From Good to Great: Improving the Mount Vernon Trail Design
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The National Park Service is looking for feedback on its draft plan to improve the Mount Vernon Trail and George Washington Memorial Parkway south of Alexandria. There’s a lot to like in the proposed design: a road diet south of Tulane Drive, bike/pedestrian intersection safety improvements, a fully rebuilt trail, and a host of new trail amenities including signage, water bottle refill stations, and six(!) new Capital Bikeshare stations.
These elements largely align with suggestions we encouraged you to share last December at the start of the design process, with one major exception. NPS remains stuck on a 12’ trail width in the northern section and a 10’ trail in the southern section. That just isn’t going to cut it.
Submit a comment before September 1st to urge NPS to widen the trail to 14’ north of Slaters Lane and 12’ south of Jones Point Park wherever feasible. This remains 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. Sample comment language below.
The National Park Service released its draft Environmental Assessment with a preferred alternative design for the Mount Vernon Trail and the George Washington Memorial Parkway south of Alexandria. 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; its rehabilitation is a big deal and long overdue.
The NPS rehabilitation proposal includes a host of significant improvements including:
- A road diet that will bring the GW Parkway down to one lane in each direction south of Tulane Drive;
- Geometric changes and trail realignment for safer navigation;
- Trail bridge replacement or deck rehabilitation;
- Trail intersection roundabouts;
- Drainage improvements;
- Vegetation management; and
- Addition of trail amenities like better lighting, signage and wayfinding, benches, water fountains, a new permanent bathroom facility at Gravelly Point, and new Capital Bikeshare stations to extend the reach of our world class bike share network.
There’s just one missing piece: significant widening of this crowded and heavily-used trail. NPS is proposing only a 10’ trail south of Jones Point Park – the absolute minimum for an ADA-approved facility – and only a 12’ trail north of Slaters Lane to Theodore Roosevelt Island. While this is an improvement on the current 8-10’ width, it simply isn’t sufficient for existing and future demand especially as other area trails are being widened to 14’, 16’, or even 18’.
NPS must widen the southern section to at least 12’ and the northern section to 14’ wherever possible, acknowledging that historic and environmental sensitivities will likely require a narrower trail in some spots. Alternatively, NPS could utilize a 2’ gravel buffer along both sides of the trail to provide additional space for users to pull off the trail, facilitate drainage, and prevent vegetation creep.
This project is truly a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve one of the most beloved and utilized trails in the country. A 10’ or 12’ width will leave visitors now and in the future with too little space to fully enjoy this special place. Speak up now before September 1st and let NPS know how important a wider Mount Vernon Trail is for you.
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 support of the National Park Service’s plan to improve the Mount Vernon Trail and the George Washington Memorial Parkway South. With visitor safety and comfort in mind, I strongly support many of the proposed elements including a road diet south of Tulane Drive, intersection safety improvements, more signage and wayfinding, and better trailside amenities including Capital Bikeshare. But I also strongly urge NPS to consider a wider trail footprint as it prepares to finalize the improvement plan.
NPS’ current design to widen the trail to 10-12’ 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 north of Slaters Lane in Alexandria and a 12’ width south of Jones Point Park wherever environmental or historic constraints do not preclude it. Alternatively, NPS might consider building a 10 or 12’ trail with a 2’ gravel buffer on each side as Fairfax County did on the Mount Vernon Memorial Highway Trail. This would reduce environmental impacts while still providing trail users with more space to navigate or pull off.
The Mount Vernon Trail is a truly special place and NPS should take care to ensure it can be safely and comfortably enjoyed now and for years to come. The trail may not have been a part of the original vision for the parkway but it has nonetheless become the quintessential way that millions of people experience our region and its unique natural beauty. Widening it is how we can be sure that experience remains accessible to all.
Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to hearing more as this project progresses.