Arlington, VA

Rep. Don Beyer announced yesterday that he has requested federal funds to go toward a health initiative and two parks projects in Arlington County.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beyer requested $800,000 to replace the Glencarlyn Park pedestrian bridge lost during the July 2019 flash flooding. So far, only the Lubber Run Park bridge has been replaced, although the Glencarlyn bridge was also included in Arlington’s adopted 2021 Capital Improvements Plan.

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

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

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

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

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

Photo via Flickr pool user Tom Mockler

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Morning Notes

Park Plaque to Honor Gutshall — “A memorial plaque honoring the life and contributions of the late Arlington County Board member Erik Gutshall soon will be a part of the neighborhood he called home… when it is in place near the North Highland Street side of Zitkala-Sa Park, the memorial will be situated within sight of Gutshall’s longtime home.” [Sun Gazette]

Ballston Local Now Open — “A casual new neighborhood bar serving New York-style pizza, smash burgers, cheesy crab fries, and generous “Vegas-style” portions of chicken Parm opened in Arlington, Virginia, over the weekend. Ballston Local (900 N. Glebe Road) comes from Jason Johnston, the opening executive chef at MGM National Harbor, and business partner Jonah Troth. Opening day was Saturday, May 1.” [Eater]

Arlington Unemployment Ticks Down — “Although it continues to report improvements, the latest unemployment date shows Arlington’s jobless rate remains more than twice what it was at the onset of the pandemic… the county’s jobless rate in March was 4 percent, according to figures reported April 28 by the Virginia Employment Commission. That’s down a tick from the rate of 4.1 percent reported in February, but remains well above the 1.8-percent rate of March 2020.” [Sun Gazette]

New Trails May Provide Economic Boost — “A proposal to add more than 400 miles to the region’s existing trail network could create more than 16,000 jobs and generate more than $1 billion a year in revenue from construction and local spending, according to a new report.” [Washington Post]

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Morning Notes

Procession for Long-Time ACPD Chief — “[On Friday] ACPD and our regional law enforcement partners paid final respects to retired Chief of Police William K. ‘Smokey’ Stover. He passed away from natural causes on Friday, April 17, 2020 at 89 years old. His service was held today at” Arlington National Cemetery.” [Twitter, Legacy]

No Local GOP Candidates So Far — “As of yet, Arlington Republicans have not lined up candidates for County Board and School Board. The monthly meeting of the Arlington County Republican Committee came and went April 28 with no candidate announcements for the two local races, and no inklings that there may be possibilities in the pipeline.” [InsideNova]

Pentagon Says No to Motorcycle Rally — “The Department of Defense denied a parking permit to the American Veterans organization to use the Pentagon as a rallying point for the Memorial Day ‘Rolling to Remember’ ride, ending a 32-year tradition… [The Pentagon said] it would reconsider the request once COVID-19 conditions change.” [Washington Examiner]

Tables, Chairs Coming Back to Penrose Square — “Penrose Square plaza tables and chairs coming back soon. Make your outdoor lunch plans for next week accordingly.” [Twitter, Twitter]

History of Arlington’s Rail Lines — “By 1924, the larger Washington-Virginia Railway had 64 trolley stops in Arlington alone, on four branches. Lines crossed the Potomac on the old Aqueduct Bridge and on another branch on what became the 14th Street bridges, taking passengers through ‘Arlington Junction’ in what became Crystal City and all the way to Mount Vernon.” [Falls Church News-Press]

New Section of 9/11 Trail in PA — “Somerset County and other officials cut the ribbon Friday in Garrett for the first 1.5 miles of the newly developed, off-road section of the 1,300-mile-long 9/11 National Memorial Trail. Currently, the recreational trail is a patchwork of about 55% off-road trails and 45% roads connecting the three 9/11 memorial sites in New York City, Arlington, Va., and Shanksville.” [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review]

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(Updated at 5:20 p.m.) A recent Facebook post has hit a sore spot with some Arlington cyclists and mountain bikers. 

The Arlington Department of Parks and Recreation recently reiterated its policy on reserving natural surface “dirt” trails to walkers and hikers while allowing cyclists on paved trails.

The post drew the consternation of mountain bikers who have called on the county to let them use dirt trails for the past couple of years.

“I continue to be disappointed with the refusal of Arlington County Parks and Recreation to listen to the community and the County Board on this,” said one poster. “In both the Bicycle Element of the Master Transportation Plan and in the Public Open Spaces Master Plan, the Board said that Arlington would work towards opportunities for biking on natural surface trails. But 2 years later, DPR has been silent on the issue.” 

