Arlington, VA

A new ropes course facility is set to open at Upton Hill Regional Park sometime in June, amid an expected spike in park visitor activity.

“It’s going to be the biggest and the best in the mid-Atlantic region,” said Paul Gilbert, the executive director of NOVA Parks, of the new ropes course. NOVA Parks runs Upton Hill, which is located at 6060 Wilson Blvd near Seven Corners.

Climb UPton will have 90 different elements on three different levels, including zip lines and a 50-foot drop. It will be open to those who are 49 inches or taller.

Construction on the course is largely complete but work, subject to changing weather, continues on an administrative building, Gilbert said. Once more work is complete, NOVA Parks will set a user fee and pick an opening date, which the executive director expects will be in mid- to late- June.

As for COVID-19 safety, Gilbert said social distancing is built into the course and equipment will be sanitized between uses.

“The outdoors is your biggest safety feature,” he said.

This new facility will open as NOVA Parks expects an increase in visitors to all its facilities this summer. Gilbert said he expects pools and waterparks — all of which will open Memorial Day — to drive the increase, as they were closed last summer.

“This summer, people are going to be interested in returning to normalcy,” said Gilbert, who is also George Mason University’s Executive-in-Residence for the College of Education and Human Development’s Recreation Management Program.

Adhering to Virginia guidelines for aquatic facilities, Upton Hill’s pool will operate at 75% capacity, and an annual pass will not guarantee admission if capacity has already been reached, according to the park’s Facebook page.

The organization is currently not selling new annual passes due to these restrictions.

“NOVA Parks will continue to evaluate this situation throughout the summer,” according to a Facebook post.

For its beach-themed Ocean Dunes Waterpark, Upton Hill is “hiring and preparing the waterpark for Memorial Day weekend opening,” another Facebook post said.

NOVA Parks is continuing to hire new summer staff for all its facilities to meet the surge in visitors, as capacity restrictions are set to perhaps end by June 15, Gilbert said.

But even with the restrictions, reopening the pools and waterparks could be a boon for the regional parks authority, which took an estimated $5 million hit in user fees in part because aquatic facilities were closed, according to its current budget.

Normally, 300,000 people visit one of NOVA Parks’ five waterparks each year, Gilbert said.

“Over the pandemic, people were already exploring the outdoors in new ways, because so many other things weren’t available,” Gilbert said. “We saw unprecedented use of hiking and biking trails. Now that people have discovered or rediscovered how fun the outdoors can be, I anticipate they will continue to gravitate to parks.”

Trail use increased by four to five times, he said. People also gravitated toward another activity that had been declining in popularity over the years: golf, which is up 30% from pre-pandemic times, he said.

NOVA Parks also leaned on other activities with social distancing potential, such as shooting, boating and swinging baseball bats.

“I think all of those trends are going to continue for some time,” Gilbert said. “People have been reintroduced to outdoor recreation.”

Photo courtesy NOVA Parks

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The County Board has unanimously approved plans to improve walking and cycling connections and add amenities to the Crystal City Water Park.

Water features and a food stand currently activate the privately-owned Crystal City Water Park at 1601 Crystal Drive. It also provides connections to the Mount Vernon Trail and Reagan National Airport, as well as the proposed Virginia Railway Express north entrance.

Park owner JBG Smith initially came to the board in January with plans to modify the Crystal City Connector path — which cuts through the site — and renovate the park. Members deferred the proposal over predictions that the developer’s plans for the pathway would lead to unsafe pedestrian and cyclist interactions.

On Saturday, County Board members signed off on revision to the project. The Crystal City Connector path will be turned into two paths accessing the Mount Vernon Trail and the new VRE entrance: one for pedestrians and the other focused on bicyclists.

JBG Smith will be “adding retail shops, cafes, and restaurants along the edges of the park, upgrading the existing water wall… adding a new water feature, [and] adding public art and an outdoor bar,” the county announced on Monday.

The additions include “nine (9) 300 square-foot retail structures positioned along Crystal Drive, a 1,415 square-foot retail structure along the northern edge, a 760 square-foot bar with a 2,069 square-foot terrace atop the water wall, a 409 square-foot performance platform to be used for the event lawn, and a 747 square-foot trailhead restroom facility,” per a county staff report.

