Planned Improvements to Upton Hill Regional Park
Upton Hill Regional Park is owned and managed by NOVA Parks (Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority). Initially developed in the 1970s, Upton has always maintained a balance of active uses and natural resource management. The waterpark underwent a major rebuild in 2006. Existing uses include the following:
- Waterpark with nearly 50,000 uses a year
- Miniature golf with nearly 30,000 uses a year
- Batting cage with over 100,000 rounds per year
- Picnic shelter with over 50 rentals per year
The uses listed above are in an area called the “upper park,” which is on top of the hill above Wilson Boulevard. There is also an area of the park, adjacent to Wilson Boulevard, called the “lower park.” In this area there is an old playground and a restroom building.
Creating an Updated Park for the Community:
While much of the park is in a forest, there is an area next to the existing batting cage that is underutilized. This area is not in the natural resources area and because of the slopes is not useful for other purposes. In 2015, NOVA Parks surveyed over 400 park users to see what kind of uses might be attractive to add to the park. Arlington has one of the highest population of the millennial generation in the nation. The survey found that half of those surveyed were of this generation, and they had a high interest in an adventure feature like a ropes course or zip line.
The Arlington Way:
The “Arlington Way” is to engage the community through civic associations, boards and commissions. While not required, NOVA Parks engaged extensively with these civic organizations in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Numerous meetings were held with both Boulevard Manor and Dominion Hills Civic Associations (Upton Hill is in Boulevard Manor and near Dominion Hills). Presentations were also made to the Arlington County Park and Recreation Commission and the Arlington County Urban Forestry Commission.
Through meetings with the Civic Associations, the community expressed a strong desire to see the lower park area added to the scope of this project, and revitalized. To achieve this goal, a new playground is planned for this area as well as a picnic shelter, and pathways. The restroom building will be renovated. Initially as small parking lot was envisioned for this lower area of the park. Vehicular access to this parking area would have resulted in that loss of a number of trees. At the request of the Urban Forestry Commission, NOVA Parks worked with County staff and came up with a plan that will use on-street parking along Wilson Blvd to service this area. The parking in this area will be time limited during the day to provide for turnover needed for park users.
For details on the dialog between NOVA Parks and the Urban Forestry Commission on this area see the linked letters.
Model of Environmental Management:
There is room to expand the current upper parking lot without impacting the forest resources. This expansion will address a need for parking that is an issue on most summer weekends and at other times. Using low impact development techniques, the new larger parking lot will have a much smaller ecological footprint than the current parking lot does. The issue with storm water is that during heavy rains old parking lots have all the water flow rapidly into streams, impacting those waterways. The new parking lot is being designed to capture the storm water and release it slowly to protect the surrounding environment. It will also have several design features that accomplish this. One is an underground storage tank or “cistern” that will capture the storm surge and release it slowly. The other more noticeable feature will be some sections of the parking lot that will have pervious pavers, also designed to absorb the water and release it slowly.
Perhaps the most exciting environmental innovation will be the creation of a native Oak/Hickory Forest Ecosystem. An open field left to nature will go through a series of stages as various forest types develop over time. The top of this forest succession in this area is the Oak/Hickory Forest. While most of Upton Hill is in forest, perhaps only 20% of the current Upton Hill forests are at the Oak/Hickory stage. NOVA Parks has worked with an arborist to plant a complete Oak/Hickory Forest on about an acre of land that is not currently in forest in the park. This plan includes 136 native trees and 60 native bushes. This project will greatly expand the habitat value of the park and provide a great learning opportunity about forest ecosystems.
The park plan has been developed through civic engagement to meet many community needs. It is a plan that will build on the success of Upton Hill and make it a dynamic and popular park for decades to come.
Since the beginning, the plan has been developed with natural resource management in mind, and improvements have been sited to have minimal impact. From the low impact design features to the new Oak/Hickory Forest, the new park will have substantially improved natural resources.