There are some indications that the department could consider providing natural trail options for cyclists in the future, however. The county has started developing a Forestry and Natural Resources Plan, which examines the impact of humans on Arlington’s natural resources, parks department spokeswoman Susan Kalish said.

“As we develop the Forestry and Natural Resources Plan, the county will look into ways we can include mountain biking in Arlington parks,” she said.  

Currently, mountain bikers have to leave the county to ride any trails, said Matthew Levine, who founded Arlington Trails, a group that advocates for a system of managed, multi-use trails in the county. If they want to ride in Arlington, they forge informal trails, also known as “goat” or “social” trails. 

The reaction to the Facebook post, combined with the informal trails and Arlington Trails’ advocacy, all signify that “people want to use their bikes on trails in the county,” he tells ARLnow.

The real problem is that there is not a managed, multi-use natural trail system,” he said, pointing to Montgomery and Fairfax counties, which have miles of shared-use dirt paths. 

That these exploratory paths exist “reveals the need for more trails,” he said, adding that his group is willing to help design and maintain them. 

Not everyone is on board with the idea of mountain bike trails. Last spring, in response to concerns from the Bluemont Civic Association about unauthorized bike trails and jumps in Lacey Woods and Mary Carlin Woods, the parks department upped its enforcement and posted “no biking” signs. Similar complaints about rogue mountain bikers in other wooded areas of the county have been lodged on Nextdoor.

The county only maintains official trails in Arlington because of the negative impact the informal trails could have, Kalish said.

“In cases where damage is persistent, staff makes every effort to close, reclaim, and restore these areas to a natural state,” she said. “At the beginning of the pandemic, there was an increase in the development of social trails, including ones developed by mountain bikers who built ramps and cut down trees.” 

In the past, staff have stopped youth who were found carrying shovels and hoes, removing plants and realigning trails, she said. 

But Levine said it seems like cyclists are unfairly targeted as culprits of harming these natural areas — despite some studies concluding that if mountain bikers and hikers use trails at about the same rate, mountain bikers do not contribute more to environmental degradation.

Kalish indicated a path forward for mountain bikers on natural trails could come if a balance is struck between use and impact. Other, larger communities have done it, she said.  

“We understand that placing signs and closing social trails are only pieces of the puzzle for successfully managing our trail system; so we will be looking at holistic solutions as we develop the Forestry and Natural Resources Plan,” Kalish said. “We look forward to working with the public as we move forward.”  

But Levine is a little more cynical, describing past experiences when the group has been sidelined.  

“The message is to work with stakeholders in the issue, but we have been rebuffed by the Urban Forest Commission and political leadership,” he said. 

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On Saturday, the County Board is scheduled to review an agreement with the City of Alexandria to build a connector trail near Four Mile Run and Route 1, in the Potomac Yard area.

“The Connector Trail will connect a trail to be constructed by Arlington County from Richmond Highway in Arlington County to a portion of the Four Mile Run Trail located in the City of Alexandria,” says a county staff report.

The new trail and the connecting trail are part of a development plan for Short Bridge Park. The waterfront park, adjacent to several bridges over Four Mile Run, is part of both Arlington County and the City of Alexandria.

“The first phase of development of Short Bridge Park involves the construction of the New Trail leading from Richmond Highway across a parcel currently owned by Arlington Potomac Yard Community Association and on which the County Board has a public access easement,” the staff report said.

The board will have three years to construct these paths.

“The County shall be responsible for maintenance, repair and replacement of the connector trail and the removal of trash and debris during the term of the agreement,” the report said.

Short Bridge Park was created through a site plan that the County Board approved in 2000. A master plan for the park, including a name change from the informal moniker “South Park,” was hashed out in 2018 after “extensive community engagement.”

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The group Friends of the Mount Vernon Trail are asking for help over the next three weeks to fix a trail bridge next to Theodore Roosevelt Island.

The efforts come after successful fundraiser that raised more money than the friends needed to apply non-skid treatment to the bridge, which is nicknamed the “Trollheim Bridge” and has a reputation for being dangerous to bike riders.

After scrubbing away mold, moss and mildew, the Friends are turning to fixing loose boards and replacing damaged boards, another hazard on a bridge that the organization says is “notoriously slippy.”

