By Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Monday, October 24, 2011

Bikers, hikers, golfers and botanical garden fans were among the many enthusiastic contributors at Monday’s planning meeting for the eastern portion of Charlottesville’s McIntire Park.

Ten organizations and 30 individuals signed up in advance to make their pitch for utilizing the 75 acres between the railroad tracks which divide McIntire Park and Schenk’s Branch creek. It is currently home to a nine-hole golf course, a wading pool and the Dogwood Vietnam Memorial.

“The goal is to let the public and various organizations, with any ideas about uses they want to see at the park, tell us what they want,” said the city’s trail planner, Chris Gensic, in an interview.

“It is effectively a blank slate,” Gensic added. “Given that it’s a regional park, and it’s one of the biggest, basically any use could be proposed.”

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Some opponents of the Meadow Creek Parkway, which would pass through the park, encouraged planners to wait until federal litigation is resolved and to make an extra effort to get more residents involved in the process.

“Why is this planning process being pushed?” asked Colette Hall with the Coalition to Preserve McIntire Park. “The federal litigation is pending and will be resolved in several months.”

Construction of Albemarle’s portion of the long-debated road is virtually complete, and contractors have begun clearing land on the city’s portion, beginning at Melbourne Road. A federal lawsuit is pending on the grade-separated interchange envisioned for the parkway’s connection to the U.S. Route 250 bypass.

John Cruikshank, speaking for the Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club, which also opposes the parkway, called for a voter referendum to approve the park’s master plan.

“To the greatest extent possible, we believe McIntire Park should be preserved as a natural area for hiking, bicycling and family picnics,” Cruickshank said. “It should be a central place for people to congregate.”

Regardless of what happens with the parkway, Cruikshank and others said they saw opportunities for improved connectivity for area bikers and pedestrians.

“The park is surrounded by residential areas, schools and other destinations,” said Len Schoppa, representing the Alliance for Community Choice in Transportation. “It has become our ‘Central Park,’ but it remains an inaccessible lost opportunity.”

In an interview, Schoppa said his interest in the park’s design goes back many years to a kite flying adventure with his two children. A broken string and a crash landing put his kite on the other side of the railroad tracks.

“It landed on the golf course and the golfers would not let us in,” said Schoppa. “They said since we were not carrying a golf bag, we were not allowed in.”

A 2004 master plan for McIntire Park recommended the phasing out of the golf course since the city’s nearby Meadowcreek course at Pen Park had been expanded to 18-holes.

Jim Moore, representing the McIntire Park Golf Committee, said 7 holes on the golf course remain available for golfers, despite the encroaching Meadow Creek Parkway, for $5.00 a day. Moore said the golf course should remain where it has been since 1938.

“Most of us can’t afford to play at Meadowcreek,” said Moore, who was handing out testimonial DVDs at the meeting entitled “McIntire Calm.” “It’s a rare pastoral course that serves as low-cost recreation.”

Moore said the golf course is a self-sustaining operation and returns a small profit to the city annually.

“We think the process should require [any alternative to have] a business plan, to show the extent public funds would be needed,” Moore added.

Meanwhile, organizers behind the McIntire Botanical Garden project have already recruited a local landscape architect to help bring their vision to life.

Their plan emphasizes working with the existing landscape and includes trails, wildflower meadows, and wetland gardens to showcase the unique features of the Piedmont landscape. The botanical garden is not expected to include a major building or conservatory.

The Soccer Organization of Charlottesville-Albemarle advocated for inclusion of playing fields.

“I know there is a piece of land near Melbourne Road that could be suitable,” said SOCA’s executive director Bill Mueller in an interview. “We can do fields of different sizes, and smaller fields are an option.”

The city will lead a walking tour of the park on Nov. 2 at 5:30 pm. Then, on Dec. 12, the city will hold another public meeting to begin the process of narrowing down the numerous proposals.

“There are more meetings to come and we will announce the meeting dates for 2012 in the very near future; this is just the beginning,” Gensic said. “No decisions have been made at all, we are still in the input phase.”


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