Rebuilding the Mount Vernon Trail for the 21st Century
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The National Park Service has quietly begun the planning process to bring improvements to the venerable, ever-popular, but woefully deteriorating Mount Vernon Trail. This is a generational opportunity to rehab this vital trail not just back to a state of good repair, but to upgrade it to be a world-class resource able to serve the recreation and transportation needs for regular users and visitors long into the future.
At this point, everything is on the table and NPS wants to know what YOU think trail improvements should look like. Now through January 18, 2023 is the time to submit comments and call for an ambitious vision for a renewed Mount Vernon Trail that prioritizes comfort and safety for all who walk, bike, and roll along its length. Sample comment language below.
The National Park Service has kicked off the long process of rehabbing the George Washington Memorial Parkway and the Mount Vernon Trail with an improvement plan study and environmental assessment (find the project page here). This is a BIG deal. The 17-mile Mount Vernon Trail is one of the region’s most visited recreation destinations as well as a vital and scenic transportation corridor for thousands of area residents.
It is also exceedingly narrow and often overcrowded; features countless upheaves, hairpin turns, and dangerously slick boardwalks; includes only sporadic amenities and wayfinding; and requires several poorly designed at-grade road crossings.
The improvement project is our opportunity to address all those issues and more, to rebuild the Mount Vernon Trail as a resilient and truly world-class park resource. The current public comment period is the first and best chance to set the scope and expectations for the future trail. We invite you to share your thoughts with NPS, through the recently-extended deadline on January 18, 2023.
Below is sample language you can use but feel free to add your own thoughts, ideas, and experiences using the trail.
SAMPLE COMMENT LANGUAGE
To Whom It May Concern:
I write eagerly in strong support of the National Park Service’s plan to improve the Mount Vernon Trail. With visitor safety and comfort in mind, I strongly encourage NPS to consider the following as it develops its improvement plan and design concepts:
- Space for all users. NPS’ current recommendation to widen the trail to 10-11’ feet is insufficient for the current volume of users, let alone future projected use as new connections like the Long Bridge open in the future. NPS should develop designs that incorporate a 14’ minimum trail width; where this is untenable due to significant tree loss, NPS should consider separated or braided trails with a total combined width of 14’. In addition to being easier to thread through sensitive environmental areas, separated trails can also be used to segment different trail users, thus reducing conflict. NPS currently has designs for separate bicycle and pedestrian trails at Gravelly Point and should implement such designs there and elsewhere.
- Bridges and underpasses. Memorial Bridge is a major pinch point and the trail must be widened, either by reclaiming space in the roadbed or by exploring a passage through the abutment. Additionally, while I applaud NPS’ intentions to replace any bicycle/pedestrian bridges at the end of their service life as part of the improvement project, I believe NPS should go further and ensure all bridges and boardwalks are at a minimum redecked/treated to address dangerous slipperiness of the current wooden surfaces when wet.
- Trail conditions. As with the bridges and boardwalks, NPS must improve trail conditions when wet. Poor drainage, pooling, and icing are common throughout the trail and all methods of reducing water impacts – including rerouting or raising the trail – should be considered.
- Intersections and crossings. NPS should prioritize trail users at every intersection. Suggested improvements include raised crossings and installing speed bumps for approaching cars, rerouting the trail to improve sightlines and crossing angles, and minimizing crossing distances through roadway narrowing. This is particularly needed where the trail crosses the airport ramps and the Dangerfield Island Marina Access Road. Additionally, where the trail runs close to the road, protective barriers and other safety measures should be considered.
- Signage and amenities. NPS must dramatically improve signage and wayfinding along the entire trail. This should include a trail centerline, emergency contact information, mile markers, maps, and interpretation placards. Dark sky-friendly outdoor lighting should also be considered. As a major destination and scenic transportation corridor, the trail should be easy to navigate and appreciate for all users.
- Better connections. While the northern section of the Mount Vernon Trail is fairly limited-access, the southern section is important as a more local recreation (and transportation) resource. As such, ensuring safe and easy connections to the surrounding neighborhoods should be prioritized, especially any crossings of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. In the northern section, improvements to the major intersections like Four Mile Run should also be considered to make use of this resource more accessible to more people without cars.
- Trail management. The care and upkeep of the trail should not fall so heavily on the work of volunteers. The trail is as vital a resource as the Parkway and its maintenance should be prioritized in the same way, including in the budget process. This should include treating the trail in the winter to ensure the park is accessible year-round for people walking and biking.
Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to hearing more as this project progresses.