When officials with the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA) signed a 99-year lease in December for Occoquan Regional Park they recognized that the arrangement, made with Fairfax County, presented them with a unique opportunity.
The agreement allowed officials to look at the park in a new way, even though it has been established since the 1970s. Furthermore, it is not as if the park suffers from lack of use. With its access to the Occoquan River, the Turning Point Suffragist Memorial, numerous playing fields, several trails and two snack bars it is already a popular destination. Still, given its location—wedged between the Workhouse Arts Center and Historic Occoquan—the park is rife with possibilities.
With this in mind, NVRPA Executive Director Paul Gilbert led a Visioning Meeting in Building 16 of Workhouse on Thursday. Citizens were invited to think big and bring their ideas to park officials, who will then bring those ideas to the 12-member Park Board.
The idea of receiving citizen input before making plans, by itself, was enough to impress several attendees, who cited recent local examples of agencies presenting plans to the public without their consideration. Couple that with the prospect of looking at a well-established park with a fresh set of eyes and it’s easy to see why enthusiasm was running high.
“I think where a lot of processes go awry is when public input is not asked for,” Gilbert said. “That’s really where you get the best ideas. The plans that come from the public are much better simply because they’re recognizable. People can remember when the idea was on a piece of paper and now it’s a reality.”
NVRPA has a number of factors working in its favor as it begins the process of re-making Occoquan Regional Park. Not least of which is finances. The organization gets 82% of its funding from the very diverse operations of its parks in Fairfax, Loudon and Arlington Counties as well as the cities of Falls Church, Fairfax and Alexandria. Most park systems get about 50% of their revenues from operations.
The decision facing NVRPA with respect to Occoquan Regional Park is one of scale. There is the option of doing small things (such as repairing facilities like the batting cages) through the use of money in the General Fund. Or there is the option of a more comprehensive makeover, which would be paid for by bond. Gilbert indicated no preference and the choice will ultimately be put before the NVRPA Board.
In the meantime, Gilbert will gather suggestions—which numbered in the dozens--from Thursday night’s meeting and present them to the Board. Suggestions can still be sent to the authority at email@example.com and citizens can track the progress of Occoquan Regional Park at nvrpa.org.