Protecting A City Stronghold

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Fort Ward was so well defended during the Civil War that Confederate General Robert E. Lee refused to attack it. Instead of defending against rebels, protectors of the site are more worried about invaders in a more contemporary form: Picnickers.

Staff members from the Department of Recreation and Cultural Activities presented the City Council with an oral report regarding the forts overuse and subsequent marring of historically significant sites and artifacts Tuesday, while area residents and other community members expressed significant concerns.

The parks open-air atmosphere has made it an ideal spot for large groups to gather, which has apparently led to lax restrictions over the years. This has resulted in a unique fusion of revelers (however good natured) and historical sites, like the recently discovered marked and unmarked graves namely of members of a post-Civil War-era African American community hugged by residential areas and sports fields.

Residents of the area often buried deceased relatives on their property to save money, often with unmarked graves for the same reason. Clara Adams body, buried in the 19th century, was actually under the parks maintenance yard until recently.

Were really developing a whole new awareness of the resources of the park that have been overlooked for many years, said Lance Mallamo of the Office of Historic Alexandria.

Officials and community members are not merely looking to restore significant sites as they did with Freedmans Cemetery, a burial ground for former slaves. They are looking also to restore the forts aura to that of a passive, casual use more in tune with the lands solemn history.

City staff members said permission is required to have events at the park, acquired by the city in the 50s and 60s and established as a historical sight in the 70s, but park-goers often fill the area beyond capacity, leading to loud noise and alcohol consumption in a residential area.

Director of the Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural activities Kirk Kincannon said one group signed up for a gathering of 35 people but materialized at about 900.

Over the past many years [Fort Ward] has become a place where numbers of people go to have large celebrations because it is a great facility, Kincannon said. But the fact is its in a neighborhood and that makes it very difficult to have some of those larger activities there.

Ideally, the city would cut the amount of picnicking sights to about five, Kincannon said, in which case the fort-turned-park would still be capable of hosting 400 people. But the sites popularity coupled with a potential personality makeover leave the city and its residents lacking an obvious facility of similar characteristics.

There is a need for this type of facility that can take a lot of folks in Alexandria because there is a big demand for that type of gathering and function, Kincannon said. These are the things were struggling with where do we put these uses and other growth issues relative to the park?
Staff members alluded to Cameron Run Regional Park as a possible contingency site, but in the meantime staff members suggested putting a moratorium on certain events, especially alcohol-related ones, until the upcoming summer season paints a more complete picture, leading to change on a policy level.

Because this is so broad and effects a lot of entities in the city, I think the Parks Department is walking down the wrong path and asking for trouble, Mayor Bill Euille said, emphasizing that an official change should come from the Council.

No official actions were taken Tuesday. It was evident, however, that the formerly neglected Union stronghold once built to protect Washington, D.C., is now in need of protection itself.
It is a treasure, Kincannon said. It absolutely is one of those places that you want to protect.

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