“We’re proud to say that this project has evolved in response to the comments and we think gotten to a place that is better than we were a couple of months ago,” said Kedrick Whitmore, an attorney representing JBG Smith.

The staff report said the plan has been redesigned to minimize conflicts and support increasing number of pedestrians and bicyclists accessing the trail and the VRE station. Potential users testified in January that the initial proposed design, below, would lead to conflicts at the exit from the Mount Vernon Trail access tunnel, where visibility is low.

JBG Smith’s new plan removes the stairway that linked the pathways to the water park, located near a series of tunnels. It does not, however, remove an adjacent path between the Crystal City Connector path and the connection to the proposed VRE station, although some community members predicted it too would be unsafe.

“We think this is a really important area to maintain a connection,” Whitmore said. “Despite keeping the connection in place, we did hear loud and clear that there were safety concerns, and the use of paint, mirrors, signage and paving will help.”

The developer will also widen the sidewalk along Crystal Drive from eight to 10 feet and use landscaping, signage, striping and paving treatments near the tunnels and the connection to Crystal Drive to increase visibility and heighten awareness for all users, the report said.

Board members told County Manager Mark Schwartz that the county needs to increase the level of public engagement for similar projects going forward. Board members agreed with some speakers that more scrutiny from county commissions could have uncovered the safety concerns sooner and prevented the project’s deferral from earlier this year.

“Let’s not do this again,” said Pedestrian Advisory Committee secretary Pamela Van Hine, suggesting a smaller-scale version of the site plan review process for large projects. “We can help you but you have to ask us to help you.”

While the county classifies this project as a minor site plan amendment, Board member Katie Cristol said such amendments “may have a major impact on how people experience the site.”

Photos via Arlington County

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(Updated at 1:30 p.m.) Arlington County has asked JBG Smith to go back to the drawing board after reviewing its plans to upgrade the Crystal City Water Park.

The privately-owned park at 1601 Crystal Drive currently includes water features, trees, and a food stand. It has frequently been used for local events and gatherings.

The project to upgrade it will be deferred two months so that JBG Smith can address pedestrian and cyclist safety concerns raised by Arlington County Board members and community members during the Board’s Tuesday night meeting.

“This is not a fully baked plan yet,” Board member Christian Dorsey said. 

The Bethesda-based real estate company is proposing a new performance area, more outdoor seating, preserving and updating the existing water fountain, and incorporating a new water feature in the center of the site. The proposal also includes a number of retail structures: small kiosks, a bar, and a trailhead restroom facility.

Most of the discussion was devoted to two paths — one ADA-accessible — that JBG Smith proposed to build to connect people to the nearby VRE station and the Mount Vernon Trail. A small pathway linked the two connections.

Community members and County Board members said these paths, as proposed, would create conflicts between pedestrians and bicyclists. People would have to cross the Mount Vernon Trail connector to get to the rest of the park and cyclists would be battling a grade change while avoiding pedestrians.

“We thought we were being helpful, but we’re hearing loudly and clearly that this is scaring people, and we should reconsider it,” said Robin Mosle, a consultant on the project.

The Bethesda-based real estate company opted out of a public design process — something that drew the frustration of some Board members, including Takis Karantonis.

“This would be a conversation that we would have had in the Park and Recreation Commission in advance of the meeting,” Karantonis said. 

The County Board is now expected to see the project again when it meets in March.  

News of a plan to invigorate the park with new retail dates back at least to 2017, when ARLnow reported that the concession stand in the park had closed. A few months later, The Stand opened in its place, hosting many pop-up eateries. In April, D.C. food truck Peruvian Brothers took it over.

