Landscape architect David Anhold’s vision for the proposed Western Park, a 36-acre site in Old Trail just north of the neighborhood pool, is mindful of the historic and cultural lineage of the land. “The property is characteristic of Crozet,” said Anhold, as it encompasses former orchards and current wetlands, and supports many native plant and wildlife species. “In keeping with that, the park design is grounded in a local sense of place.”
A decade after a Western Park plan was originally proposed but languished due to lack of funding, citizens listened to a presentation of an updated master plan at the Crozet Community Advisory Committee’s (CCAC) meeting May 16. The reanimated project’s design takes direction from community input and coordinates with the county’s overall park system.
The slideshow, given by Greenwood resident Anhold along with Albemarle Parks and Recreation director Bob Crickenberger and outdoor recreation supervisor Dan Mahon, presented data from the county’s recent Parks & Rec needs assessment in which citizens prioritized walking, hiking, and biking trails, youth athletic fields, and open space highest among possible park amenities. Anhold’s design envisions the park as a natural playground following the linear path of Lickinghole Creek.
“Three design threads form the fabric of the park,” said Anhold. “First, there are the sports features such as fields and a playground. Second, there are features that draw on the cultural landscape of Crozet and its history, such as plantings that resemble a farm fencerow, and a circular lawn that could be an abstraction of a Native American village shape. And third, there are natural systems, such as the wetlands, that we’ve embraced in the character of the design rather than disrupting or diverting them.”
The land for the park, 90 percent of which lies in an unbuildable floodplain, was proffered by Old Trail to Albemarle County in 2000 in exchange for greater building densities in its developments. Anhold’s design works with the land forms as they are to include sports fields and play areas, nature walks and trails, a “creek theater,” a “great lawn,” a pavilion, and 200 spaces of off-street parking. The construction is proposed in three phases for a total cost of $5.5 million.
Citizen questions at the meeting focused on requesting that the land’s tall grasses be preserved for bird habitats and that gravel paths be avoided so as not to disturb wildlife, on whether a portion of Crozet taxpayer money goes to county Parks & Rec funding, on the size of the sports fields, and on whether the slopes could be used for winter sledding. The idea of building a Boy Scout facility on the property, floated at the CCAC meeting last November, was not discussed.
Crickenberger briefly reviewed funding opportunities and sources such as the county’s Capital Improvements Program and various grants from agencies such as the EPA and VDOT, but stressed that the process would be slow. “A lot of these funding sources are matching, some have an approval process on an annual basis, some provide funds on a reimbursement basis,” he said. “We may even look into some kind of public-private partnership to see if that would be viable.” He also noted that the current design’s cost projections are fluid. “This is a ‘conceptual’ plan with a ‘conceptual’ cost estimate right now.”
Ann Mallek, county Board of Supervisors chair and White Hall District representative, was in attendance and supports the project. “Beginning to catch up on the long list of needed local parks and sidewalk amenities is essential,” she said. “I support the inclusion of multiple parks projects as a separate question on a fall bond referendum. One or more phases of Western Park could certainly be included, but it has not been finalized yet.”
In the meantime, small steps can be taken in the parkland. A temporary bridge over Lickinghole Creek has been installed and is structurally sound, said Crickenberger, and the county hopes to have the final bridge finished in the next three to six months. “Some of the connectivity in the area was lost during [Old Trail’s] construction,” said Mahon. “We can go ahead and build some of these walking trails so there is circulation on the site. It may take a number of years to put all these park elements in place, but we can bring people back into the park in the interim.”