Park officials battle invasives at Upton Hill

Working to pull up invasive species in the woods of Upton Hill Regional Park are park manager Brad Jackson, Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NOVA Parks) executive director Paul Gilbert and park head of maintenance Jeff Hill.

As plans for development of portions of Upton Hill Regional Park move through the advisory-commission process, some Arlington residents are voicing concern about the scope and impact of the proposed work.

Plans by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NOVA Parks) to add a new ropes course, lighting and parking have run into opposition from those who prefer the park to remain more in its natural state.

Several speakers came to the March 17 Arlington County Board meeting, where they got a sympathetic ear but nothing firmer.

“We do engage,” County Board member John Vihstadt said of relations between the county government and NOVA Parks, but “fundamentally what goes on their sites . . . is up to them.”

In this case, that appears to be literally accurate: While many Arlington development projects require a County Board vote on a site-plan amendment, this one likely will need only staff review and approval, said Paul Gilbert, executive director of the park authority.

In an interview, Gilbert said more than two years of discussion of the project with local residents and officials has been beneficial. “The plan has evolved and changed because of community feedback. It’s better for it,” he said.

The project has received the endorsement of the county government’s Park and Recreation Commission as well as the adjacent Boulevard Manor Civic Association. Park officials are wending their way through meetings with other advisory groups and neighborhood associations.

(“Sometimes, you need to go slow to go fast,” Gilbert said.)

Among those voicing concern about the development plan was Suzanne Sundburg, who decried an ongoing loss of tree canopy in the county – which would be exacerbated by the Upton Hill proposal.

“It takes a generation for replacement trees, if they survive, to offset the loss of mature ones,” Sundburg said, urging County Board members to “scrutinize each project on public land to reduce tree loss.”

Gilbert said current plans call for the planting of an entire forest ecosystem on a sloping portion of open space, and that NOVA Parks is working to “figure out the correct mix of species to re-create the native forest of this area. We’re really excited.”

The 27-acre Upton Hill Regional Park straddles the Arlington-Fairfax line just south of Wilson Boulevard, sitting amid the Boulevard Manor, Dominion Hills and Madison Manor communities. The proposed $3 million expansion also would include a high-end playground, unstructured play area, paved and surface trails, renovated restroom, seating areas with game tables and a new entrance.

The development plan has been in the works since 2015, but like many projects, some in the public are just beginning to get engaged.

“There’s a wide range of voices” in the discussion, Vihstadt said. “There’s more work to be done.”

(2) comments

Janet Smith

[thumbdown]I, also, completely resent every neighborhood park on Arlington's borders being extravagantly re-purposed into a Regional Park, at a huge cost to Arlington's taxpayers.

Janet Smith

[thumbdown]It's appalling how many trees are being chopped down in Arlington every year for everything from McMansions to sidewalks. Who are caring for mature trees and trees that are planted? No one.

As for Upton Hill Regional Park, this in not a park that many people walk to so look for significantly more vehicle traffic in and out of the park.

Speaking of regional parks, Arlington taxpayers are paying millions for conversions of neighborhood parks to regional parks on Arlington's borders. Why? If more non-residents than residents are using Arlington's upgraded and repurposed parks who benefits from neighborhood park upgrades and repurposings?

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