ADVOCACY UPDATE: Protect Bles Park’s Natural Assets
JANUARY 6 UPDATE: Additional actions for people to comment and elevate their voice.
- Post a comment in LOLA by following this link.
- Press “Click Here to Leave a Comment”.
- Accept the notice.
- Enter your contact information and comment.
- A simple statement such as “I oppose this application and these changes to Bles Park” is valuable, but personal touches and reasons always help.
- Sign this petition.
- Join over 1,800 people who have already signed.
- Include your zip code, leave a comment, and like other comments.
- Share this petition on social media and on any community pages.
DECEMBER 21 UPDATE: At the public hearing many supervisors voiced their support for this application, and they forwarded the application to the January 18, 2022 business meeting for action. Loudoun Wildlife will continue to update our website, social media channels, and send updates via email on how people can continue to comment and make their voices heard.
UPDATED on December 11, 2021
On December 15, Loudoun County’s Board of Supervisors will host a public hearing to receive input on the Bles Park “enhancements” application. On October 14, the Loudoun Planning Commission voted 5-2-2 (two commissioners were absent) to deny the Bles Park application. We concur with the Planning Commission’s recommendations and reasons for denial of the application as currently proposed.
You can read the full staff report here. You can find out how to sign up for the public hearing here. And, we encourage you to also submit written comments to your supervisor (see below for contact information).
While planning commissioners applauded the Parks, Recreation, and Community Services (PRCS) department for making modifications to reduce the impact to the natural resources at Bles, the majority agreed that the proposal does not do enough to balance the protection of natural resources and the needs for active recreation and greater park amenities. Ultimately, the environmental impact of the proposed amenities outweighed the potential benefits to the community. They heard the community’s concerns for impacts to the natural resources loud and clear, and they want to protect them for the benefit of the community.
Commissioners expressed that this application “screams for less, not more” amenities, that “proceeding with caution would not be cautious enough” to protect the natural resources, and the efforts that have been made are too small to protect Bles Park’s unique environmental benefits and natural assets. However, multiple commissioners said there are alternatives and solutions that would protect the natural assets while providing park amenities the community needs, and they hope alternatives will be sought and this application further modified before it goes to the Board of Supervisors. We wholeheartedly agree with the Planning Commission, and we will continue to urge further modifications to this proposal.
What Can You Do?
Now is the time for the community to speak up and voice their concerns to the Board of Supervisors since it is their decision to approve or deny this application. We encourage members of the public to write to their supervisor, and/or the entire board, to let them know that the existing wildlife habitat at Bles Park should be protected (contact information can be found at the bottom of this page). Your voice matters and makes a difference!
The Planning Commission included four main reasons in their findings for denial of this application:
- The application proposal is contrary to the Loudoun County 2019 General Plan policies that call for the protection of natural, environmental, and heritage resources.
- The proposed increase in impervious surfaces, structures, and development at Bles Park would destroy habitats for rare and sensitive plant and animal species, and species of greatest concern.
- The application proposal puts exemplary natural communities and ecosystems at increased and unnecessary risk.
- There are alternative solutions to locate appropriate amenities and additions outside of the floodplain and/or away from sensitive habitat areas, so as to safeguard the natural resources, wildlife habitat, and environmental community benefits in Bles Park that exist nowhere else in the county, much less eastern Loudoun, and are irreplaceable for our residents.
While the staff report notes that this application generally complies with the 2019 Comprehensive Plan, it is not compatible with natural heritage resource policies to protect areas of natural biodiversity. Bles Park is one of Loudoun’s top places in terms of bird biodiversity, with numerous shy, sensitive, and reclusive bird species. Other species of concern for the state of Virginia are found at Bles Park every year. The natural areas are excellent habitat for dragonflies, pollinators, aquatic mammals, and other species. This exemplary wildlife habitat should be protected, not destroyed.
The PRCS department did remove the proposed maintenance facility from its proposal, relocated the pickleball/tennis courts to the proposed parking lot area, and reduced the unprogrammed lawn area by 57 percent. However, the proposal still seeks to:
- Build a boardwalk alongside a sensitive wetland;
- Allow vehicular access alongside the sensitive wetland;
- Create an unnecessary “unprogrammed lawn area” that would destroy forest and pollinator habitat; and
- Expand the paved parking area in a floodplain.
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. The application references other boardwalks in parks in the Northern Virginia region such as those at Huntley Meadows (1,500 acres), a park more than ten times the size of Bles Park (132 acres). This unnecessary amenity would drive away the wildlife it seeks to connect people with.
- 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. The current path is used frequently by hikers, runners, walkers, and other user groups, and it would create unnecessary conflicts and safety risks. We also support finding alternate locations for the kayak launch which would not require vehicular access adjacent to the wetlands.
- While the unprogrammed lawn area adjacent to an existing pond was reduced, it should be removed altogether. It is unnecessary and it would destroy mature trees and pollinator habitat currently existing at that location.
