With the past weeks’ heavy rains, it’s hard to believe that summertime activities are just around the corner. Everything’s a bit soggy, but a few days of sunshine should return our parks and playgrounds into usable condition. The Fairfax County Park Authority offers a variety of summer programs, including free outdoor concerts at park venues almost every night. The popular Spotlight by Starlight concerts at Mason District Park begin on Sunday, June 17; the international concerts at Ossian Hall Park in Annandale begin on Saturday, June 16. The complete schedule of summer concert programs across the county can be found at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/performances.
The parks’ summer programs are but a few of the year-round activities in the Fairfax County park system. The “Great Parks, Great Communities” master plan report is the result of a lengthy process that engaged thousands of park users and non-users via surveys, open houses, focus groups, and stakeholder meetings. The Park Authority Board, composed of volunteers appointed by the Board of Supervisors, has fiduciary responsibility for the agency, and approved the system-wide Master Plan earlier this year. The Plan acknowledges the importance and value of parks and recreation. Indeed, 93 percent of respondents indicated that high quality parks, trails, recreation facilities, and services are important or extremely important to the quality of life in Fairfax County.
At the same time, the Master Plan acknowledges changing needs and trends. Urbanization creates a need for new parks and recreation, especially as mixed-used development intersperses residential and commercial uses on smaller parcels. Demographic changes already are being addressed, as family and cultural gatherings demand use of larger spaces during a longer period of time. The traditional family picnic centered around a grill in the park has been replaced by an all-day affair with food trucks, catered meals, tents, and parking issues. By 2025, more than one quarter of Fairfax County residents will be 55 years of age or older, increasing the demand for more 50+ recreation, mid-day programs, and active living (walking, running, biking trails).
Stewardship of our natural spaces also is a responsibility of the Park Authority, and an important need identified by stakeholders. Indeed, 57 percent of households said that preserving open space and environment was important; 60 percent said it was most important for the future of Fairfax County. But the condition of our parks also was noticed by respondents. When asked how they would spend $100 of Park Authority funds, the largest slice of funding ($30) would go to repair and maintain existing parks and infrastructure; another $22 would go to upgrading and maintaining existing park facilities. The report notes that, currently, the Park Authority has close to $200 million in deferred maintenance needs throughout the park system. More than one third of park structures are more than 40 years old; continuing to adequately maintain the park system will be challenging.
The Master Plan presents a framework and related policies and goals that will guide the Park Authority to success during the next 10 years. Park Authority Chairman Bill Bouie notes that partnerships, programming, capital improvements, communications, and stewardship activities will be integral to that success. The entire report may be accessed on-line at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/planning-development/fcpa-masterplan.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]