Salona Task Force Issues Report

Salona Task Force chairman Margaret Malone makes a point Dec. 17 before the group voted to approve its long-awaited report. Listening to Malone is task force member Dan DuVal, who with his wife, Karen, granted Fairfax County a conservation easement at the historic Salona property in McLean. (Photo by Brian Trompeter)

“Disingenuous.” “Incomplete.” “Misleading.” “Inaccurate.”

Those strong words from the president of McLean Youth Athletics Inc. (MYA) indicate major misgivings that still smolder between local youth sports advocates and the task force that recommended options for the future development of Salona Park.

The Salona Task Force, after wrangling for two years over what to do with the historic property in central McLean, in December 2013 issued a report calling for a learning center, trails, organic farm and permeable-surface parking lot – but no athletic fields – at the site.

The only task force member to vote against the report’s findings was MYA president Joel Stillman, who fumed after the group decided not to include a minority report with its final presentation.

Six months later, Stillman submitted a nine-page dissenting statement castigating the task force for what he said was its refusal to acknowledge the community’s consensus that athletic fields were needed at the site.

The task force did not take into account more than 2,500 signatures from people who favored fields and was not swayed by the 63 percent of attendees at a public meeting who agreed with that position, he wrote.

The group’s report “is biased at a minimum and borders on false and misleading given that it does not include a significant amount of relevant information gathered from the community,” Stillman’s statement read.

Contrary to the task force’s conclusions, athletic fields would not detract from the site’s character as a historic landmark, wrote Stillman, citing athletic fields near Manassas Battlefield Park and the Washington Monument.

MYA’s dissenting statement suggests eliminating Salona’s proposed playground, picnic area and dog park and building an education center, agricultural amenities, exercise stations and two rectangular, natural-grass athletic fields without lines, goal posts, bleachers or benches.

Athletic-field needs in McLean have become acute, Stillman said, adding that MYA’s enrollment nearly had doubled in the past decade to about 4,800 players.

Besides Salona, the only other site suitable for more athletic fields in McLean is Langley Fork Park, he wrote. County officials for years have been trying to effect a land swap with the National Park Service to build more fields there.

No new athletic fields have been built in Dranesville District since 2004, although several have been resurfaced with artificial turf, Stillman said. Synthetic turf allows some games to be played that otherwise would have been canceled because of inclement weather, but it does not increase a field’s playing capacity, he said.

That only can be accomplished with lighting, which extends the hours per day that a field can be used, Stillman said.

Salona, located at 1235 Dolley Madison Blvd., originally was part of a 3,000-acre tract obtained in 1719 by Thomas Lee, grandfather of Revolutionary War hero “Light-Horse Harry” Lee and great-grandfather of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

President James Madison may have stayed at Salona in August 1814 after fleeing British troops who were burning buildings in Washington, D.C. Salona also served as a Union general’s headquarters during the Civil War.

Athletic fields have been a possibility for Salona ever since Fairfax County officials in 2005 paid $16.1 million for a 41.5-acre conservation easement from property owners Dan and Karen DuVal, Stillman said. The DuVals still live on eight acres at the site, which are not covered by the easement.

Ten acres of the easement area were designated for active recreation, although lighting would not be permitted on any athletic fields.

Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville), who formed the task force and was one of the first recipients of MYA’s dissenting remarks, expressed satisfaction with the task force’s efforts.

“The task force did an excellent job,” Foust said. “Joel had a different opinion. There were 10 members of the task force and nine of them reached different conclusions and recommendations. Our process worked well. I respect Joel for being an advocate” for fields at Salona.

Task force chairman Margaret Malone declined to comment on MYA’s statement, but member Carole Herrick said the task force did not shun differing viewpoints.

“The task force, after listening to a lot of community organizations, felt its decision was the best use of the property,” Herrick said.

County officials have not identified moneys to finance improvements at Salona, but funds might be obtained through a park-bond issuance in 2016.

Herrick and Stillman agreed the task force’s recommendations are not binding and that the Fairfax County Park Authority may disregard them when determining the park’s ultimate uses.

“The discussion has not closed,” Stillman said. “The county hasn’t made its decision on what to do with the original draft master plan. If they change it, they’ll have to have new public hearings.”

To view MYA’s statement, visit www.myathletics.org. To see the task force’s report, go to www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/plandev/downloads/salonataskforce-report1213.pdf.

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