Loudoun supervisors approve work at Bles Park

County supervisors this week unanimously approved a plan for Bles Park that had raised environmental concerns from environmental groups, neighbors and the Planning Commission.

The 132-acre park follows the Broad Run nearly to Rt. 7, widening out at the creek mouth of the Potomac River and home to four soccer fields as well as wetlands, trails, and a playground. The county now has plans to expand the park and its amenities with more playgrounds, skate spots, a canoe and kayak boat launch, a dog park, tennis and pickleball courts. and additional parking. The park may also see a walk through the wetlands in the future, although this is not yet funded.

The county’s plans for the park had raised concerns among environmental groups and some neighbors. These concerns also earned the proposal a negative vote from the Planning Commission, which concluded that it ran counter to the County’s 2019 Comprehensive Plan and would destroy the habitats of rare and sensitive plant and animal species found in the park. In response to these concerns, the commission also took the unusual step of voting on the recommendation that the oversight board work to develop in-house expertise on wildlife biology, natural ecosystems, and native plant and animal communities, and seek out alternatives for plans. for parking and other facilities.

As a result of this vote, county staff revised their plans, slightly decreasing the impervious area and planned structures, adding an additional acre of tree conservation area, removing a proposed maintenance facility and five clubhouses and moving planned mixed-use land closer to existing construction. and parking.

Environmental concerns remained, however, with some people coming to the January 18 meeting of the supervisory board to oppose the project. One pointed to the irony that that same night supervisors voted to approve a new tax on single-use plastic bags, which council supporters described as an environmental measure.

Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy executive director Michael Myers called Bles Park’s decision a “big mistake”.

“Given that Loudoun is experiencing such growth, it is possible that our growth will have a tangible positive impact on wildlife. Our vision is for Loudoun to be a place where people and wildlife thrive together,” said Myers. “Bles Park is one of those places.”

A neighbor, John Henschel, asked supervisors to consider environmental impacts such as increased runoff into the creek.

“To board members who don’t go out to the parks, I submit that you can also see nature, you just don’t think about it,” he said. “So when the screensaver comes up on your computer or on your TV, is that a picture of a pickleball court? Is that a picture of a dog park or a football? No, it’s a picture of a river, a meadow, and why? Because we as humans find it relaxing and meaningful.

Some members of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Board also came out to speak in support of the project.

“One of the things we’ve learned over the past two years is the importance of having safe and healthy ways to be entertained outdoors,” said Erik Scudder. “For me, the Bles Park program to renovate the park is really doing a great job of that.”

But supervisors defended the project, approving it in a unanimous vote, pointing to remediation as a two-for-one tree replanting plan, removal of invasive species and an agreement to find a new route for the boardwalk if a future review finds it. would have an impact on endangered species.

Endangered species have previously been reported on the property, including the nearby white trout lily pad and the on-site wood turtle.

“My constituents are tired of having to travel to other counties or across town to take their kids to practices, get to a dog park and find land to play the wildly popular game of pickleball,” Juli said. E. Briskman, District Supervisor (D-Algonquin).

County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) said some of the work was needed to address safety issues, with people parking along the street and crossing the street to access the park . And she wondered about the accessibility of wild spaces to the disabled.

“I think one thing we don’t do well in this county in terms of our natural environment, we don’t do a great job of making it accessible to the ADA,” Randall said. “The one and only reason I like the parkway area is that if you have a different ability it’s hard to really enjoy our nature preserves in this county. …I don’t know what the answer to that is, because you wouldn’t want to destroy the environment while making it accessible to people with different abilities.

She called on groups like Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy to engage with the County Board of Supervisors and the Disability Services Board to find answers.

Supervisors approved the park 9-0 on January 18. Subsequently, the county government issued a press release through official channels promoting the decision.

“The thorough review of the plan by council, the planning commission and county staff ensures that the natural setting of the undeveloped sections of the park will be maintained and that the improvements adopted reflect the best possible options for a park that has been built nearly 30 years ago with active and passive recreation opportunities in mind,” the press release reads.

More information at loudoun.gov/blesparkimprovements.

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