Building a model park – Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority develops model park around new Ahrens National Recreation and Park Association Institute – includes related article and list of contributors

Carol Ann Cohen

Visitors to the future Ahrens National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) Institute will find a bonus in the acres surrounding the new NRPA Headquarters. The new Institute will be the centerpiece for a 120-acre parcel of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority’s (NVRPA) 370-acre Brambleton Regional Park devoted to an ever-changing sampling of possibilities for parks across the nation and throughout the world. A model park within the tract of land will showcase state-of-the-art features, techniques, materials, and methods both on display and in active use. Both the future Ahrens Institute and the model park site will be located near Ashburn in Loudoun County, about 25 miles west of Washington, DC.

The saga of this evolving national complex–and of local, regional and public-private cooperation-began when NRPA Executive Director Dean Tice initiated a search for a location for a national headquarters building for his organization. At the association s 1993 Congress for Recreation and Parks, Iowa businessman and philanthropist Claude Ahrens established a fundraising base when he pledged to donate one million dollars if NRPA raised an equal amount. Within two years, the funds were secured.

Before Claude Ahrens got the fundraising ball rolling, NVRPA had begun transforming 250 acres of newly purchased, wooded farmland into an 18-hole golf course. The completed course is framed by 250-year-old oak trees, scenic rock formations and water features. The property, purchased from the Brambleton Land Corporation (BLC), was part of a large tract of former agricultural land designated to become a community of subdivisions, schools, shopping areas, and park land as Loudoun County s population continues to grow.

With the Institute site proposed at this location, NVRPA began to consider developing a public park on an adjacent 120 acres, part of the acreage the BLC had designated to proffer to Loudoun County Realizing that the developer had committed to provide this piece of property as a park, the authority s representatives contacted Loudoun County officials and BLC with the suggestion that the property be deeded to NVRPA. Assuming that NRPA would agree to locate its headquarters there, NVRPA would undertake the development of a model park.

A series of conversations between Loudoun County Parks and Recreation Department, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, the developer, and NRPA led to an agreement: with Loudoun County’s concurrence. BLC would deed the property directly to NVRPA and dedicate a contiguous 20-acre site to Loudoun s Parks and Recreation Department for softball and baseball fields and other recreation activities. This park along with the NVRPA model park, could help meet the expected recreational needs of families moving into subdivisions planned for the area.

Once the land was transferred, the authority prepared a lease agreement assigning approximately five acres to NRPA for the national headquarters at the rent of $1 per year. While the association selected a building design and prepared for construction, NVRPA took the next step toward creating a model park by assembling a planning team led by landscape Architect Mark Gionet of Lewis, Scully, Gionet, Inc. of Vienna, Virginia. Representatives from each of the key organizations sit on the planning panel.

Panel members from NRPA include: Executive Director Dean Tice, Director of Operations Elaine Lynch and Ahrens Institute Building Architect Wayne Hughes. NVRPA representatives include: Executive Director of Capital Programs and Administration David C. Hobson. Executive Director of Operations and finance David V. Brown, Capital Programs Superintendent load Haffner, and Superintendent of Operations Jack Robey Additional team members include: Director of Loudoun County Parks and Recreation Cynthia H. Welsh, two City of Fairfax officials–Parks and Recreation Director Michael Cadwaller and Director of Transit and Utilities Rich Fruchof–BLC’s Page Lansdale, and Brambleton Regional Park Manager James R. Short.

Several conceptual and information sharing meetings have taken place, and more are scheduled. “This is a tremendous idea.” said consultant and landscape ar direct Gionet, “combining the use of the property for both the national headquarters and a model park.”

Gionet pointed out an important challenge facing planners: “How can we accommodate all of the ideas on one site while retaining the beautiful natural features? We are working with a wonderful piece of ground located on Beaverdam Reservoir with everything from interesting rock outcrops which give insights into the geological history to evidence of past Human occupation…The woods, field, wetlands, and streams are a cross section of natural features found in Northern Virginia.”

To safeguard the natural beauty of the site’s wildlife and vegetation, such as the 200-year-old oak trees, authority naturalists did a preliminary survey of the site. The results indicate no apparent affect on endangered species habitats, although the team did find artifacts of past industrial and agricultural activity Members of the Virginia Native Plant Society, bird study groups and others will thoroughly examine and catalogue the flora and fauna on the site

“Initial impressions lead to the conclusion that this was once a site for the manufacture of crushed stone,” said Superintendent of Administration fair L. Hodnett. “Outcroppings of diabase boulders are found throughout the park…Forest areas include few trees of mature size with the exception of those which obviously grew along old fence lines or home sites. The largest trees are found in association with the small stream north of [Brambleton Regional Golf Course’s] fairway number two…As an area of rugged natural beauty and appeal, this location deserves one of the highest rankings.” The report prepared by Hochlett and NVRPA’s Chief Naturalist Martin Ogle suggests creating an overlook so visitors could view the scene from a pedestrian bridge or elevated boardwalk.