Photos via Arlington County

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Morning Notes

Crystal City Water Park to Get Big Upgrade — “JBG Smith Properties is pitching a major makeover for a small park at the heart of its Crystal City holdings, envisioning some new retail and even a bar atop a water feature. The developer filed plans with Arlington County earlier this month requesting an additional 6,100 square feet of density for the 1.6-acre park, located across the street from JBG Smith’s massive ‘Central District’ project at 1770 Crystal Drive.” [Washington Business Journal, Twitter]

Vote By Mail Facts — “The first round of vote-by-mail ballots have been sent to people who requested them, but it’s not too late to request yours. Ballot applications must be received by 5 p.m. on Oct. 23. To help you understand how voting by mail works — and feel confident in submitting your ballot — we’ve broken down the facts you need to know.” [Arlington County]

Deer Rescued from Country Club Fence — “On Tuesday night, a curious fawn tried to get through a metal fence in the Washington Golf and Country Club. Unfortunately her adventurous plan backfired, and the fawn ended up stuck and stranded. The country club called animal control, which is under the Animal Welfare League of Arlington, and that’s when Officer Shannon Rose sprung to action.” [Washingtonian]

Weekday Afternoon Robbery in Ballston — “At approximately 4:21 p.m. on September 23, police were dispatched to the report of a robbery just occurred. Upon arrival, it was determined that the suspect entered a business, approached the front counter, and passed the employee a note demanding money and threatening them if they didn’t comply. The victim complied, and the suspect stole an undisclosed amount of cash, then fled on foot prior to police arrival.” [Arlington County]

National Landing Food Program Extended — “Thanks to generous support from the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), Amazon, JBG SMITH, Equity Residential and individual Arlington residents, the National Landing Business Improvement District (BID) announced today that its Farm-to-Families food assistance program will be extended through the fall.” [Press Release]

Addiction Recovery Org Rebrands — “The name will change but the mission will remain the same – working to help those struggling with addiction turn their lives around. Phoenix House Mid-Atlantic announced Sept. 16 that it would change its name to National Capital Treatment and Recovery, following its split last year from the national Phoenix House organization.” [InsideNova]

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The restaurant group behind Pamplona and Bar Bao in Clarendon has opened an outdoor food stand in the Crystal City Water Park (1601 Crystal Drive).

Called The Stand, it features a rotating menu of what it describes as “the best new food trends the area has to offer, right in the comfort of your own neighborhood.” It officially opened for business today (Wednesday).

The Social Restaurant Group partnered with venture capital firm Catalyst Venture Group on the project. It opened a few months after the water park’s former concession stand was forced to close when landlord Vornado declined to renew the lease.

November’s line-up at The Stand is as follows:

  • All day, every day: Breakfast with B Doughnut and La Colombe Coffee
  • November 1-3: Cookie Dough & Co. (cookies)
  • November 6-10: Capital Chicken & Waffle (comfort food)
  • November 13-17: Donburi (Japanese)
  • November 20-22: Pinch Dumplings (traditional Chinese)
  • November 27- December 1: Timber Pizza (pizza)

The partners are also behind the upcoming Common Ground Food Hall in Rosslyn, set to open in late 2018.

“We are so excited to introduce The Stand in Crystal City,” said Zi-Heng Zhu, co-founder of Common Ground Food Hall, in a statement. “Crystal City is full of creative people with an appetite for discoverable new kinds of food. It’s the perfect canvas for our chefs to share and test ideas in a fresh outdoor setting.”

https://twitter.com/ArlingtonVaPD/status/925788938391998464

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Morning Notes

Arlington Startup to Appear on Shark Tank — SmartGurlz, an Arlington-based company that makes “a line of dolls that ride robotic scooters, controlled by an app built to teach girls to code,” is set to appear on an episode of ABC’s Shark Tank next month. At least one other Arlington startup has pitched investors on the show, successfully: Zoobean received an investment from Mark Cuban after appearing on the show in 2014. [Washington Business Journal]

Pop-Up Food Venue to Open in Crystal City — What was once an unassuming concession stand in the Crystal City Water Park on Crystal Drive has been renovated and is reopening on Wednesday, Nov. 1 as “The Stand,” featuring a “rotating lineup of pop-ups from the hottest local food vendors.” Among the vendors expected to take up temporary residence are La Columbe coffee, Cookie Dough & Co., B Doughnut, Capital Chicken & Waffle, Timber Pizza Company and Pinch Chinese dumplings. [Eater, The Stand]

