As county leaders envision what they want Loudoun to look like 20 years from now, they’re considering creating a network of trails that give residents a taste of nature even amid the Metro stations, business parks, and data center alley of eastern Loudoun.
A group of preservationists, nature and bike enthusiasts, and proponents of smart growth who make up the Loudoun County Preservation and Conservation Coalition have been working for the past year on a project called Emerald Ribbons, which would designate a system of linear parks and unpaved trails along select roads and waterways for public use. The trails could be a space to walk or hike, or possibly ride a bike or a horse, depending on the desire of the community that surrounds that section of trail.
The coalition will be looking for the blessing of the county Board of Supervisors to put the Emerald Ribbon initiative into action. Supervisors are scheduled to take up the item at its meeting Jan. 17. If the board approves the action recommended by County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) and Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn), it would direct the Parks, Recreation and Open Space Board to develop a detailed plan to implement a network of public trails and linear parks.
The idea behind Emerald Ribbons was sparked by the development along Broad Run and the future Metro stations, said Dennis R. Kruse, who sits on the Loudoun County Preservation and Conservation Coalition and is president of Bike Loudoun. Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run) suggested the creation of a linear park that runs along the Broad Run, eastern Loudoun’s largest waterway which happens to be home to some of the most diverse bird species in the county.
“We want to make sure areas like that are protected,” said Kruse. The first objective of the Emerald Ribbons project is to protect the wetlands and stream beds, and the second is to ensure the public knows about them and can access them, which might include the creation of pocket parks with signage at the entrance of some of the trails.
The Emerald Ribbons network will likely include parts of the Appalachian Trail and the W&OD, and connect to trails along Goose Creek and the Potomac Heritage Trail, which runs along the Virginia side of the Potomac River. The vision is to invite homeowners associations, nonprofits, the county government and other groups to work together to define the routes and any facilities, such as picnic tables or benches.
Most of these trails would run through the properties of private developers. Landowners would need to proffer, or donate, a sliver of their property for a public-use trail. But Kruse expects most developers would give the green light because the areas eyed as Emerald Ribbons are in floodplains that cannot be developed.
“Why not take these no-build zones and have developers donate the land they can’t build on anyway and make it park land,” he said.
The idea has early support from several supervisors, including Randall, Buona and Supervisor Tony Buffington (R-Broad Run). A report from Randall’s and Buona’s offices noted that the first public input session for Envision Loudoun—the county’s comprehensive plan for the next 20 years—almost 1,000 people called for more trails, bike paths and parks. “Our residents want to bike, hike, watch nature, dog walk, run, jog, train, share the environment with their children, and otherwise just get out in the outdoors and destress from their daily lives,” they wrote.
Buffington commended the coalition for spearheading the Emerald Ribbons effort. “Such a system of interconnected parks and trails would be enormously beneficial for Loudoun. I strongly support the idea and look forward to working with my colleagues and the public to make it happen.”
The goal of the Loudoun County Preservation and Conservation Coalition is to create a public-private partnership, where the county government would task a county employee with overseeing the project and the coalition, along with other nonprofit organizations, would work on securing grant dollars to fund the project.
And the time to carry this idea to fruition is now, Kruse stressed. As supervisors work on the Envision Loudoun comprehensive plan—with the final adoption of that plan expected later this year—they are grappling with how to balance new business, transportation and housing development with the desire for some open space.
“The timing is vital,” Kruse said. “If we can get this in the comp plan (Envision Loudoun), then we can plan for it. And we can ensure these dense urban areas have natural refuge places, where someone can take their dog for a walk and get rid of some of that stress in their life.”
Learn more about the project at EmeraldRibbons.org.