As a county brimming with nature-lovers, Arlington funds and manages a blossoming spray of parks now greeting the springtime.
But it’s no secret that much of the labor — even some vision — comes from volunteers who fall in love with their neighborhood pastoral enclave.
I recently toured my local strolling park and saw it through new eyes. Mary McLean, the master naturalist and the park steward at Tuckahoe Park who won the 2014 Bill Thomas outstanding parks volunteer award, showed me hidden features.
“Tuckahoe Park is a great example of what Arlington does best…partnering with the community and Arlington Public Schools to get the most for the community,” I was told by Jane Rudolph, Arlington parks director. “Arlington parks have always gotten fantastic support from passionate community members like McLean, who put blood, sweat and tears into removing invasive plants and enhancing our natural environments.”
The Tuckahoe land shared by park and school authorities sits on farmland cultivated from 1864-1949 by George Crossman. What was Crossman Run stream, now underground, flows from Sharp Park at the top of Sycamore St. and branches into… my backyard! But its main trunk lies underneath Tuckahoe Park woods, and there you see remnants of a stone dam where Crossman’s cattle drank.
“Every other major Arlington park has a stream not buried in the ground,” said McLean.
“Tuckahoe wants to be wet — it’s a bowl.” But Arlington authorities protecting the picnic area and tennis court became concerned about erosion from errant groundwater. So the “creek” — in which kids in the 1960s chased crawfish — was covered with an asphalt path and footbridge.
A plastic piezometer in the ground measures water levels. Greg Zell, the Arlington natural resource specialist, did a species plan for the habitat certified by the National Wildlife Foundation.
McLean points out the milkweed, golden ragwort and poison ivy that would escape my notice. (I’m not a registered Tuckahoe Park volunteer, but I do stop during my walks and pick up some of the trash that is continually discarded — though I would never boast of it publicly).
Tuckahoe has attracted a “history of geeky nature nerds,” McLean said affectionately. She credits dedicated neighboring colleagues Kaiulani Lee, who worked to save a tall tree, and Beth Reese, who in the 1990s found grant money to create authorized signage on nature’s processes. (Those signs have deteriorated in their rusted protective cases, which are locked).
Another Tuckahoe steward she commends is Bill Ross, chair of the Parks Commission.
Teamwork by the county, the school and neighbors produced the wetland garden (installed by Eagle Scout Jacob Heidig), a simple amphitheater and other outdoor classroom seats made from fallen trees.
And there’s the much-improved playground equipment, the third iteration of which was installed in 2014. The original, dangerous “log city” from the 1960s-70s “probably wasn’t up to modern safety requirements,” said neighbor Brett Brown, who played on it. The second set of slides designed in the 1990s suffered from poor visibility for kids’ chaperones.
Mini-gardens in Tuckahoe Park are privately cultivated (though one memorializing a lost loved one broke the rules).
McLean treasures the partnerships, but she notes that during her years of sharing projects, the department always “runs out of money.” Volunteers will be needed forever, she thinks. “The county doesn’t have the manpower to completely manage the parks.”
After a scare, three threatened Arlington programs made their case and succeeded in fending off proposed budget slashings.
The county board on April 21 approved its fiscal 2019 budget after making some restorations: Back came $70,000 for Arlington Independent Media, $365,000 for long-range planning to reimagine Lee Highway; and $40,000 for the outside facilitators who train volunteer activists at the Neighborhood Colleges.
The cable and Internet-based AIM, in particular, had taken hits from skeptics writing letters to the editor. But board chair Katie Cristol said, “The board wants to give AIM more time to work toward economic self-sufficiency.”