Arlington Launches New Tourism Website — Arlington County has relaunched its tourism website. Per a press release: “The new website has the latest features, including responsive design… an enhanced regional events calendar integrating community events from Virginia.org and EventBrite; persistent mapping tied to local business listings; intuitive social media integration; HTML5 full-screen video and more.” [Arlington County, StayArlington]

Gutshall Endorsed by GGW — The urbanist website Greater Greater Washington has endorsed Democrat Erik Gutshall in the upcoming Arlington County Board general election. “Erik isn’t just for smart growth, he has deep experience and a strong track record from his time on Arlington’s Planning Commission and Transportation Commission,” the website wrote. “He’s a strong advocate for missing middle housing, bike infrastructure and transit-oriented development.” [Greater Greater Washington]

Clement Supports ADUs at Board Meeting — Independent County Board candidate Audrey Clement spoke in favor of loosening regulations on Accessory Dwelling Units at this past weekend’s Board meeting. “As a tenant in one of the few remaining affordable garden apartments in Westover Village, I welcome the prospect of moving to an ADU as opposed to a flat in an outlying suburb once my building is demolished,” Clement said. [Audrey Clement]

‘Breakfast With the Chief’ — Arlington County Police Chief Jay Farr will be hosting a breakfast for member of the local business community Monday morning in Rosslyn. “The event will provide information on the police department’s engagement with the business community to resolve public safety concerns, crime prevention and safety tips and a presentation by the FBI Cyber Security Task Force,” said ACPD. [Arlington County]

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With Halloween around the corner, Arlingtonians will have several chances to celebrate the upcoming holiday.

The Ballston Halloween Market is set for tomorrow (Thursday, October 26) at Welburn Square (901 N. Taylor Street).

This week’s market, part of the neighborhood’s regular farmers market, will include a beer and wine garden with live music, as well as pumpkin decorating and face painting. The market is open from 3-7 p.m., with attendees encouraged to wear a spooky costume.

And the last of Crystal City’s Fridays at the Fountain events for the season will have a Halloween theme too, with pumpkin painting, seasonal drinks and candy available at the beer and wine garden on Friday, October 27 from 5-9 p.m. at the Crystal City Water Park (1750 Crystal Drive).

Meanwhile, Rosslyn will host its first harvest festival on Friday, October 27 from 4-10 p.m. and Saturday, October 28 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Continental Beer Garden, Central Place Plaza and Gateway Park East.

More than 20 vendors will sell various crafts and gifts, while there will be live entertainment and activities including a pie eating contest, corn hole, a pumpkin toss, costumes contests for children and pets.

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Morning Notes

NAFTA Talks in Arlington — A round of talks among the U.S., Canada and Mexico about updating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is taking place in Arlington. “The Trump administration,” according to reports, “has presented a series of hard-line proposals that partners Canada and Mexico say will be tough to accept.” [CNBC]

Arlington Co. Makes New Acquisitions — Rosslyn-based tech company Higher Logic, which describes itself as “an industry leader in cloud-based community platforms,” has acquired a pair of marketing automation software companies, Informz and Real Magnet. Higher Logic now has over 340 employees and 2,600 customers, the company says. [Real Magnet]

Nearby: Alexandria Considering Nixing Water Park — The City of Alexandria is considering not renewing the lease of the Great Waves Waterpark along Cameron Run. Also, of particular concern to Arlington and other local jurisdictions, it is reportedly considering pulling out of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. [Washington Post]

Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley

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Another free weekly yoga event has begun in Crystal City.

The new program, “Yoga at the Fountain,” will be held at the Crystal City Water Park (1751 Crystal Drive) each Sunday night from 7:30-8:45 p.m. through the end of September, according to Amanda Shipe, one of its organizers. The first event was held this past Sunday.

The event is sponsored by the Crystal City BID and the weekly classes are led by instructors from Mind Your Body Oasis, a holistic wellness center and yoga studio based in Crystal City.

The BID and Mind Your Body Oasis have been hosting a similar event, “Monday Morning Yoga,” at the water park from 7-8 a.m. for six years. Attendance has grown tremendously since the event first began, according to Shipe, the studio’s owner.

