New Albemarle parks face financial barriers before opening

Albemarle County could be the new owner of more than 800 acres of rural parkland by the end of 2014, but it likely will be many years before the land can be enjoyed by area residents.

“We’ve got a lot of things planned and we’ve got a lot things scheduled,” said Bob Crickenberger, the county’s parks and recreation director. “But the funds are currently not available to develop these areas.”

The county is hoping to close on the 410-acre Arrowhead Farms property on Dudley Mountain, a donation from Montgomery Bird Woods and Jose V. Lambert intended for use as a nature preserve.

Crickenberger said Albemarle also is in negotiations with the Nature Conservancy to take over 356 acres south of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir and 122 acres at Buck Island Creek near Fluvanna County.

If all goes according to plan, the three donations would add to the 3,300 acres currently in the county’s park system.

“What’s so appealing about [the Buck Island] property is that it has river access to the Rivanna, and that river access is one thing identified in our Comprehensive Plan,” Crickenberger said. “We’re at a deficiency for public water access.”

The five-year capital improvement program contains $ million for parks, but almost all will be spent on maintenance. Though Buck Island Creek is a top priority, no money is expected to be allocated toward the infrastructure needed to make it available to the public.

“There is limited cash, and what cash there is available is being spread in a lot of different areas,” Crickenberger said.

However, one resident of the Redfields neighborhood said he thinks the county is neglecting the recreational needs of urban-ring Albemarle residents by solely relying on land donations for new parkland.

“Because they seem constrained in their resources, they’re not able to focus on the urban area where half the county population actually lives,” said Rex Linville, who is also a land conservation officer with the Piedmont Environmental Council.

“The urban ring does serve as a barrier to getting out into the rural area, and people from the rural area getting into the city by bike,” Linville said.

Specifically, Linville would like Albemarle to strategically purchase land to build a trail network that would connect Charlottesville with Albemarle’s neighborhoods just south of the city.

“It would span from the confluence of Moores Creek at [the future] Biscuit Run State Park downstream to Pollocks Branch, and then follow the Pollocks Branch corridor to the Downtown Mall,” Linville said.

Implementing that vision would take cooperation with Charlottesville, a city that has spent a million dollars in the past decade to acquire new park land with a focus on property along waterways. The newest city park is the Meadow Creek Stream Valley trail, a linear park that connects Greenbrier Park with the Meadow Creek Gardens.

The City Council has set aside $475,000 to purchase new parkland over the next five years, including land in the county to expand Jordan and Quarry parks, two city facilities that border Albemarle.

Pollocks Branch currently runs underground at the Ix property through a pipe. Daylighting of the stream is called for in the Strategic Investment Area plan adopted by the city earlier last year.

Linville said he is hoping to persuade the Albemarle Board of Supervisors to similarly invest in urban trails that would allow people to commute to the city, as well as city residents to travel into the county.

“They’re not being strategic in terms of going out and asking people for particular properties,” Linville said. “Without an acquisition budget, they don’t have any money to go out and acquire pieces of an urban trail.”

Even though the county is often approached by people wanting to donate land for parks, Crickenberger said caution must be taken before accepting the gifts.

Last year, staff recommended rejecting the acquisition of Arrowhead Farm out of a concern that the county would not be able to afford to be a steward of the land.

However, the Board of Supervisors eventually opted to accept the land after county officials worked out an arrangement with the nonprofit Rockfish Valley Wildlife Preserve to manage the land until the county is ready to assume oversight.

The deal has not been finalized. Lambert and Woods had set a deadline of June 30 to close the deal, but have extended that until Wednesday. Supervisors discussed the acquisition in closed session last week, but did not take a final vote to accept it.

“With a lot of these donations, the decision to accept or not is up to the Board of Supervisors,” Crickenberger said. He said the county is open to any partnership with groups that want to take an active role.

For example, the nonprofit Crozet Trails Crew is helping to create a series of multi-use trails in that community. The group was formed in 2009 with help from county trails planner Dan Mahon.

Crickenberger said he welcomes new partnerships with groups who want to build new trails or take care of existing parks.

“We need a better understanding of any deficiencies people might feel are there and what services they desire,” he said.

Meanwhile, the offers of land keep coming.

Crickenberger said there is the potential for a land gift in the Batesville area, as well as a 5-acre site on the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir that would involve a public boat ramp.

The developer of Rivanna Village near the Glenmore neighborhood has proffered land for a 38-acre county park if that rezoning goes through later this year.

“As all of these projects come on board, we’re constantly looking at how we can connect and make an overall network of trails that are not only walkable but bikeable, that would connect these facilities,” Crickenberger said.

Albemarle County parks
Location of Albemarle County parks (Existing-Green; Future-Purple)
Source: Albemarle County; Map by Charlottesville Tomorrow