County supervisors lined up to praise a project to create a system of parks and trails spanning Loudoun during their meeting Thursday.
“Loudoun, you asked for more walking, biking, hiking and equestrian trails and this is your board listening,” said Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge).
The county Parks, Recreation, and Open Space Board will work to create a detailed plan for an interconnected, countywide linear parks and trail system, dubbed “Emerald Ribbons,” with a deadline of June 4. That work would then be incorporated into the county’s new long-term comprehensive plan, which is under development.
A conceptual map prepared by the Piedmont Environmental envisions parks and trails tracing the paths of waterways, the existing W&OD Trail, and reaching to the site of Loudoun’s future state park at the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship near Harper’s Ferry.
The plan as proposed would not take any land by eminent domain, instead relying on voluntary donations from private owners and corporations. Many of those areas are along streams and in floodplains, on land where it is not generally legal to develop.
On top of giving the county a network of green spaces, even in its developed suburban areas, based on other communities’ experiences the Emerald Ribbons initiative is expected to increase nearby property values, improve health, draw more tourism, protect natural and historic resources, and even improve safety in nearby communities.
“In the eastern part of the county, we really have very few parks where it’s just meant for green space,” said Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run). “We have parks where there’s fields and such, but we really have few trail parks.”
“The public was invited four times by the county over the last year and a half to give their opinion about the future of Loudoun County, and each time, the residents throughout the entire county have overwhelmingly wanted more parks and trails,” said Loudoun County Preservation and Conservation Coalition co-founder Al Van Huyck, referring to public input session on the new comprehensive plan. “Tonight, you have the opportunity to respond by approving this study.”
However, Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn), who brought the proposal to the board with County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large), cautioned “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
“One of the things I learned in my last eight years on this board is that making these kinds of things is a lot more difficult than we realize,” Buona said, adding “hopefully the landowners will see the benefits of a linear trails system and work with us.” In particular, he said, it will be difficult to avoid missing links in the system.
And although the county anticipates being able to get that land relatively cheap in Loudoun terms, Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) said it would still cost money.
“We will be relying on [data centers] and our other corporate citizens to help provide significant revenues for this initiative, and we will need significant revenue for it,” Umstattd said.
Although the county is known for having both development and green spaces, Loudoun has relatively little county-owned parkland and only 87 miles of hiking trails. That falls short of the county’s own suggested standard of 0.65 miles per 1,000 residents, or about 260 miles for about 400,000 residents.
“We’ll get this done, and I think 20 years from now people are going to look back and say, ‘man, those people were really smart back then in 2019,” Buona said.
Supervisor voted to start that work 8-0-1, with Randall absent.