Sunday, November 28, 2010

Preserving Salona

As I wrote several months ago, Fairfax County received a perpetual conservation easement on 41-acres of Salona in McLean.  The Fairfax County Park Authority has developed a draft of the Salona Park Master Plan and recently held a public hearing on the development of the property.  The Park Authority has also solicited written public comments.  This past weekend I finally got around to submitting my letter to the county and wanted to share it with readers:
I am writing in response to the Fairfax County Park Authority’s solicitation of public comments on the July 22, 2010 draft Salona Park Master Plan (“Master Plan”). As a McLean resident, Civil War enthusiast, and avid supporter of historic preservation, I am particularly interested in how Fairfax County intends to develop Salona. 
In a region where the developer’s bulldozer has often destroyed lands of historic significance, the Salona conservation easement provides the county with a major opportunity to protect one of Fairfax’s most treasured properties. However, with the easement comes the responsibility to ensure that Salona is developed in a manner that comports with its historic character.

Salona, which played a key role in the War of 1812 and the Civil War, should not become just another suburban residential park. Fortunately, many elements of the Master Plan appear appropriate for a site like Salona, and the county should be commended. For example, “interpretative features” would be installed across the park. These features would presumably educate the public on the history associated with Salona. There are also plans to preserve and restore the meadow fronting Rt. 123 and to offer an agriculture/education area.

For all of the upsides, however, a few key elements of the Master Plan have the potential to undermine the historic nature of Salona. The front of the park would consist of two large athletic fields, as well as a 100-space parking lot, a dog park, and a playground/picnic area. These types of installations, although consistent with the easement, would detract from the historic nature of the property and defeat the goal of preserving one of the last open, rural spaces in suburban McLean. The county should be able to find alternative sites for such activities. Possible uses of the core activity area at Salona could include a small museum, which would tell the history of Salona, as well as other events that occurred in the McLean area. The museum could even offer a reconstruction of part of a Union Army winter camp like that located at Salona in 1861-62. A parking lot could be placed next to the museum, far from the portion of the property fronting Rt. 123, and obscured by trees and other vegetation. The museum could also serve as a focal point for living history demonstrations related to Salona history. The agriculture/education area and the meadow preservation area could be expanded. These are only a few suggestions, but in any event, there are better ways to commemorate this historic property than through the installation of athletic fields, playgrounds, and dog parks.

Fairfax County has generally done an excellent job in preserving historic sites within the county’s borders. I hope that the Park Authority stays faithful to its record when developing the Salona property.

Salona property fronting Rt. 123, part of which would become athletic fields, picnic area, and dog park under the proposed plan.

According to an article in the November 24-30, 2010 edition of the McLean Connection, many other residents expressed similar sentiments about the plan at the November 17 public hearing. I hope that readers with an interest in historic preservation will write to the Fairfax County Park Authority to share their views.  Information on submitting comments can be found here.

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