“Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

It’s time for a powerful speech at the entrance to Silver Lake. 

Three years after the Board of Supervisors (BOCS) approved adding some 400 homes to Dominion Valley in exchange for a new park, Silver Lake is still closed up tight and surrounded by “No Trespassing” signs.

The failure of county officials to manage the site in a professional manner over the last three years demonstrates why long-term protection is needed.  “Trust, but verify” applies to county promises about this property in particular.

The county can get back on track with Silver Lake in a simple sequence of steps:
– transfer the property from BOCS to the Park Authority with a deed restriction ensuring the site is used for recreation purposes, including horseback riding, jogging, and hiking
– have a ribbon cutting ceremony, and open up the gate.  Make the property available for passive recreation use, without waiting to build bathrooms, gazebos, interpretive centers…
– complete the Park Authority’s Master Plan process for deciding where to locate trails and other recreational activities permitted under the deed restrictions
– place a conservation easement on the property, consistent with the uses identified through the Master Plan process, so there’s no chance of a bait-and-switch with Silver Lake protected for now… but developed for entirely different purposes by a later Park Authority or BOCS
– obtain a Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund grant and implement the Master Plan decisions

The history of county mis-management of this site is stunning.  Last year, county officials flubbed the opportunity to double the size of the Silver Lake park.  Park Authority officials rejected the offer of a non-profit partner to donate an additional 270 acres and manage Silver Lake at no expense to the county.

To ensure the non-profit would stay true to their word, they had proposed deed restrictions.  If the restrictions were violated, ownership of Silver Lake would revert back to the county.  However, the Park Authority demanded 100% control, the Board of County Supervisors failed to act, the partner (Bull Run Mountain Conservancy) withdrew the offer, and we ended up by default with the taxpayers-will-fund-everything option.

The current recession will constrain the Park Authority from developing Silver Lake according to its initial  Concept Plan – but after the economy recovers and PW County is booming again, who knows?

The Park Authority Concept Plan proposed spending $1.5 million to develop the site, then spending at least $500,000 more every year to operate it.  Revenues from visitors/campers (yes, there was an RV campground in the proposal…) assumed about 45% of operating costs would be covered by fees, leaving the county taxpayers with a $350,000 annual bill (roughly $1,000/day) for the Park Authority to operate Silver Lake.

Developing Silver Lake will tempt future officials who want to make an impact.   The desire to show they have done something, and the capability to ignore the financial consequences of long-term operations and maintenance costs, is not limited to our current officials.

So those original deed restrictions proposed by the non-profit look pretty good.  They’d limit the temptation of future Park Authority officials to pave roads for an RV campground, or design yet another golf course.

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