How Much Have We Lost?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Weekly Column: Recognize Fort Hunt's History and Keep Picnic Areas

The following column appeared in the Mount Vernon Gazette, Mount Vernon Voice, and Patch.com on September 28, 2011:
Recognize Fort Hunt's History and Keep Picnic Areas

I have been using Fort Hunt Park since I was a kid. I spent time in the woods, I scrambled over the World War II gunneries, I played soccer on its fields and attended dozens of picnics and parties at its facilities. My father actually attended elementary school in trailers in Fort Hunt Park in the late 1940s while work was being done on Hollin Hall Elementary School. More recently, I taught my children to ride  bikes on its oval, have held  events there and organized picnics for the staff of my business.

In recent months, the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) has prepared a plan to strengthen the preservation and interpretation of Fort Hunt's many layers of history, from native Americans to George Washington's slaves to the World War II spy interrogation camp.  On the latter, NPS officials  have  compiled an extensive history of Fort Hunt's contributions to World War II through interviews with Americans who interrogated German officers there and through newly-declassified documents.  NPS has held two meetings in Mount Vernon, including one last week and they are now receiving public comments on four options until October 6. 
The proposed plan, called their preferred alternative, out of four alternatives, would emphasize the historic assets of the park and de-emphasize the recreational uses.  In the preferred alternative, NPS would build a new visitor center to help visitors better understand the history of the park. This proposal would also  demolish four of five picnic facilities, leaving only the main pavilion area near the entrance along with bathroom facilities. It also would realign the road through some existing woodlands and separate car, bicycle and pedestrian traffic.

Fort Hunt Park is one of our community’s prized assets for many reasons. It is one of the few places to hold large,  affordable, outdoor events,  facilities not available anywhere else in Mount Vernon.   Clearly, there is a need for picnic pavillions like those in Fort Hunt Park and the people of the Mount Vernon area have come to depend  on these facilities.

There must be a way to structure the park so that its historic elements can be highlighted and some of the recreational uses can continue.  The Mount Vernon area has played a key role in U.S. history.   After all, our community was our first president's home. Some of his slaves lived on the land that is now the park.  Enhancing the historic resources of Fort Hunt, like the Spanish American War tower and the World War II gunneries and explaining what happened there could highlight yet another significant historic resource in our community.  I am confident that the National Park Service puts their mind to it, they can find a way to preserve and better interpret Fort Hunt's history and also provide picnic areas for large groups.  Their proposal also should prompt the Fairfax County Park Authority, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority and the state parks to provide areas for the types of activities held at Fort Hunt if NPS forces the reduction of the picnic and sports areas.

Several people have reached out to me to express their concerns s. Supervisor Gerry Hyland is also assembling comments to forward to our congressional delegation.  I have contacted both Congressman Moran and Connolly to express my concern and they are meeting with the National Park Service as well.

I encourage you to read the NPS rationale and proposed options and to weigh in.I have posted links to them on my blog, The Dixie Pig, at scottsurovell.blogspot.com.
If you would like to send me comments that I can forward to the NPS and our Congressional delegation, you can also make them on my blog on the same page. The public comment period closes on October 6 so please send me your feedback as soon as possible.

It is an honor to serve as your state delegate. If you have any concerns, please email me at scottsurovell@gmail.com or call my office at 571.249.44TH (4484).

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