Commentary, Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

Come with me on a virtual tour of Arlington’s secret passageways.
Scattered across our sainted subdivisions are nook and cranny straight-aways with no names. They’re not on most maps. You sort of have to know them to take advantage; locals prefer it that way.

My neighbor John Mingus pointed one out. If you venture between houses at N. 27th and Kensington streets, you find a paved, fenced-off passageway in a no man’s land. It allows strollers to travel from the Yorktown neighborhood to the Rock Spring neighborhood in seconds flat. (You also behold one homeowner’s nice Native American-style carved tree.)

In Rock Spring, you’ll find another woodsy walkway interrupting N. George Mason Dr. between Yorktown Blvd. and Little Falls St. It is well maintained, with two footbridges, but no signs. At Lee Highway near George Mason Dr. I spotted the residential footpath alongside the radio tower.

I discovered the secret path in Arlingtonwood the hard way. Years ago for a meeting at Chain Bridge, I stupidly walked down the hill of Old Glebe Rd. to reach the spit of land next to the traffic-y bridge. Danger, no sidewalks! Only later I learned of safer passage at the 4000 block of N. Randolph St., marked as part of a bike path.

I asked Ritch Viola, bicycle and pedestrian programs manager in Arlington’s Environmental Services Department, how these passageways evolved. Perhaps developers, in different eras and with separate subdivisions, carved out residential lots with some leftover strips? Then homeowners teamed up to formalize the short cuts?

“Each one probably has its own story,” Viola said. Sometimes, a builder is “asked to set aside a public easement of five or 10- feet owned by the county or shared privately. In some cases it’s formal, to create a short-cut so kids can walk to school. We look for opportunities.”

With his help, I ventured to other “secret passageways.” In Arlington Forest, I found an off-the-beaten track fenced-off pathway at Second Rd. and N. Wakefield St.

I hit another at S. Edgewood between 16th and 17th sts. off Walter Reed Dr. This unmarked cement pathway crosses half a dozen properties, a wooden fence on one side, a chain-link on the other.

On the high-elevation Arlington Ridge Rd., behind the Hume School, lies a set of stairs familiar to Arlington Historical Society members and residents of Aurora Hills. These (and another further north) were built in response to neighbors’ demand for easy access to new shopping down below in Crystal City. It didn’t take long to find the stairs terminus at S. 19th and Lynn sts.

The most recent passageway is private, Viola noted. Across from the East Falls Church Metro, at N. Roosevelt and 19th Sts., sits a new cluster of nine craftsman homes on land carved from woods along I-66. “We requested a path to help residents but did not get a public easement,” he said. “They didn’t want to invite the public in.” So the stairs up from the street lead to a black fence and gate with combination lock.

Viola acknowledged that some new signage might better publicize these convenient passageways. “It would be nice to have a map.”

There’s one more secret path, near my home. A break in a chain link fence gives neighborhood kids a shortcut to school through private yards. I’d print the location, but I’m out of space….

Goodwill Industries posts a British-imperial-type sign at its Glebe Rd. and Route 50 location: “Stay calm and go to Goodwill.” Only not now. The D.C. regional HQ’s website announced May 6 that because of the coronavirus, donation storage is full and stores are closed indefinitely.

On an upbeat note, the Arlington Chorale, forced by the crisis to curtail its concert season for the first time in 50 years, launched an online auction. The May 11 – 17 Facebook event will benefit the chorale and 20 local businesses.

Finally, when I took 7th-grade French in 1966, who’d have thought that 54 years later — during a pandemic — I’d be congratulating my teacher on a negative virus test?