An update on what’s new and upcoming in Albemarle County Parks
The summer is coming to an end, which means the closure of public beaches in Albemarle. But the work of the county’s parks and recreation department never really stops. Earlier this month, the assistant director provided an update to the Places29-Hydraulic Community Advisory Committee.
“We have twelve parks that are open,” said Amy Smith, the assistant director of the parks department.
Smith said planning for the county’s Biscuit Run park slowed during the pandemic but is now back on track as negotiations continue with the Virginia Department of Transportation for the way vehicles will travel to a new parking area.
“We’re well into Phase1A and we should have an entrance off of Avon and Route 20 open next fall,” Smith said. “It will have probably about 12 miles of trails. Some trails are already existing in the park and we’ll have additional trails added and improvements made to trails.”
Planning for a maintenance facility as part of Phase1B will get underway this year, including planning for trails. A three-mile greenway to officially connect 5th Street Station to the park will eventually become a stone-dust trail rather than a primitive trail that’s been at place for a while.
That pathway will tie into what’s known as the Fifth Street Trails Hub, a project funded by the Virginia Department of Transportation though the Smart Scale process.
“So in years to come, that will be a great place for people to park and congregate or they can either get to Biscuit Run or they can jump on the Rivanna Trail around the city,” Smith said.
Smith said a perimeter trail has recently opened at Simpson Park in Esmont.
“We had a short segment of a trail in the woods and we added a stone-dust perimeter trail so it’s about a third of a mile that circles the park,” Smith said. “Back in December we had a soft opening at Western Park [in Crozet]. We have a playground out at Western Park and there’s going to be some more amenities added. A picnic shelter and a stone-dust path.”
The dog park at Darden-Towe Park has recently been expanded and around 50 native trees were planted there to make up for over a hundred Ash trees that have been lost to disease.
“Of note, the Charlottesville Tree Stewards got involved and they wrote a grant to pay for the trees so it doesn’t cost the county anything to replant the trees,” Smith said.
A four-mile extension of the Old Mills Trail on the banks of the Rivanna River is also in the works. This section would go from I-64 to a boat launch at Milton and it’s now a matter of getting agreements with property owners along the way.
“We’re working with Monticello and we’re working on our easements with Monticello,” Smith said.
Another new park that will soon open is Rivanna Village Park in the Village of Rivanna designated growth area, which Smith said should be complete next summer.
“That’s where the builder of Rivanna Village is having a turnkey park for the county,” Smith said. “They’re building the park and the amenities and they will turn over the park to us next summer.”
That will include a picnic shelter, a dog park, a small field, rest rooms, and parking.
“It’s just not for the people who live there,” Smith said. “People will be able to drive in and park and utilize the facilities.”
Members of the Places29-Hydraulic committee had the chance to ask questions, such as this one from Planning Commissioner Julian Bivins.
“I had a sense that there was a gift to the county on Arrowhead Valley Road or Arrowhead Valley?” Bivins said. “I was wondering if I was remembering that correctly and if that’s true, are there any plans for that piece of property?”
Bivins referred to a 400 acre plot off of U.S. 29 south of Charlottesville that’s known as the William. S. D. Woods Natural Heritage Area. The land was donated to the county by a couple who have since passed.
“Right now, we’re just holding it,” Smith said, “It’s in our capital improvement program but it hasn’t been funded to be developed.”
Speaking of the capital improvement program, Supervisor Diantha McKeel noted that there is only one park inside of the county’s urban ring and that’s Charlotte Humphris Park. She said the county must prioritize building services for people in the development areas.
“Many of the folks that live in our community don’t have the ability to ride a bike for 15 or 20 minutes to a park or to ride a bus to a park—and many of our buses don’t even go to the parks—so I’m just starting to say let’s put our radar screens that pocket parks are really important for people who live in the urban area,” McKeel said.