With a price tag nearing half a million dollars and years of planning, the Fort Ethan Allen improvement project — headlined by the relocation of a dog park — looked like it would never be finished. But last Saturday, County Board members, community leaders, and local residents finally gathered at the site for a special ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the project’s completion.
"SOME THOUGHT this day would never come," said Peter Fallon, chair of the Relocation Task Force. "The battle for the community canine area lasted longer than the Civil War itself."
For years, dog park, or community canine area activists were opposed by local residents who thought that the facility would negatively impact the neighborhood. Ron Cheich, president of the Old Glebe Civic Association, explained that the group was not originally a supporter of the park, but said it was time to move forward. "Let’s leave the past the past and start a new beginning with the groups here," he said.
In 2000, Arlington County officials realized that the previous community canine area, located on Old Glebe Road, blocked the public’s access to part of Fort Ethan Allen, and they put in motion the process of moving it to allow for preservation and interpretation of the historical district. Five years and several task force recommendations later, the new site on Stafford Street next to the Madison Center was picked and construction began.
"WE NOW have a dog park we think is the best in the region," County Board member Barbara Favola said.
With a total cost of $456,204, the project included improvements on Stafford Street and to the Madison Center playground. This spring, Civil War and modern era artifacts were uncovered during construction of the canine area entrance walkway, delaying the project about a month, while Versar Inc. did archaeological fieldwork.
According to project manager Matt Latham, of the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Resources, Civil War-era artifacts such as bullets, uniform buttons, and hat buckles were found mixed together with modern artifacts like cigarette filters. Archaeologists also thought a clay bottle they dug up dated back to the Civil War, but after further investigation, determined it came from a later period. "Archaeologists came to the conclusion that the artifacts were redeposited in a previous construction process," he said. When the Madison Community Center was built 40 years ago, the artifacts likely mixed.
As the newest of seven community canine areas in Arlington, the park boasts a number of features including a wood deck to protect tree roots, a wood fiber surface with a drainage system to prevent mud and odor, and Bollard-style lighting for night-time use.
Maureen Farrell, who represents Madison Dogs, was pleased with the new facility and said it was a model for other communities. "This was a long process but the day has come for our canine friends to romp," she said.
"I THINK it's just wonderful," said Lois Trumbull of Arlington Dogs for Dog Parks. "I specifically didn’t come and watch them build it because I wanted to see what they were going come up with, and they outdid themselves I think.
Cheich applauded the "beautiful facility" created by the county, but added that local residents still remain concerned. "We want to make sure that living on a dead-end street like Stafford that the parking situation is OK for the people that live here and the children that live down the street, " Cheich said. "We hope the parking lot is used as it is today and we don’t get a lot of traffic up here." If this becomes a problem Cheich said the neighbors would go to the county and try to get permit parking.
Advocates for the dog park, concerned residents, and historical preservationists all came together to air their concerns and provide input about the project during the five-year planning phase. At some meetings, more than 300 people expressed one point of view. In the end, the diverse interest groups were able to agree on the current site.
"We think we have come up with a wonderful compromise," Favola said. "This is a great testimony to how we work as a community."
Said Stephen Temmermand, Division Chief of Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Resources: "We’re building one community here. That’s the big win-win that we have which is the sense of neighbors working with neighbors to determine what the community looks like."