Arlington, VA

The Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation is asking residents if they would attend indoor programs and classes this winter.

In an email sent yesterday, the parks department announced that as staff prepare for winter, they are exploring opportunities for safe indoor classes and programs.

The survey asks whether residents are comfortable attending or sending children to indoor programming, or whether they would rather stick with virtual activities.

“It’s really to take folks’ temperature,” spokeswoman Susan Kalish said.

Whether the department hosts programs this winter is “not up to us — it’s up to the guidelines,” she said, referencing state health guidelines.

One guideline in Phase 3 of Gov. Ralph Northam’s Forward Virginia plan, initiated in August, tells establishments to keep 10 feet of distance between attendees when exercise activities, singing or cheering are involved. In all other settings, the minimum distance required is six feet.

Program sizes will be smaller and in some cases, due to constraints, particular classes may not be viable, Kalish said.

Community centers will have one-way entrances and exits, be reconfigured and cleaned more frequently, the email said.

Options for physical activities range from gymnastics to therapeutic adapted services, and other suggested topics for programming include history, music, science and discovery, languages and nature.

The parks department continues to offer virtual programs for people of all ages, abilities and interests. For now, the department said outdoor spaces are open and it continues to run “Programs in the Park (while the weather is good).”

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Morning Notes

Nonprofit Won’t Return to Arlington Office — “The American Diabetes Association isn’t planning a return to the Crystal City headquarters it left Alexandria for a few years back, not even when a Covid-19 vaccine is readily available and it’s safe to go back to the office again. The nonprofit is seeking to sublease all of its space at 2451 Crystal Drive, about 80,000 square feet.” [Washington Business Journal]

Voter Registration Open Until Midnight — “A judge on Wednesday granted a request from civil rights groups to extend Virginia’s voter registration deadline until Oct. 15 after the state’s online system crashed on the final day of the registration period, according to Virginia’s attorney general.” [Axios, Press Release]

Oh, Deer — The regional deer population has been increasing during the pandemic, which is making driving more dangerous this fall as deer potentially become “too comfortable” around roads. [NBC 4]

Park Rangers Patrolling for Rogue Mountain Bikers — “Park rangers have been patrolling the parks to keep the mountain bike riders off the natural trails. ‘We put up barriers in places where we can. We put up signs … in key areas we put up some things to block their access … but we’re focusing on education,’ Abugattas said.” [WTOP]

Voting Lines Should Move Quickly — “Arlington election officials are advising the public not to be dissuaded if lines for voting, either in advance of Nov. 3 or on Election Day itself, seem long. ‘You can expect to see a pretty long line, but that’s because of the spacing we’re trying to put between voters,’ county director of elections Gretchen Reinemeyer said.” Also, the Reinemeyer said the county is already fully staffed with volunteer poll workers. [InsideNova, InsideNova]

Certification for Sheriff’s Office — “The Arlington County Sheriff’s Office has met all applicable Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) standards following an audit that was conducted earlier this year.” [Arlington County]

Pentagon City Planning Meeting Tonight — “Participate in a virtual workshop about Arlington’s community planning process for Pentagon City! The first workshop will include small group discussions about the community’s vision for the Pentagon City Area.” [Arlington County]

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A portion of Virginia Highlands Park, near Pentagon City, is being transformed into a vibrant display of gardening through a new agricultural initiative.

The Arlington Friends of Urban Agriculture, National Landing BID, Livability 22202 and Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation collaborated to develop a project that is revitalizing a strip of land in the park for a temporary demonstration garden. The project, called the Highlands Urban Garden (HUG), is located at 1600 S. Hayes Street.

Project HUG will include a display of various irrigation systems, while showcasing how to counter challenging soil conditions and how edge spaces in parks can be converted to functioning gardens. Produce from the garden will be donated to local food pantries.

The garden — which volunteers broke ground on Sept. 27 — utilizes the space adjacent to the tennis court practice wall at the park. This fall marks the initial installation and preparation of this pilot site for a spring planting season.

“Project HUG will revitalize underused land near the park’s tennis courts and illustrate how otherwise fallow spaces can be transformed into productive land that builds a vibrant ecosystem,” said Arlington FOUA Board President Robin Broder. “The Highlands Urban Garden will serve as a model for future community-driven agriculture features throughout Arlington’s urban neighborhoods.”

