Volume 26 Issue 3, Summer 2021
by Michael Myers, Executive Director
On June 22, the Loudoun County Planning Commission voted unanimously to send the Bles Park “Enhancements” application to a future work session. This motion was made after considerable public input in favor of protecting the natural resources and natural assets currently found at the park. This vote was a great first step in the right direction. We would like to thank everyone who wrote and spoke to ask the commission to protect the natural areas of Bles Park. This result shows that your voices are being heard!
However, our work is not done. While the Planning Commission is putting in the work to reduce the proposed impacts to the natural areas of Bles Park, it will ultimately be up to the Board of Supervisors to approve or deny the final application proposed by Loudoun County’s Parks, Recreation, and Community Services (PRCS) department.
Bles Park is one of the natural gems of Loudoun County. Nestled at the confluence of Broad Run and the Potomac River, Bles Park sits in the major floodplain with mature and secondary forests, ponds, and wetlands, providing multiple habitat zones that provide excellent cover for reclusive species. We understand the need to update park facilities, and we encourage passive recreation uses for residents to be able to experience nature, but the originally proposed application of “enhancements” would unnecessarily harm the park’s exemplary wildlife habitats.
Bles Park is one of the top places in Loudoun in terms of bird biodiversity, and Loudoun Wildlife hosts monthly bird walks there. Numerous shy, sensitive, and reclusive bird species such as the American and Least Bittern are found at Bles Park every year. Other species may be common in other areas, but are often seen only at Bles Park when they pass through Loudoun County. These include the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Common Gallinule, Marsh Wren, and Little Blue Heron. Other species of concern for the state of Virginia are also found at Bles Park. The value of the park’s wetlands cannot be overstated.
The wetlands, forests, and other natural areas also are excellent habitat for dragonflies, pollinators, aquatic mammals, and other species. There are lush patches of milkweed and other pollinator favorites, including goldenrods, asters, Dogbane, New York Ironweed, and Blue Mistflower in areas of some of the proposed “enhancements.” In addition to beavers and muskrats, a river otter was spotted in the wetlands earlier this year. This exemplary wildlife habitat should be protected, not destroyed.
Loudoun County Parks, Recreation, and Community Services’ original proposal seeks to:
- Build a boardwalk through a sensitive wetland.
- Allow vehicular access alongside the sensitive wetland.
- Destroy forest and pollinator habitat to build tennis and pickleball courts.
- Destroy forest and pollinator habitat to create an “unprogrammed lawn area.”
- Build a maintenance building and parking lot in a low-lying forested area of the floodplain.
- Expand the paved parking area.
Loudoun Wildlife’s suggested modifications include:
- Eliminate the boardwalk through the most sensitive area of the park, and instead install observation platforms at strategic locations at the edge of the wetlands.
- Do not allow vehicular traffic along the edge of the wetlands, but require kayak users to use carts to wheel their kayaks to the newly proposed kayak launch. This inconvenience is necessary to protect the sensitive wetlands from noise and traffic.
- Tennis and pickleball courts are inappropriate for this location. Wildlife habitat in the floodplain should be protected, as these facilities can be located at a different park.
- Unprogrammed lawn area is inappropriate for this location. Mature trees and pollinator habitat exist at this location and should not be disturbed. Benches can be installed to enjoy nature here.
- Building a maintenance facility and parking area in a low-lying floodplain is inappropriate. The maintenance facility could be located adjacent to the current parking area, or at another nearby location outside the floodplain.
- Pervious paving materials should be used for any parking lot expansion. Since the applicant states that it “cannot commit to this request,” this only further proves that this location is inappropriate for increased parking.
We recognize a need for more park amenities, but Bles Park is not the appropriate location for some of the proposed recreational uses. Loudoun County should do more to protect our natural amenities and natural assets such as Bles Park. This is an opportunity to lead by example to protect our natural resources, and to provide natural areas that Loudoun residents seek and need.
The recently completed PRCS Master Plan includes the results of multiple surveys of Loudoun residents, and residents responded that the facilities of the most importance to their household are natural area parks. Those surveys also showed that natural area< parks are of the highest priority for community needs. Bles Park is currently an example of how Loudoun County is helping to meet those community needs, providing access to a wonderful natural area. Yet the PRCS department has proposed to destroy the very thing that their own Master Plan states we should have more of. It simply does not make any sense to destroy the exemplary wildlife habitat at Bles Park with the proposed “enhancements.”
What can you do?
After the Planning Commission completes its work, the application will be forwarded to the Board of Supervisors. They will host a public hearing, and then send it to a future business meeting for a vote. In the meantime, members of the public can write to< their supervisor, and/or the entire board, to let them know that the existing wildlife habitat at Bles Park should be protected. Your voice matters and makes a difference!
Please continue to check our website, emails, and social media for updates on this application and other conservation advocacy issues.