By Brian Wheeler
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
At a public input session Monday, area residents called for trails, athletic fields and a multi-use pavilion at the future Biscuit Run State Park as state officials and a 27-member advisory committee sought suggestions.
The meeting, held in Lane Auditorium at the Albemarle County Office Building, drew about 80 people who had the opportunity to weigh in on the draft goals for the park as well as specific amenities and uses.
“It is interesting to me how many different interests there are in the community with this park,” said Danette Poole, the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s planning division director. “In the long run, we can’t be all things to all people, but we will take their feedback into consideration with the resources available at [Biscuit Run] and factor that into the state’s mission for our parks.”
Poole described for the audience the results of the 2006 Virginia Outdoors Survey that ranked public demand for outdoor recreation areas and facilities.
“Walking for pleasure has been at the top of the public’s list,” Poole said. “Visiting historic sites is second.”
Since the planning effort began in January , the advisory committee has heard from a variety of special interest groups seeking to use the 1,200-acre site located south of Charlottesville between U.S. Route 20 and Old Lynchburg Road.
Performing arts advocates have sought facilities for dancing and music. The draft plan promised to “evaluate feasibility” for both an amphitheater and a multi-use pavilion.
“We have a very strong music culture in this area,” said county resident Sara Greenfield, speaking in favor of the pavilion. “People come here from all over the country to be part of the music culture.”
Active recreation users have also sought to shape the park’s plan and connect it to the larger community. Bikers, hikers and equestrians have all provided input and the draft plan calls for a system of trails to meet their needs.
Diana Foster, a biologist and member of the Albemarle Natural Heritage Committee , brought artwork created by children living at the Southwood Mobile Home Park . Their drawings depicted their vision for the park located adjacent to their neighborhood.
“The children would like you to include opportunities for exploring, hiking and camping,” said Foster. “Please plan for pedestrian access to the many communities that lie on the west side of the Biscuit Run stream.”
Len Schoppa, representing the Alliance for Community Choice in Transportation , also called for interconnectivity, specifically that the bike and pedestrian trails be connected to nearby neighborhoods.
“I think there is a lot of temptation when building a state park to focus on a central parking area with closed [trail] loops,” said Schoppa. “Adjacent to so many residential areas, there are real opportunities to create access points that are purely trails and not roads.”
Before being acquired for a new state park in December 2009 , Biscuit Run was the largest residential development ever approved in Albemarle County. The project would have included up to 3,100 homes, a 400-acre county park, a school site, playing fields and major road improvements.
Albemarle officials have been trying to secure a commitment to new athletic facilities and a connector road throughout the planning process, two proposals that state officials have said would be unusual for a state park.
Bob Crickenberger, Albemarle’s parks and recreation director, serves as a member of the Biscuit Run advisory committee and was one of the officials who has called for inclusion of new athletic fields.
“We are strongly encouraging that athletic fields be a part of this master plan,” Crickenberger said in an interview.
Representatives of local youth sports organizations said Monday they also want to see athletic playing fields added to the park. Large facilities like those provided at Darden Towe Park and the Soccer Organization of Charlottesville-Albemarle’s North Fork soccer complex have been unable to keep up with local demand for field space.
“Biscuit Run State Park could help alleviate the severe shortage of athletic fields in this region,” said Rick Natale, SOCA’s President. “I know having athletic fields in a state park is not common in Virginia, but there can be ways to partner with local organizations. Natural grass fields could be added with minimal impact on the environment.”
“The final decision about park uses won’t be made tonight,” Poole told the audience. “We will be taking feedback up until July 1.”
The next meeting of the state park advisory committee will be on Aug. 1 when they review a draft concept plan. A second public meeting on September 19 to review the park’s draft master plan will follow that.
The DCR expects to complete a master plan by the end of the year. Implementation of the plan, and the ultimate opening of the park, will require new funding from the General Assembly.