YOUR VIEWS | Protecting Alexandrias Urban Forest

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To the editor:

I recently learned of the Draft Alexandria Urban Forestry Master Plan, which is being circulated for public review and comments. I appreciate the opportunity to provide the following comments.

First, the Urban Forestry Master Plan is well done, timely and has many excellent recommendations that will help Alexandria sustain a high-quality living environment. The Urban Forestry Steering Committee has obviously taken this assignment seriously and should be complimented for a job well done.

Second, the 25th recommendation on page 76 involves rededicating Fort Ward Park as the citys arboretum. It also suggests that a master plan be developed and adopted for the park. This recommendation reaffirms the citys earlier commitment in 1983 to create a collection of trees and other woody plants that will serve as an educational resource for city residents and visitors. A total of $25,000 is proposed to go to implement this recommendation.

Recommendation 25 is also identified to be a pilot project. The narrative notes that the multiple uses of the park and the increasing pressures of recreational demands on the site have led to the decline of the parks tree population and a loss of focus on its function as a showcase for native and ornamental woody plant species. The narrative goes on to say, This rededication should include a careful study and development of a plan that will integrate and celebrate the parks historic past as well as its future and importance as one of the citys premiere recreational sites.

The idea of rededicating the citys arboretum is an appropriate idea. Inappropriate recreational uses and neglect have had a negative impact on many of the trees and shrubs and more attention to the value of this important park is welcome.

The idea of the careful study and development of a plan for the park is also an appropriate idea given that this area has never had a master plan in more than 40 years. If a plan is done for the park, it needs to be for overall park use, protection and interpretation rather than just the use of the park as an arboretum. Unfortunately, the leaders of the Recreation and Parks Department as well as the Recreation and Parks Commission, indicate that a plan for Fort Ward Park will not be undertaken within the next five to 10 years and many other parks are a higher priority for planning if and when that service is available.

Although the Draft Urban Forestry Plan recommendation has merit, the report needs to be revised to incorporate the following points:

1. The plan for the arboretum needs to be done as part of the master plan for Fort Ward Park. A coordinated effort before additional action will avoid some of the destruction and conflicting uses we have experienced over the last five years.

The park continues to suffer from the uncoordinated and inappropriate activities by the Recreation and Parks Department. As was discussed with city staff during the citys community meetings in February and March, Fort Ward Park is a historical park. This area is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and contains historic and cultural values from the pre-and-post Civil War periods, including the graves of some of the first freed African Americans who lived in the area before it was made a park by the city.

The pilot project description on page 84 needs to be revised to reflect that this is the citys only historical park, its status on the National Register of Historic Places and the results of the community meetings from February and March.

2. The Draft Urban Forest Plan needs to recognize the various City of Alexandria Archaeological Protection Procedures and Ordinances for digging on city property. As was learned from recent earth moving and tree planting work in the park, these procedures and requirements have not been followed at Fort Ward despite the fact that the Office of Historic Alexandria in 1989 identified the overall area as Land that may have the potential to contain significant archaeological materials and in 1995, identified likely African American graves.

3. The vision for the arboretum is promising and would be viewed as a positive park improvement by many of the park users. The city would do well to keep its February 9 written commitment, as well as other verbal commitments, to the public to use the results of the community meetings and prioritize a draft action plan for park improvements. Many of our residents are baffled by the citys unwillingness to use information provided by the public and the citys advisory groups.

4. Trees and shrubs are a wonderful way to connect with the public and generate support for parks. Although the draft plans speaks to the citys donation fund, efforts will be more effective if a fund was specifically dedicated for planting trees and shrubs in the citys parks. People like to donate funds for trees and shrubs but want to be sure that the government uses the money for that purpose.

My experience managing the National Park Services Tree and Shrub Replacement Fund and National Cherry Blossom Fund proved to be an excellent way to raise friends for the parks as well as significant donations for planting trees and shrubs.

I sincerely hope that the Urban Forestry Steering Committee will use these comments and take time to revise the proposed plan before it is approved. Residents would like to support the city with initiatives such as these and will do so if managers will work with us.

J. Glenn Eugster
Alexandria

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