Looking a $100,000 Gift Horse in the Mouth

It took less than a year for the Coles District supervisor to act on the opportunity to open up the Dove’s Landing parcel to public use, after magisterial district boundaries were redrawn to shift the parcel from the Brentsville District.

On August 7, 2012, the Board of County Supervisors committed $100,000 for Dove’s Landing from the 2012 carryover funds.  No details were provided in the motion, so it is not clear how the money will be used.

$100,000 is a nice chunk of change, extracted from the taxpayers and allocated in an opaque budgeting process that has drawn severe criticism.  Getting money through a budgeting technique that lacked transparency or citizen input, for a project with no plan or performance measures, is far from ideal.

Still, it’s long past time to address the county’s need, as highlighted in the Comprehensive Plan,  to provide recreational opportunities beyond ballfields.  With $100,000, Prince William could do some real good, or some real damage, to Dove’s Landing.

The county could, for example, repeat its experience at Silver Lake.  Ugh.

At Silver Lake, the old Park Authority (now the Department of Parks and Recreation) carved horse trails out of the natural landscape without conducting any examination of where sensitive habitats were located.  Now, each Spring, horses unknowingly stomp through vernal pools and kill the eggs of scarce frogs and salamanders, because the trail was developed without an assessment of the local resources.

At Dove’s Landing, Prince William could use the same approach – just build a picnic ground, and stick tables and a gazebo wherever a sketch on a blueprint suggests a “built facility” might be convenient.

Clearing a space on a ridge, for example, could offer a nice lunchtime vista from the swingset.  No need to look for vernal pools first, or see if there are rare plants – just pave a parking lot, clear a path through the trees, send in the crew with lumber and concrete to make a playground and voila, $100,000 could be spent through the “Ready, Fire, Aim” approach.

Hopefully, a more sensitive-to-the-setting management plan will be completed first, perhaps by the Historic Preservation Division.  The county should dedicate some of that $100,000 to identifying the special, sensitive environments at Dove’s Landing, including the wetlands and archeological sites, before transmogrifying the landscape to make it “better.”

Dove’s Landing is already in great shape, if the county intends to maintain the current natural setting.  Other places are far better for bulldozing out new ballfields, with lights and snack bars.  At Dove’s Landing, we need to look before we leap.  Construction of expensive-to-build, expensive-to-maintain facilities there would not “improve” the place.

Spending the $100,000 to provide access, with a few parking spaces on the edge of the property that do not intrude on the neighbors, might be the best investment possible.

And if the whole $100,000 is not necessary – gee, maybe we could save the surplus, plan for other natural areas to be protected and open to public use future, then appropriate the money in a transparent process that does not surprise people…


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