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.

When it comes to the design of Upton Hill Regional Park, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NOVA Parks) isn’t catching a break.

The agency earlier agreed to cut, from its expansion plan, construction of a 17-space parking lot with direct access to Wilson Boulevard. Its decision was part of an effort the assuage tree activists, who complained loudly about the original proposal’s impact on both live and dead trees on the parcel.

But eliminating the additional parking has now generated opposition from the Dominion Hills Civic Association, which is upset that the additional amenities planned at the park will bring more traffic, which likely will be forced to park in neighborhood streets.

“At this point, we see [no solution] that does not include a new parking lot,” said Brian Hannigan, president of the civic association, after that organization met with NOVA Parks executive director Paul Gilbert earlier on October.

The Dominion Hills neighborhood, which includes about 600 single-family homes, sits immediately north of Upton Hill, across Wilson Boulevard.

Gilbert acknowledged that the neighborhood has voiced concern “that the improvements to the lower-park area will drive more park visitors” who will need to park somewhere. If they can’t find parking in the park’s lot or on Wilson Boulevard, they may head into neighborhoods.

Gilbert said he was pleased that plans for the upper part of the park, including a climbing tower and, potentially, a ropes course, “seem to have wide support.” But he now is faced with finding a way to make both tree advocates (who want no additional parking lot) and the Dominion Hills leadership (which does) happy.

When the decision to cut out the proposed additional parking lot was announced, NOVA Parks and county staff were working on a proposal that would see three-hour time limits placed on about 25 parking spots along Wilson Boulevard around the park. But the Dominion Hills Civic Association believes that could lead residents of local apartments, who often park in those spaces due to a lack of other options, to seek out parking in the adjoining residential neighborhoods, “some of which are already parked to near capacity,” the association said.

While the Arlington County government has found itself thrust into the development process due to vocal complaints made by the tree activists at recent County Board meetings and through social media, the government has limited powers (and the County Board none) to intervene directly with NOVA Parks on the plan.

The Boulevard Manor Civic Association, which represents homeowners adjacent to another side of the park, has voiced concerns about parts of the design plan, but generally has been supportive.

Straddling the Arlington/Fairfax border, Upton Hill Regional Park has passive areas but is better known for its large swimming complex, miniature-golf course and batting cages that draw crowds from spring to autumn.

Work on the redevelopment project is slated to begin later this year, although it is likely the climbing tower will not be constructed until the winter of 2019-20.

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