Arlington County is looking to restore and replant a man-made pond along the Washington & Old Dominion Trail starting in 2023.
Since it was built between 2001-2002, significant sediment deposits have settled in Sparrow Pond in Glencarlyn Park, harming the wildlife habitat and the water quality. About a decade ago, the county decided to defer cleaning up the sediment and instead, redesign and restore the pond, according to a staff presentation.
Fast forward to 2022 and the county is finally wrapping up the project’s planning phase and preparing for construction.
Planned work includes an access path from S. Park Drive, a residential street off Arlington Blvd that dead-ends behind Glencarlyn Park, to the pond. The county intends to dig a sediment forebay and larger pools “to better filter stormwater and restore habitat for herons, ducks, turtles, frogs and fish,” according to the project webpage.
Additional, new stormwater management facilities will redirect runoff to the Four Mile Run stream, which could cut down on pollution and clouding downstream in the Chesapeake Bay. These changes should also prevent the W&OD Trail embankment from flooding during “100-year storm events” — or storms with a 1% chance of occurring every year — such as the 2019 flood precipitated by a torrential rainstorm, according to a staff report.
Before it can start, however, the Arlington County Board needs to approve agreements with the NOVA Parks and Dominion Energy, both of which own or control parts of the land surrounding the pond, where the new access path and stormwater facilities will be located.
The Board is slated to review these contracts on Saturday.
If the project is approved, construction would begin next year and take between six and nine months.
Preparatory work is already underway with special attention to wildlife, at the insistence of community members.
In the spring of 2021, the county installed a beaver baffle to help keep water levels stable and prevent the W&OD Trail embankment from flooding, all while not disturbing a beaver encampment in the pond area.
“The beaver baffle was an elegant solution that allowed the beaver to stay without endangering the W&OD trail embankment,” the county said in a project update.”The water levels came down and the pools on the bottom of the slope dried up. The slope and trail were safer again.”
Community members have emphasized in project meetings the importance of protecting wildlife, including beavers and the pond’s namesake swallows.
“We will work together to rescue native plants and affected animals like turtles and fish before beginning construction,” the county said. “Before being released, staff will test the animals so we don’t spread disease around the County.”
Plant and animal rescues will be planned for fall 2022, according to the project page.
This project — like the ongoing dredge work at Four Mile Run to prevent extreme flooding — is part of county efforts to improve stormwater management as storms appear to intensify, which many scientists attribute to climate change.
County staff and environmental advocates have attributed some flooding, at least in part, to development — including the construction of large homes — and the associated loss of trees and other plantings that absorb water.
Fewer trees and shrubs mean more water runs into stream banks, causing erosion, water pollution and sediment build-up. That, in turn, causes more tree loss and harms to wildlife habitats, including the critters of Sparrow Pond. The county has worked to mitigate such effects through stringent stormwater requirements for new construction, though some homebuilders have complained about the cost of such measures.
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New Names for Ballston Beaver Pond — The Ballston Beaver Pond is being converted into a wetland and the four finalists for its new name were just revealed: Crossroads Wetland Park, Ballston Wetlands, Thaddeus Lowe Park and Wetlands Vista Park. [SurveyMonkey, Patch]
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Ballston Beaver Pond is in need of a new name because, well, there are no more beavers.
Residents are asked to suggest names for the pond that either “reflect a park’s unique character and features” or one that “honors someone who made a significant and positive impact to Arlington County,” the survey says. Prior to the renovation, the pond was home to a variety of wildlife, including beavers. But the county is installing beaver baffles to discourage them from returning and building dams again.
The survey says residents will also be able to weigh in on a list of potential park names, compiled at least in part from the survey, in June. Aileen Winquist, the communication manager for the renovation project, said the final name is set to be presented to the Arlington County Board in September.
Renovations at the Ballston pond, which include converting it from a dry pond to a wetland, are paused because of a delay in the delivery of a concrete block that will be installed in the upper part of the pond, according to the project’s website. Winquist said the block is expected to arrive in mid-June.