- While the number of parking spaces were reduced (to accommodate the pickleball/tennis court in the parking area), the amount of parking requested is still excessive. Alternative parking solutions located outside of the floodplain should continue to be sought. One alternative proposed by planning commissioners was to coordinate with the nearby NTSB facility for weekend overflow parking. It is unnecessary to expand parking and increase impervious surfaces in a floodplain, destroy wildlife habitat at a stormwater management pond, and increase the heat island effect, for a limited number of weekend soccer games. There is currently more than adequate parking for a vast majority of the year.
Furthermore, Loudoun Wildlife supports the Planning Commission’s follow-up motion to:
- Pursue an initiative to develop expertise in wildlife biology, natural ecosystems, and native plant and animal communities.
- Pursue the opportunities uncovered and developed during this application process including alternative parking solutions, an alternative for the boardwalk, an alternative kayak launch location at Bles Park, and construction of proposed active recreational amenities at other close-by locations.
This application has underscored the need for the county to include more expertise throughout the planning process to adequately balance protecting our natural ecosystems and native plant and animal communities, especially at exemplary wildlife habitats such as those at Bles Park, while providing needed park amenities. We applaud the Planning Commission for bringing this topic to the forefront.
Staff responded to these additional motions by stating that the County Urban Forester and other members of the Natural Resources Team are knowledgeable in these areas. While the staff are knowledgeable about evaluating impacts to floodplains and the health of trees, staff could benefit from more expertise in wildlife biology, ecology, native plants, and natural resource protection to protect the needs of wildlife and sustain healthy wildlife habitats. The policy analysis on Environmental and Natural Resources included in the board packet confirms this without a single mention of potential impacts to wildlife.
However, VA Department of Conservation and Recreation recommended further studies for the rare White trout lily, and VA Department of Wildlife Resources noted the potential presence of the state threatened Wood Turtle. Staff has noted that these species will be surveyed for only after the proposed amenities have been approved, which will be too late. There are also state species of conservation concern found at Bles Park including the American Black Duck and Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, and many other species often seen only at Bles Park when they pass through Loudoun County. There are many shy and reclusive bird species such as the American Bittern that would be driven away from Bles Park forever by the increased noise and traffic of a boardwalk and nearby vehicular traffic.
Multiple Loudoun County departments would benefit from hiring additional staff that have expertise and focus on wildlife biology, ecology, native plants, and natural resource protection. Loudoun County owns or maintains over 1,700 acres of open space, and yet the Parks, Recreation, and Community Services department is severely lacking in staff dedicated to protecting the natural resources of those lands, and this proposed application is a prime example of their disregard for protecting the natural assets of Loudoun County.
Furthermore, staff believe they have found an “appropriate balance between park amenities that respond to public need and minimal impact to natural resources.” They also note that “any changes to the location of these improvements will require additional amendments to the SPEX Plats”. We do not see anything appropriate about destroying the ecological integrity of a wetlands by building a boardwalk and allowing vehicular traffic within feet of a wetlands. We have repeatedly expressed our concerns about this application to staff since the first public meeting in April 2019, so staff have had ample time to make these amendments to the application, and they continue to dismiss our concerns.
While staff acknowledges that the 2019 General Plan does not support active recreation uses in the floodplain, the mitigation measures proposed by staff are inadequate and belies the destruction to exemplary wildlife habitat, notably negative impacts from the proposed boardwalk and vehicular traffic (for kayak launch access) alongside the existing wetlands, and the facts remain that active recreation uses are not compatible with the 2019 General Plan. We cannot understand how staff believes that there “no outstanding land use issues” when this proposal is clearly contrary to the 2019 Comprehensive Plan (Chapter 3, RSCR Policy 2, Permitted Uses in the RSCR).
Here are some tips to craft a compelling message to your supervisor:
- Introduce – Briefly describe your position on the topic.
- Persuade – Tell your personal story, and how the topic relates to you. Your story is impactful.
- Inform – Provide background information and data on the topic.
- Conclude – Restate your message with a call to action.
Board of Supervisors – you can email the full board at email@example.com.
Chair of the Board
Phyllis Randall: Phyllis.Randall@loudoun.gov
Staff: Sarah Tuggle@loudoun.gov
Juli Briskman: Juli Briskman@loudoun.gov
Staff: Rey Banks@loudoun.gov
Mike Turner: Mike.Turner@loudoun.gov
Staff: Rachael Mai@loudoun.gov
Blue Ridge District
Tony Buffington: Tony.Buffington@loudoun.gov
Staff: Rachael Holmes@loudoun.gov
Broad Run District
Sylvia Glass: Sylvia.Glass@loudoun.gov
Staff: Michelle McIntyre@loudoun.gov
Caleb Kershner: Caleb.Kershner@loudoun.gov
Staff: Stacy Carey@loudoun.gov
Matt Letourneau: Matt Letourneau@loudoun.gov
Staff: Tom Parker@loudoun.gov
Kristen Unstattd:Kristen Umstattd@loudoun.gov
Staff: Valerie Suzdak@loudoun.gov
Koran Saines (Vice Chairman): Koran Saines@loudoun.gov
Staff: Omar Masood@loudoun.gov
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