With these preliminary ideas. NVRPA officials traveled to the 19.95 Congress for Recreation and Parks in San Antonio, Texas to meet with 45 park and recreation executives, administrators, planners, educators, and representatives of park and recreation equipment manufacturers at a brainstorming seminar. The seminar was devised to add new and different perspectives to the planning process.

“At this stage, we felt it written be appropriate to bring in as must outside expertise as possible,” said NVRPA’s Executive Director of Capitol Programs and Administration David C. Hobson. “Basically, our staff introduced information about the site and explained the progress of the planning process, the constraints of the site and the surrounding characteristics. Then, the participants broke out into three groups: one focused on revenue, one on the environment and one on recreational activities. Our goal was to add ideas. We really did have some energetic, active discussion leaders who were good at eliciting ideas. We then brought these ideas back.”

Revenue was an important topic for discussion, since NVRPA has no funds to develop the model park at this time. To showcase cutting-edge equipment and materials, the authority hopes to persuade manufacturers and vendors to supply the best of their products for this state-of the-art park. As new features are developed, manufacturers would replace and update their working displays. Park and recreation professionals and dignitaries visiting the national headquarters will view and experience these items and methods and take ideas and source information back to their agencies. Residents of the surrounding community will benefit from the newest, safest and sturdiest materials and designs in recreation equipment and opportunities.

Revenue-generating features will play a major role in supplying the model park’s operating funds. Suggested features include an indoor golf driving facility with nets and simulators that provide the experience of a variety of courses, a miniature golf course a small play pool and water slides, rental remote-controlled boats, batting cages. concession structures, county and regional playing field complexes, and picnic shelters.

Recreation features should be located in clusters emanating outward from a central area. Each cluster might change as interest and technology for that feature or type of feature changes. For example, if the public lost interest in a disc golf course, the course might be replaced by an activity representing a new trend in recreation.

From an environmental standpoint, the focus should be on the outdoors. flexibility in continuing change and full accessibility for the disabled. Interpretive displays and signs along an internal circulation system of trails and paths should explain the human and natural history of the area and the model park’s goals and innovative features. Landscaping should focus on native materials with trails designed to minimize erosion and harmonize with the surroundings. A future link to NVRPA’s popular Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park Trail–a 45-mile-long multi-use recreation trail–is also a possibility.

After the Congress, NVRPA’s staff shared the discussion results with its Board, and then began concentrating on securing official permits and approvals so the construction of the Ahrens Institute could proceed. The previous year, NRPA had selected architect Wayne Hughes to work with the association s building committee on developing and refining the headquarters plans and selecting the building site within the future model park. The chosen location is in a wounded area overlooking the scenic Brambleton Regional Park Golf Course.

Parallel planning continued as details of the Ahrens Institute building and the long-range goals for the model park were developed. After Loudoun County granted a special exception permit, NRPA held a ground breaking ceremony and reception at Brambleton Regional Park.

With the Institute plans secured and construction about to begin. NVRPA’s goal now is to complete a master plan for the park. “We are ready to get back into the planning process for the model park,” says NVRPA’s David Hobson. This will mean additional meetings of the model park team to incorporate ideas from the San Antonio seminar, refine them and look at what is practical and affordable. “We hope to submit a plan for adoption by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority Board by the end of the year,” he promised.


In the Late 1950s, concerned citizens and government officials in Northern Virginia worked together to create a regional agency designed to offer conservation, preservation and recreational opportunities on a regional, cross-jurisdictional scale.

The Countries of Arlington, Fairfax and the City of Falls Church led the way with con-current resolutions in 1959 establishing the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA) under the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Park Authorities Act. As years passed, the Cities of Alexandria and Fairfax and Loudoun County also joined. All three entities pooled resources based on population proportions to expand their park and recreation horizons. Today, the authority owns and operates a system of 19 regional parks and protects more than 11,000 acres of Virginia countryside.

NVRPA resources offer the public pockets of recreational space and miles of pristine woods amid the intensifying development of the Washington, DC suburbs. Its Occoquan shoreline parks include Bull Run Regional Park, Northern Virginia’s largest comprehensive park; Hemlock Overlook Regional Park, an environmental education center operated under a cooperative agreement between NVRPA and George Mason University; Sandy Run Regional Park, the home course for area high school crew teams and occasional site of Olympic trials and training; the 17-mile Bull Run Occoquan Trail, which leads hikers and horseback riders through the woodlands; and Fountainhead Regional Park and Bull Run Marina, popular fishing, picnicking and hiking locations.

COPYRIGHT 1996 National Recreation and Park Association

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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