“That’s kind of the last grading work that will need to be done,” she said. Much of the excavation and grading work was completed in April.
“The contractor has made excellent progress so far and the project is on schedule,” she said. The renovations are expected to wrap up in July 2023.
After installing the concrete block, which Winquist said would be a settling area for sediment and trash from water coming into the pond, renovations will continue with building viewing platforms and planting vegetation.
“The remaining work will be to install the platform — there’s a viewing platform on the east side of the pond — and then to do all the planting,” she said, adding “thousands of plants will be planted in the pond.”
The renovation process faced a series of interruptions before it began in December 2021. The project was planned, but in a holding pattern, between 2013 and 2019. It went into hiatus soon after the redesigned project went public in 2019 due to “COVID-19 and related budget concerns,” according to a county report in June 2021.
The current renovation project is a “high-priority project” in the county’s Stormwater Management Program and “contributes to restoring the Chesapeake Bay,” according to the project’s website.
Other renovation measures listed include constructing turtle basking stations and other wildlife components, planting wetland vegetation, and removing invasive species. The design plan for the project also includes spaces for a shrub wetland and a marsh.
The pond was initially built as a dry pond, which she said meant stormwater runoff from I-66 would temporarily sit in the pond area. That changed after the beavers arrived and built their dams. The renovations, meanwhile, aim to convert the pond into a wetland.
“The pond will have a lot of flow channels for the water to flow through, and as it’s filtered through the wetland plants and soils, that will remove pollutants from the stormwater runoff,” Winquist said.
The $4.2 million, 18-month project approved by the County Board this summer will retrofit the pond, originally built in 1980 to collect stormwater runoff from I-66. Today, sediment in the pond prevents detention, and it instead has become home to abundant wildlife, including beavers, according to a county report.
The project, expected to wrap up in July 2023, aims to improve stormwater retention and the wildlife habitat by restoring native plant species and adding habitat features. There will be a new observation platform with educational signage, seating and a reconstructed trail with bike racks.
Arlington County says the new two-acre wetland area will provide stormwater treatment to 460 acres of land in the Lubber Run watershed, and “is among the County’s most effective opportunities to achieve its water quality objectives and meet its regulatory requirements.”
This month, the construction contractor will be setting up the site, county project manager Aileen Winquist tells ARLnow. Excavation will begin next year.
“From now until the end of the year, neighbors will see the contractor bringing in equipment and setting up the boundaries of the construction area,” she said. “In the new year, neighbors will begin to see dump trucks full of sediment removed from the pond leaving the site.”
Public access will be limited as well. The grass area within the park will be off-limits, as it will be used for construction. A bike and pedestrian detour will reroute trail users from Washington Blvd to the Custis Trail and along the south side of the pond.
The detour will be in place for the entirety of construction, Winquist says.
The project is divided into a few phases, as work can only occur on one half of the pond at a time, Winquist said.
First, workers will remove sediment from and re-grade a half of the pond while removing invasive plants.
After the second half of the pond receives the same treatment, construction will begin on a new observation platform, trail upgrades, native species planting and new habitat features, including basking stations for turtles, she said.
The project is a long time in coming.
After community engagement in 2011-12, the project was paused in 2013 until the necessary easements were obtained from property owners. A redesigned project with new permits went to the public in January 2019, but “COVID-19 and related budget concerns” again delayed the project, the report says.
Still, those nearby welcome the pond redo, according to the report.
“The community continues to be very supportive of the project and it is highly anticipated by Ballston area residents and businesses,” it said.
“This beautiful natural area needs a name that fits its unique space,” says Department of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Martha Holland.
Next year, the county plans to ask the community for name ideas and provide an opportunity to comment on a list of potential names.
Next week, county officials will present details and ask for feedback on a long-awaited project to restore a pond along the W&OD Trail.
