Silver Lake: An “Environmental Jewel,” but Park Authority Proposals Ignore the Environmental Assets that Make the Place Special

A public hearing is scheduled for 7:30pm tonight at the Prince William County Park Authority’s headquarters, at Hellwig Park.  It is the first, and perhaps the only, opportunity to comment to the Park Authority Board on the three alternatives developed by county staff for developing recreational facilities at Silver Lake.

Proposed new trails, parking lots, and campgrounds might damage environmentally-sensitive areas – but the maps show only the facilities to be constructed.  The three alternatives never identify the environmental assets to be protected.  The staff has proposed a standard county park development plan without the ballfields, adding in a fishing pier but ignoring the special character of the Silver Lake site.

Failure to inventory the natural areas at Silver Lake before locating new facilities on a map is an amazing omission.  It demonstrates that the Park Authority is locked into its active recreation mindset, and has no clue about managing natural resources.

The staff measures success by how many new things they can build, how much they can change a site.  That failure to consider the resources at a site is why the historical places owned by the county were transferred away from the Park Authority, and moved to Public Works.

Background:

The Park Authority gained control over the 230-acre Silver Lake site on June 23, 2009, when the supervisors rejected competing proposals to manage the park from the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority and the Bull Run Mountain Conservancy.

The successful Park Authority’s proposal was titled “Silver Lake: An Environmental Jewel for the Citizens of Prince William County.”  The primary concern during the debate was whether the site would be developed for environmentally-friendly recreation, or if excessive recreational facilities/activities would be encouraged.

Based on the three alternatives presented for discussion at the public hearing on Wednesday night, it is clear that the Park Authority’s staff has ignored the natural assets.  Silver Lake was supposed to be special.  Instead, staff are trying to cram as many routine recreational activities as possible onto the site, just without ballfields.

The appointed board has the responsibility to protect the natural beauty of Silver Lake, as well as encourage public use at the site.  The Park Authority is not the “Department of Recreational Facilities Development.”

Three things should shape what recreational facilities are developed at the site:
1) are the facilities consistent with the legal proffer by which the property was transferred from Toll Brothers to the county?
2) are the environmental assets at Silver Lake identified and protected?
3) can the county afford the level of proposed development, including long-term maintenance costs?

More Details:

1) Are the facilities consistent with the legal proffer by which the property was transferred from Toll Brothers to the county?

The proffer interpretation narrows the uses permitted at Silver Lake, citing the guidance from supervisors that the site must be developed as a “nature-based park.”  The proffer interpretation used the Comprehensive Plan direction for Linear and Resource Based Parks to clarify the limits of acceptable development at Silver Lake.

According to the official proffer interpretation, this includes:
“Resource-based parks are selected for inclusion in the park system because of their exemplary natural and/or cultural features and are acquired, identified and preserved for stewardship and protection… Development that does not adversely affect resources and that enhances awareness of the resource values is appropriate… To the extent that they do not adversely impact the resources themselves, support amenities may also be developed, such as picnicking areas, restrooms, signs, benches and parking.”

The proposed level of development, especially in Alternatives B and C, are excessive.  Damaging the natural areas at Silver Lake, in order to build more facilities, is inconsistent with the proffer.

2) Are the environmental assets at Silver Lake identified and protected?

The Park Authority has failed to inventory the park’s environmental assets.  It has not identified the location of globally-rare plant communities that exist on the site.  It has routed trails so hikers and horseback riders will damage rare vernal pools, which are essential breeding habitat for amphibians such as wood frogs.

The current three development proposals are unacceptable, because they fail to identify what natural resources would be affected  by the trails, campsites, and other development at Silver Lake.  When building active recreation ballfields and recreation facilities such as Chinn, it is necessary to level the ground and destroy the natural setting – but Silver Lake is intended to be a nature-based park.

Trails should be designed to make the 230 acres accessible for hikers, horseback riders, and nature explorers – but recreational development should not destroy the natural assets that make Silver Lake a special place.  Closing its eyes and just pretending wetlands and other natural areas do not exist, so new facilities can be built anywhere, is not an acceptable management technique… especially for a county agency charged with the responsibility of creating an “environmental jewel” of a park.

3) Can the county afford the level of proposed development, including long-term maintenance costs?

In its “let us own and manage Silver Lake” proposal, the Park Authority committed to absorb the costs of managing Silver Lake within its existing budget.  One competing proposal would have eliminated all county expenses for managing the park, while doubling the acreage that would have been available for horseback riding, hiking, and other passive recreation activities.

By rejecting a partnership with the Bull Run Mountain Conservancy, the Park Authority gained control over Silver Lake – but with no extra resources for initial development, or for long-term operations and maintenance costs.

The Park Authority is in a financial bind now, after going too deep into debt to develop golf courses.  The supervisors keep pressuring the agency to generate more funds through fees, so the Park Authority keeps trying to build things such as waterparks that might generate money.

Silver Lake is different; a nature-based park will never make a profit.  Excessive facilities are inconsistent with the purpose of the park, and add long-term costs to the agency’s budget.

Silver Lake is one place where development costs should be minimized.  Silver Lakes needs protection more than new development, in order to be an environmental jewel.

For more information on Silver Lake, check our webpage here.

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3 comments so far

  1. Natural Lakes on

    They could use the perspective of a firm such as ours.

  2. Dan on

    The property had a very rural and nice setting, one would not characterize as being located in NOVA. This is why the public was so excited about the park. Finally a nice park on this end of the county.

    I’m not opposed to natural settings, ballfields, fishing, horseback riding, trails, disc-golf, etc., but what gets me is the “sprawl” they have laid out of the park. Their plan to leave the road slicing thru the park, cramming in a bunch of usages and constructing signs and buildings everywhere, but severely limiting their access, really ruins this jewel.

    The parking lot for horses, anglers, hikers, etc., should be kept just at the entry area. The road around the lake needs to have plants and trees planted over it. The buildings on the north end need to come down or moved to the SW entry area. I don’t understand why they are defacing the park, littering it with development. Open usage for most activities is find with me, up to the point where it has a negative impact…but confine the human development to one corner.

    The county’s plan goes against the underlying basis as to why the county characterized Silver Lake as a jewel in the first place. Now the park will look more like Long Park with a lake in the middle. The middle school was bad enough. What a a shame. I grew up in Ffx Co and PWC is letting this one go thru her fingertips.

  3. Connie Pullen Ramsey on

    If you take a look at Haymarket as a whole, “they” have obliterated what it used to be, so I would not expect anything less for Silver Lake. I grew up in Haymarket and my family ran Silver Lake Campground in the 60s and 70s. It was a beautiful park with camping, fishing, boating, and swimming. People loved it and we were constantly full with campers from every state in the USA. It saddens me to see their plans and if they succeed Silver Lake will become just another park – nothing special, and eventually ruined by “progress”.


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