“We see a lot of familiar faces each Monday morning and then the people that come end up bringing their friends,” Shipe said, adding that local hotels also support the program and recommend the free yoga classes to their guests.

Hosting classes in the morning allows for participants to enjoy the outdoors before the summer heat and humidity become stifling. Having the new class on Sunday nights in August and September should also ensure comfortable conditions.

“I don’t know why it took us this long to think of [doing Sunday yoga classes],” said Shipe. Hosting the classes by the sound of running water, she said, makes them extra relaxing.

“The calming effects from the fountain are really influential in the overall effect that people have after the class because water has negative ions,” Shipe said. “Negative ions are very calming to people which is why people love to be around waterfalls and the ocean and rivers.”

Monday sessions are focused on Vinyasa Flow classes for all levels. Sunday night yoga classes, however, will each have different themes.

This past Sunday’s event was “Glow Yoga” where people brought glow sticks and wore reflective clothes. Around 30 people showed up, which, according to Shipe, is the highest attendance ever seen at one of these yoga events.

The themes for the next few Sundays vary. On August 13, the theme is “Family Yoga Night,” where parents can bring their children for a laid-back, unscripted class. The following class, on August 20, is “Downward Dog Yoga” where participants are encouraged to bring their dogs.  The last Sunday of the month will be “Relaxing Night Flow” which will be more of a restorative class.

Angela Fox, the president and CEO of the Crystal City BID, said “Yoga at the Fountain” will continue to take place on Sunday nights next year, from May 1 through September 30.

Courtesy photos. Disclosure: The Crystal City BID is an ARLnow.com advertiser.

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Morning Notes

School Board Hears Opposition to Enrollment Proposal — At last night’s School Board meeting, during a public hearing about a proposed update to APS’ enrollment and transfer policy, some spoke out against what they saw as a policy that would disadvantage applicants to choice schools who do not live near the school. Among those speaking in opposition to the proposal was former U.S. CTO Aneesh Chopra, who has also created a Medium post explaining his opposition. [Medium]

Spraygrounds to Open Next Week — Arlington’s “spraygrounds” — play areas for children where water shoots up out of the ground — will open for the season starting Friday, May 26. The spraygrounds are located at Drew Park (3500 23rd Street S.), Virginia Highlands Park (1600 S. Hayes Street), Lyon Village Park (1800 N. Highland Street) and Hayes Park (1516 N. Lincoln Street). [InsideNova]

Startups Galore in Crystal City — More than 300 startups now call Crystal City home, according to the neighborhood’s business improvement district. That’s thanks in large part to coworking spaces like WeWork and 1776, but other startups in Crystal City have grown beyond a small, shared office. [Twitter]

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A photo of a Slide the City event (photo via Slide the City)A giant slip and slide event — which closes several blocks to install a 1,000-foot-long water slide — is eyeing Arlington for an event this summer.

Slide the City brings the gigantic vinyl slide to cities around the country and charges between $15 and $60 for participants to slide in their own inflatable tube down closed-off roads and parks. On the event’s website, Arlington is listed as a site for Saturday, June 27.

Utah-based Slide the City is in the process of acquiring a special events permit to run the event and has yet to set a location within the county. We’re told that the June date is not final, and that it may ultimately be scheduled for as late as August.

Event organizers have been using elevation maps to try to scout out the best place for the slide, and have discussed locations in Rosslyn, Clarendon and elsewhere, we hear. No decision is made, and no permit is expected to be granted until May at the earliest.

Participants have the option of booking one slide, three slides or unlimited slides. All get a mouthpiece, a temporary tattoo and a drawstring bag. Those interested can sign up for a mailing list to be updated on Slide the City’s progress, including when registration opens.

“We like to think of ourselves as carney workers, without the mullets and the missing teeth,” Slide the City says on its website. “Slide the City is a family friendly slip-and-slide water party event. There will be live music, food, drinks, water, and of course the biggest slip and slide ever to hit asphalt. Don’t worry, we’ve got it padded. This slide’s got more cushion than your grandpa’s orthopedic sneakers.”

Slide the City’s organizers did not respond to a request for comment.

Photo via Slide the City

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