The opportunities are part of the ongoing effort to “make Trollheim Bridge a little less trollish,” said the announcement on the website.

This Saturday, the friends will be reattaching boards bicyclists often hear “flopping around” on the bridge. Next Thursday, they will be replacing rotting deck boards. On Saturday, Dec. 5, there will be a second event for fixing boards on the bridge.

“There’s a lot of freaking loose boards,” the announcement said. “If we run out of boards, we’ll start flipping some of the boards to extend their life.”

The Friends encourage those who are interested to register via the above links. According to the registration page, volunteers are asked to bring water, gloves, a safety vest and a cordless drill, if they have one.

Extra money from the GoFundMe fundraiser went toward a pressure washer that is speeding up cleaning, as well as extra non-skid treatment for two other bridges with many crashes, including Bridge 1 north of Mount Vernon estates.

In May, the National Park Service released a study of the trail that recommends widening it in some places, particularly hot spots for crashes. There were 225 reported bike and pedestrian crashes on the trail between 2006 and 2010, according to the study, though most were reported in parts of the trail south of the bridge.

The 18.5-mile Mount Vernon Trail sees approximately one million annual users.

The Friends of the Mount Vernon Trail, founded in 2018, supports the National Park Service and helps keep the trail safe through education, trail maintenance and community events.

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A major project to add 70 acres to Arlington National Cemetery while reconfiguring the eastern end of Columbia Pike is inching forward.

The cemetery’s southern expansion project will add about 60,000 burial sites, across 37 acres of new burial plots and an above-ground columbarium, allowing the cemetery to continue military burials through the 2050s. It will also bring the Air Force Memorial within the cemetery grounds, and add a parking garage across Columbia Pike.

The federal government acquired county-owned land for the expansion via an eminent domain suit this summer. In exchange, the feds are paying for the reconfiguration of Columbia Pike and the creation of a new S. Nash Street in the tiny Foxcroft Heights neighborhood adjacent to the Air Force Memorial — a $60 million project.

“The expansion project will benefit Arlington County and its residents by, among other things, burying overhead power lines and incorporating the Air Force Memorial and surrounding vacant land into Arlington National Cemetery,” the federal government said in June. “The project will transform Columbia Pike from South Oak Street to Washington Boulevard by re-aligning and widening it. The project includes streetscape zones with trees on both sides of Columbia Pike, adding a new dedicated bike path, and widening pedestrian walkways.”

In all, the cemetery expansion and the road project are expected to cost $420 million, most of which has already been appropriated by Congress.

Separately, the federal government is also planning a visitor center for the 9/11 Memorial at the Pentagon, across from the expanded portion of the cemetery closer to the Pentagon, as well as a new trail along the cemetery border from Foxcroft Heights to Memorial Drive.

The National Capital Planning Commission discussed the cemetery expansion plan at a review meeting last week. A presentation that preceded the discussion included a number of renderings of the project, as seen above.

The commission largely approved of the plan, but asked the Army to “submit a revised design for the Air Force Memorial vehicular entrance gate to address the unwelcoming experience created by the 60-foot line of bollards and fencing.”

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Morning Notes

‘Open Schools’ Signs Also Being Stolen — “The debate over whether kids should be learning in or out of schools is getting ugly in Arlington. So much so, dozens of signs that said ‘Open Schools Now’ have gone missing. ‘Some of them have gotten stolen and neighbors have found them in trash cans,’ parent Russell Laird said Friday, standing near 100 new signs that had just been delivered. ‘I told people, keep count of how many were stolen, come back with double.'” [Fox 5]

County Getting More COVID-19 Aid — “The Arlington County Board today accepted more than $3 million dollars in additional federal aid to support low-to-moderate-income residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. The aid included more money for housing vouchers and funding for a range of relief programs to support families and small businesses.” [Arlington County]

Restaurant Week Starts Today — “Arlington Restaurant Week will run from October 19-26. During the week, diners can try set menu items from many local restaurants, at a discounted price. The idea is for diners to find a new to-go place for dining out.” [ARLnow]

W&OD Trail Detour Shifting — “The current W&OD Trail detour route just east of Lee Highway (Route 29) will be shifted for about two weeks beginning October 19 to allow additional construction activity. Crews will reconstruct sidewalks on Lee Highway, the Econolodge entrance on Fairfax Drive, and nearby curb ramps on Lee Highway. Trail users will be directed to a new sidewalk and trail adjacent to the new trail bridge during this detour.” [VDOT]