A team of neighborhood volunteers will maintain and manage the garden. On-site signage will inform community members about the practices used in caring for a planned mix of edible vegetative crops, native plants and pollinators.

The rectangular strip of land HUG occupies will consist of three bays of six fabric grow bags connected to automatic irrigation systems. The garden will also feature smart sensors to track water, light, fertilizer and temperature that can be used as part of a long-term data collection effort for STEM curricula at local schools.

“We are pleased to collaborate with our partners in the community to expand natural elements throughout National Landing’s built environment by transforming land on the margins and in unexpected places,” said Tracy Sayegh Gabriel, Executive Director of National Landing BID, formerly known as the Crystal City BID. “The Highlands Urban Garden will invoke curiosity and joy in passersby, residents and park visitors alike.”

As a part of the temporary design of the garden, there will not be any below grade digging or disturbance of the grounds at the site.

Photos courtesy Arlington Friends of Urban Agriculture

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Planning is underway for a temporary dog park in Rosslyn that could eventually become permanent.

The dog park will be built in an underutilized grassy area on the west end of Gateway Park (1300 Lee Highway). The current plans call for it to be divided into a 8,000 square foot section for large dogs and a 2,900 square foot section for small dogs.

A design process for the dog park is now underway and expected to wrap up by the end of the year. A construction timeline has not yet been revealed.

“The facility is proposed to include separate areas to accommodate both large and small dogs, fencing with screening in some areas, upgraded lighting, a water source for dogs, grass surfacing, double entry gates, maintenance gates, repurposed and ADA accessible benches, dog waste receptacles, a message board, and standard County signage,” the project website says.” Gateway Park is currently lighted, and the upgraded lights associated with this project will allow visitors to use the dog park until the lights turn off at 9 p.m.”

The county is seeking feedback on the draft design for the park.

If approved, the temporary park’s approximately $43,700 cost is to be paid by R-DOGS, the private group of Rosslyn area dog owners that has been pushing for a new dog park since 2018. The county parks department will maintain the dog park with help from R-DOGS, which is asking its members to provide feedback on the design.

“Every R-DOGS member is needed to comment… And ask all you friends and neighbors to add their comments,” the group said in a letter to supporters. “This is probably the only opportunity our dogs will have for an off-leash park within Rosslyn and walking distance for their human companions.”

The park could become permanent after the master plan for Gateway Park is reviewed in 2022.

“If approved, this park will be available for community use until a park master plan is developed for Gateway Park and there is funding to construct the improvements,” the county said. “The temporary dog park will also be reviewed annually to ensure it is operating safely and in accordance with the County’s policies regarding temporary park uses and facilities.”

A recent presentation noted that the dog park is to be built in an area not typically used by annual public events that use Gateway Park, like the Rosslyn Jazz Festival.

“If the temporary dog park is built on a portion of the west end of Gateway Park, the east side will still be usable for annual events,” the county said.

A separate proposal for a new dog park in Pentagon City is also making some progress. In June it was reported that Amazon was pledging $50,000 for the temporary amenities in the northern end of Virginia Highlands Park, near Pentagon Row and Pentagon City mall.

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(Updated at 2:20 p.m.) After years of stalled plans, concepts for a new public plaza and office building in Virginia Square are taking shape.

Arlington County and developer Skanska released two new concept designs for the plaza as part of a community engagement process for the planned development, located near Arlington Central Library. The county is seeking feedback on the designs, which have changed since the development was first approved in 2012.

The site at 3901 Fairfax Drive once housed the Arlington Funeral Home, but has been a parking lot since the funeral home was demolished in June 2012. The site plan was amended twice, in 2015 and 2018, to extend the term of the original plan and allow the location to be used for temporary parking.

Skanska bought the property, after years of development limbo, in October 2019.

In its latest iteration, the building now includes 10,280 square feet of space for retail tenants at the bottom level, with storefronts featuring roll-up doors that open to the plaza, and 184,036 square feet of office space.

Designs for the plaza have been updated due to changes to the building design, including the removal of a proposed black box theater and tweaks to the ground floor retail space. The two new, proposed designs for the .2-acre public plaza are dubbed “The Serene Urban Oasis” and “The Breezy Public Forum.”

