Reopening of Fairfax parks could help ease illegal parking nearby

Local officials and residents have expressed concern in recent weeks about large numbers of motorists who have been parking their vehicles, often illegally, along Georgetown Pike so they can access parks in McLean and Great Falls.

The Fairfax County Park Authority’s decision May 19 to reopen most of its sites and their parking lots starting Memorial Day weekend will provide some relief in McLean and Great Falls, but residents and officials there still want to combat illegal parking along Georgetown Pike and nearby neighborhood streets.

Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville) had been pressing FCPA and the National Park Service, which operates Great Falls Park, to make their parking lots available, thus easing the parking crunch and making the situation safer for motorists and pedestrians.

“I am pleased the Fairfax County Park Authority finally agreed to open their lots, and I expect the National Park Service to do the same,” Foust said.

Even with parking lots opened, capacity at Scotts Run Nature Preserve is limited, he added.

“When the lots fill on a busy day, people park along Georgetown Pike, a road that is narrow and has very limited berms in most parts,” Foust said. “This creates very dangerous conditions for those who are parking and their passengers, as well as for people traveling on the Pike.”

FCPA spokesman Judy Pedersen agreed that parking at Scotts Run has been difficult for many years. The 336-acre park, created in 1970, has two parking lots along Georgetown Pike: a small one located on a short distance from Interstate 495 and a larger one to the west near Swinks Mill Road, which is a long, narrow parking area that’s tough to negotiate, even for experienced drivers.

“For years, we have had traffic issues related to burgeoning crowds” at Scotts Run, Pedersen said. “It has been a constant challenge. We have been advocates for parking restrictions along Georgetown Pike because, just like Supervisor Foust, we also are concerned about safety issues in that area.”

(Opening parking lots during the shutdown was not an option because it would have signaled to the public that the parks were open for business, Pedersen said.)

According to the Fairfax County Police Department’s Traffic Division, officers issued 122 parking tickets along Georgetown Pike between March 25 and May 7. That figure, which does not include citations for parking on nearby side streets, actually is more likely higher than 150 because the department still needs to transmit some data to a new vendor, police said.

Fairfax County police will continue to ticket those who park dangerously, Foust said.

“Rather than get a ticket and possibly being towed, people should return to Scotts Run when parking is available, or go to one of the other nearby waterfront parks to use the trails,” he said.

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) had planned to install temporary “no-parking” signs along Georgetown Pike near Great Falls Park and Scotts Run Nature Preserve, but now will not do so because of the Park Authority’s plans to reopen its parking lots, said Allison Richter, VDOT’s director for Arlington and Fairfax counties.

Some residents have tried to regulate parking themselves, said Jane Edmondson, Foust’s chief of staff.

“There was one person who put temporary ‘no-parking’ signs on Old Dominion Drive,” she said. “Those were taken down because they weren’t authorized.”

FCPA has been working with VDOT, and will work with the Fairfax County Department of Transportation, to put parking restrictions around Great Falls Park and Scotts Run, Pedersen said.

“We don’t want to be bad neighbors,” she said. “We don’t want to see anybody get injured on a roadside. And we would expect and hope that people would use good judgment and park legally.”

FCPA will reopen parking lots at all 427 of its parks starting Memorial Day weekend, but park users still will not have access to those sites’ facilities, water fountains or restrooms.

The agency is keeping closed its dog parks, playgrounds (including ones at Clemyjontri Park in McLean and Chessie’s Big Backyard at Lee District Park), nature centers, visitor centers, horticultural centers, RECenters, athletic fields, and volleyball and basketball courts.

Park Authority officials urge the public to follow social-distancing guidelines and not gather in groups of more than 10 people.

The Park Authority will not be able to open its parks’ bathrooms because the agency cannot meet Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requirements for regularly cleaning them during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even if the Park Authority put portable toilets at sites, those likely would be cleaned only twice per week, which is not enough under current circumstances, Pedersen said.

“Worse than not opening bathrooms would be opening ones that were dirty,” she said.

The CDC recommends providing hand sanitizer in portable toilets. Given the public’s recent headlong rush to hoard that product, it likely would be stolen, she said.

The Park Authority also has experienced difficulties in obtaining sufficient protective equipment for its staff, as those in-demand supplies have been given to higher-priority workers such as medical personnel and first-responders. FCPA personnel in some cases are sewing their own masks, Pedersen said.

FCPA officials are working toward being able to reopen the restrooms, but cannot give a definitive date yet, Pedersen said.

“We do believe that for a nice experience in the parks, we should have a bathroom,” she said. “We just can’t get there yet, so we beg patience from the public.”

Local, regional and national park facilities in Northern Virginia have been closed for two months during the COVID-19 pandemic, but officials have permitted nature enthusiasts and fitness buffs to use trails at those sites.

 

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