Gutshall Posthumously Honored By Chamber — “The Arlington Chamber of Commerce is pleased to announce that the late Erik Gutshall is our 2020 inductee into the Arlington Business Hall of Fame.” [Arlington Chamber of Commerce]

Local Church Gets Big Donation — “Today, Our Lady, Queen of Peace Church in Arlington received 40 pallets of toiletries and household products worth $250,000 from @FoodForThePoor. They plan to give away the items during their weekly food distribution and through the parish thrift store.” [Arlington Catholic Herald/Twitter]

AED Wins Prestigious Awards — “Arlington Economic Development took home numerous honors at this year’s International Economic Development Council (IEDC) 2020 Excellence Awards, which were announced earlier today at the organization’s annual conference. AED’s programs and partnerships were recognized for Economic Excellence in several categories.” [Arlington County]

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Arlington County police have arrested a man they say is the cyclist behind a series of “trail rage” incidents on local trails.

On Friday, ACPD issued a community warning about a middle-aged man who had aggressively cursed at, mooned and in some cases struck pedestrians, in at least five separate incidents along trails in Arlington. Police say they received “numerous tips” over the weekend, which led them to identify a suspect.

“On the evening of Sunday, September 6, police executed a search warrant at the suspect’s residence and took him into custody without incident,” police said in a press release today. “David Marlowe, 55, of Arlington, VA, was arrested and charged with Robbery, Assault and Battery (x3), Indecent Exposure (x5) and Felony Possession with the Intent to Distribute Marijuana. He is being held in the Arlington County Detention Facility on no bond.”

Marlowe is accused of striking several people in fits of rage, attempting to steal one victim’s cell phone, and exposing his buttocks on numerous occasions. The marijuana charge against him was not further explained in the press release.

On Friday, a police spokeswoman told ARLnow that the department was “working with our regional partners” to try to determine whether the same suspect might be behind similar incidents on other trails, including a August 13 confrontation on the Mt. Vernon Trail that’s being investigated by U.S. Park Police.

Police say they’re continuing to investigate and are seeking additional information about the case.

The investigation into the suspect’s actions is ongoing. Anyone with additional information related to this investigation is asked to contact the Police Department’s Tip Line at 703-228-4180 or [email protected] Information may also be provided anonymously through the Arlington County Crime Solvers hotline at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477). Members of the public reporting additional criminal incidents are asked to use the police department’s online reporting system.

Photos courtesy Arlington County Police Department

(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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Morning Notes

County May Get Million from CARES Act — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam “is considering a plan to distribute $3 billion of CARES cash using a formula that considers in economic need, a way to send more money to places like Lee County or Petersburg and less money to places like Alexandria and Arlington.” [@MichaelLeePope/Twitter, WVTF]

Arlington Trail Usage Way Up — “Trail counts are up 50% above average, on the weekends. Try an alternative route. Protect yourself and others by avoiding crowded trails.” [@BikeArlington/Twitter]

Dems Hold County Board Forum — Blue Virginia has video and notes from Sunday’s County Board special election candidates forum, held by Arlington Democrats. [Blue Virginia]

ACPD: Man Threw Brick Through Car Window — “At approximately 12:10 p.m. on April 30, police were dispatched to the report of destruction of property just occurred. Upon arrival, it was determined that the victim was driving on Columbia Pike when the suspect allegedly threw a brick through the rear window of the vehicle, causing it to shatter. The victim was not injured. Arriving officers located the suspect in the area and took him into custody without incident.” [Arlington County]

Marymount Faculty Member Makes ‘Fashion Masks’ — “Marymount University faculty member William Allen, an award-winning fashion designer, is using his creative talents and those of his students to help boost the amount of crucial PPE available at the Arlington Free Clinic.” [Press Release]

Sen. Kaine Volunteering at AFAC Today — “On Monday, May 4, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine will visit the Arlington Food Assistance Center, where he will meet with staff, tour the center, and volunteer to distribute food. The center has seen increasing demand amid the coronavirus pandemic and currently distributes groceries to over 2,400 families each week in Arlington.”

TSA Workers Create Food Bank at DCA — “Transportation Security Administration employees at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) have established a free food and toiletries pantry to assist employees in the airport community who have been laid off or seen their work hours and paychecks reduced due to the significant decrease in travelers as a result of the pandemic.” [Press Release]

Photo courtesy @EthanDevries_/Twitter

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