On Tuesday, October 1, Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services will present a draft plan for digging the Swallow Pond in Glencarlyn Park deeper, and restoring some of the wild habitat in and around the pond.
People interested in learning more about the designs can attend the meeting at the Long Branch Nature Center (625 S. Carlin Springs Road) from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Officials are also welcoming feedback from community members.
“The project goal is to restore the pond to the original depth by removing sediment, add a sediment collection forebay to allow easier maintenance and sediment removal, maximize water quality benefits, and restore habitat,” the county wrote on the project webpage.
Officials hope that clearing sediment means clearer water will flow from the pond to Four Mile Run — making this project one of several the county is hoping can cut down on pollution and clouding downstream in the Chesapeake Bay.
Sparrow Pond was man made in 2001 and has been slowly filling up with sediment ever since.
Sediment was first cleared out of the pond 2007, per a county presentation. The pond was due for another clean-up in 2012, but the work was delayed. Several studies later, the pond is now slated for a full restoration project.
During a March community meeting, residents expressed concerns that construction could introduce invasive plants like Japanese knotweed via machinery that’s worked in places already seeded with the fast-growing shrub. Residents also requested crews do the work outside of the sparrow breeding cycle (roughly March to August) to protect the pond’s namesake avian inhabitants.
Some long-awaited improvements could finally be on the way for the Ballston Pond, which could help keep trash out of the waterway and help better manage stormwater in the area.
County officials are planning a community meeting to discuss the project tomorrow (Wednesday) at Arlington Central Library (1015 N. Quincy Street). The gathering is set to start at 7:30 p.m.
The meeting is the first on the pond improvements since 2012, and the county has been eyeing some work on the small body of water since early 2011.
The pond, located near the intersection of I-66 and Fairfax Drive, was originally designed as a way to collect stormwater runoff from the highway back when it was first built decades ago. But sediment from the water built up in the pond over the years, and a combination of invasive plants and trash have also plagued the area.
Accordingly, the county has long sought to install new trash control devices and other new vegetation buffers around the pond. Officials have also decided to replace a walkway around its perimeter, particularly as it nears the CACI office building and AVA Ballston apartments, and add a new “boardwalk” along a section the pond as well.
The county drained the pond to clean it up a bit back in 2013, then spent the next few years removing unwanted plants growing nearby and securing the necessary easements to let the project go forward.
But with all that work finally completed, the county is now finalizing designs for the project and hopes to get work started later this summer.
So long as the community signs off on the designs, the County Board could vote to send the project out for bid this spring.
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Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann
An oasis of wetlands and wildlife, tucked between the office towers of Ballston and the traffic of I-66, is safe from highway construction impacts, the county’s Department of Environmental Services says.
The Ballston Beaver Pond, as it’s called, was initially designed to collect stormwater runoff from I-66. But that started to change in the 1990s when beavers moved in and dammed up the drainage system, creating a pond and wetlands to form. The Beaver Pond is now a habitat frequented by muskrat, geese, ducks, heron, egrets, redwing blackbirds, fish, turtles and the occasional beaver.
The Beaver Pond is located next to a bike trail that connects Ballston and the Custis Trail, just north of the ramp from Fairfax Drive to I-66.
Residents of the nearby Waycroft Woodlawn neighborhood have become fond of the pond and became worried when a bulldozer arrived in the area as part of the I-66 widening project. But not to fear says Aileen Winquist, of the county’s Environmental Management Bureau.
“The Beaver Pond is not in danger from the current I-66 spot improvement project and widening of westbound I-66,” Winquist said in an email.
Winquist noted that the design work on a planned restoration of the Beaver Pond will begin this fall. The restoration will clean up trash and sediment from the pond and provide better water quality treatment. There will be several public meetings held to educate residents about the project.
Although the Beaver Pond will be largely unaffected by the I-66 widening, a VDOT-owned stormwater retention pond across the street will be impacted. Construction is planned for the facility, but details about the exact nature of the work were not immediately available.
More photos after the jump.