just about all of our regional partners have announced they are closing or not doing summer camps. We will make that decision next week.”

Dr. Reuben Varghese, the county’s Director of Public Health, said Arlington is bracing for a bump in coronavirus cases once the restrictions are lifted, regardless of warnings and advice offered by county health officials.

“We will be expecting a bump,” Varghese said. “I will be very happy to be wrong… but people will be having physical interactions within six feet.”

Officials asked the public not to rush into public interactions once the restrictions start easing off.

“Even though we’re all eager to get back to the things we love,” said County Board member Matt de Ferranti, “if we aren’t careful and play it safe we can put people at risk.”

The video of the hour-long town virtual hall is below.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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