“Neighbors, patrons of nearby businesses, and library goers can use this space to chat, play, or even get started on that new book they’ve checked out,” says the project website.

“The Serene Urban Oasis” features a passive water feature that is proposed as “more of a sculptural object,” according to John Becker, an architect for CallisonRTKL Inc. and project manager for the development.

“The Breezy Public Forum,” trades the water feature in the first concept for an overhead shade structure in a small area on the northern side of the plaza. It also integrates ornamental trees in the paved area to allow for additional shade.

Both concepts feature a smaller paved area on the north end of the plaza, with a larger paved area on the south. They also feature trees along the sidewalks, berms with inset benches, moveable tables and chairs, and a seating zone for retail. Interactive play elements are also a listed possibility.

County-standard streetlights surround the perimeter of the site on the sidewalk. A mixture of hidden, direct and indirect LED lighting is included with both concepts. Both designs are accessible for those with disabilities.

The original plaza budget — which is funded by the developer — was $825,000, but now sits at $914,000 after being adjusted for inflation.

“Through estimates, we believe that the schemes presented are capable of being delivered within the $914,000 budget,” Becker said.

Feedback received on concepts for the plaza will be used to create a “hybrid of these two preliminary concepts” that will be presented to the Parks and Recreation Commission on Oct. 27 for review, according to planners. The County Board will consider the final concept as a part of a site plan amendment in November.

There is no listed timeline for the start of construction on the project.

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The Arlington County Board this weekend is set to consider allocating $133,413 to provide refunds to one of the county’s summer camp contractors.

The contractor — American In-Line Skating, Inc. — went bankrupt after the county cancelled summer camps this year on account of the pandemic, a county staff report says. More from the report:

The Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) provides a variety of summer camp programming each year, delivered through a combination of DPR staff-led camps and contractor-led camps. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, all 2020 summer camp programs were canceled by Arlington County in late May. Registrants that signed up for camps that are delivered by DPR-staff were refunded in full; registrants that signed up for camps that are delivered by contractor-led camps were refunded according to the individual contractors’ refund policies. One contractor filed for bankruptcy and denied any form of refunds to registrants.

To facilitate the promised refunds, the county is taking a somewhat unorthodox step: making a charitable donation to a local nonprofit, which will then provide the refunds.

“Arlington County has identified Arlington Thrive, a 501(c)(3) organization with a long-standing relationship with Arlington County, to provide refunds in accordance with the camp contractor’s original refund policy that is not being honored,” the staff report says. “Arlington County will provide the funding to Arlington Thrive in the form of a charitable donation of $133,413 from existing funds available in the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) existing donation balances in Trust and Agency accounts.”

Arlington Thrive, which has also been working with the county to help those having trouble paying their rent during the pandemic, will receive a 5% fee for administering the donations.

The situation is reminiscent of the year-long saga of local youth basketball referees who went unpaid after a contractor suffered a serious medical issue. In that case, Arlington officials insisted that there were no legal remedies for paying the refs with county funds; after a year of discussions and efforts to find other remedies, a County Board member launched a GoFundMe campaign.

Susan Kalish, spokeswoman for the Arlington Dept. of Parks and Recreation, said the two situations are different.

“In the case of the referees, the County paid the contractor (a company that provides referees for indoor basketball games); however, the contractor, in turn, did not fully pay its subcontractors, the referees,” she said in response to an inquiry from ARLnow. “It is not an appropriate precedent for the County to set to pay subcontractors for work that the County has already paid the contractor.”

“In the case of the camp refunds, the contractor did not honor their stated refund policy,” she continued. “In its communication materials regarding its bankruptcy, the contractor named the decision by the County to cancel camps as the driving factor in its bankruptcy filing… As a result of the bankruptcy filing, the County has a complete list of individuals who were denied refunds and the amount owed.”

Kalish said the county will be making changes to prevent such issues from happening again.

“The County is in the process of amending summer camp contracts to shift the registration and payments from camp contractor’s responsibilities to the County, to ensure that all aspects of the payment, cancelation and refund experience for camp participants are managed by the County,” she said.

“Both of these issues, a camp contractor not honoring its refund policy and a referee contractor not paying its subcontractors, are troubling and not how Arlington County expects its contractors to manage their businesses,” Kalish added. “Neither contractor will be able to do business with Arlington County in the future.”

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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.

Read More

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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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