The park is in the area along the W&OD trail, roughly running from Columbia Pike to 9th Street South. It once had houses between the railroad track and the stream bank. Then it became the County's leaf dump. We cleaned it up in the 90's and asked the County to do landscaping, but that never happened for budgetary reasons. Then we got Neighborhood Conservation funding for a design, and the County's coordinator for Public Art found us a grant to get an artist involved. We have the suggested design now, and the next step is to decided if we want to use it, or parts of it, and to ask for funding for the construction phase from Parks or (more likely) from Neighborhood Conservation.
The BSCL's Parks Committee, under the able leadership of Shirley Gay and Shelley Fichtner, is working on the Parks chapter for our update of the Barcroft Neighborhood Conservation Plan. When that is completed and adopted by the neighborhood we will decide where we go from here. If you are interested, please contact Shirley by email.
The project which we refer to as The Four Mile Run Interpretive
Installation, began as an effort by Arlingtonians for a Clean
Environment (ACE) to develop and site interpretive signage to
educate residents about their relationship to the Four Mile Run
watershed and, thereby, to the Chesapeake Bay. Since Spring of
1998, a design committee including county staff and citizen
representatives has met to craft the message and the
The search for a location for our signs led to the open space
between the W&OD Trail and the stream, immediately on the north
side of Columbia Pike. This location was chosen because it is in
a sense a cultural crossroads of Arlington. Trail users traverse
from north and south, while residents of the highly diverse and
less affluent surrounding neighborhoods traverse the busy
sidewalk along the Pike.
This location has other attractive characteristics. In addition
to being a cultural crossroads, it is also the intersection of a
commercial corridor with a greenway. As the only open green
space along the entire length of Columbia Pike, its significance
to the community is probably underestimated. Many southbound
recreational trail users turn around at this point, as the trail
environment is not as attractive once one crosses the Pike.
There are challenges as well. The space is generally considered
to be misused. People sleep under the bridge; adult men drink in
the valley, and delinquent teens gather in the woods. Other than
mowing, the site has seen very little public investment. Most
maintenance, including litter and brush removal, has been taken
care of by members of the Barcroft School & Civic League, in
which civic association the site is located.
From the point of view of installing signage, the site also
presents challenges. At the point of their intersection, the
trail and sidewalk audiences are a couple hundred feet from the
stream, although both cross it in the general area. Developing a
park-like setting between the stream and trail would not only
reclaim the site for wholesome public use but also create a
setting in which people can relax and become exposed to our
The ethnic diversity of the surrounding communities suggested to
our steering committee that non-traditional means of
communication will be required in order to effectively
communicate our message. Rather than put twenty different
languages on our signs, we have opted for an intensively graphic
approach. Signs alone, however, will do little to educate those
who are not already seeking information.
In the interest of exploring the potential community interest and
cultural references for this watershed education project, the
steering committee enlisted the services of Mara Adamitz Scrupe,
an artist who specializes in community-driven public art
projects. Scrupe's participation was underwritten by Arlington's
Cultural Affairs Division
Interviews, introductory meetings, and other fact-finding efforts
began in September, 1998 to characterize community awareness of
and attitudes toward the proposed site and Arlington's stream
valley parks in general. Acting as facilitator and community
liaison, Scrupe, along with Steve Coffee, Executive Director of
ACE, met with individuals and groups from the area, including
representatives from Barcroft and Glencarlyn civic associations
and various consituencies of the Arlington Mill Community Center.
Neighborhood teens were enlisted to interview adults about their
attitudes and knowledge about the parks and watershed.
During these initial meetings, many questions were raised
regarding current and future site usage, safety, and educational
goals. Among these:
- How do we design signage which communicates with all park
users regardless of English language proficiency?
- Regarding site design, how do we get people to walk from
Columbia Pike, onto the trail and into the interpretive site?
How do we humanely discourage the homeless population, which
periodically takes up residence under the Columbia Pike
How do we improve the overall security of the park site,
including eliminating public drinking in the park, and other
How do we facilitate cleaning up the park area, removing debris
and trash, and encouraging environmentally-friendly approaches
to the park by all users?
How do we keep a cross-section of the community involved with
site design throughout future development phases?
How do we conceptually and physically represent all ethnic and
immigrant groups in the area in creating a place that the
entire community will be drawn to?
How can we reconcile user needs in a community as diverse as that
which surrounds the Four Mile Run site?
How do we encourage positive and family-oriented use of the site
across cultural and ethnic lines, such as family picnicking,
strolling and biking, and outdoor community events?
How can teens contribute to this project while also contributing
to the goals of existing service learning programs aimed at
that age group?
Beyond the interpretive signage initiative, how do we develop the
park site so that it addresses the emotional, physical, and
spiritual needs of the people who use it?
Meanwhile, we also met with numerous representatives of the
county government, including various divisions of Parks,
Recreation, and Community Resources, as well as Department of
Environmental Services, Department of Public Works, Housing and
Neighborhood Development, and the Police Department. The
Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, which actually owns
much of the land under discussion, has also been kept apprized.
The basic purpose of these meetings has been to ascertain any
other county objectives which might support or conflict with our
own. Beyond this, ACE recognizes that this project requires the
"buy-in" not only of the neighbors but of the county staff as
well. We have endeavored to involve staff in all phases of this
project and many of their ideas are embodied here.
In meetings with members of the Southeast Asian, Hispanic, and
African immigrant communities, we discussed ways in which the
original educational goals of our project, watershed and
environmental education, could most effectively reach these
varied communities. The answers were both discouraging and
Regardless of the ethnic backgrounds of those whose opinions and
insights we solicited, we were told many times that among new
immigrants in the area, interest in local environmental issues is
almost non-existent. Although concern about inappropriately
deposited trash is often cited by those who use the Four Mile Run
parks, as is the safety and the general attractiveness of the
area, new immigrants appear to have few opportunities, and little
time or energy, for addressing these issues. At the same time,
other, more comfortably-settled and longer-term residents,
express many ecologically-based worries about their local parks
and the urban environment as a whole. How can we reconcile these
very divergent interests, experiences, and world-views, while
creating a single, effective, environmentally-attuned public
During preliminary interviews, the point was made by all those
surveyed that immigrants rarely use the trails, and infrequently
visit the stream valley portions of the parks, in part because of
security issues, but also because the site currently contains no
specific cultural references which might draw them there. With
regard to site design, residents cited desires for park amenities
which appeared to be congruent with the needs of specific ethnic
communities. For example, Spanish-speaking citizens suggested
site furnishings that address cultural traditions: pi¤ata poles
and soccer fields were mentioned. Other nearby neighbors stressed
a need for practical site amenities such as trash receptacles,
nighttime illumination, benches, picnic tables, bathrooms, and
playground equipment for children. A safe, clean, and welcoming
open space, with plenty of room for families to meet and play,
was the most frequent suggestion to emerge from interviews with
all community members.
Proposed: The Four Mile Run Interpretive Site
We perceive a convergence of interests among a number of
constituencies+for environmental education, for public art, and
for reclamation of open space for appropriate public uses+that
justifies the development of a park-like destination dedicated to
the interpretation of Four Mile Run and the Chesapeake Bay at the
Columbia Pike crossing. In addition to the diversity of the
potential audience, this site has a number of inherent and
potential values that justify its selection. Though, small, the
site is strategically located. It is the only public green space
along the entire length of Columbia Pike in Arlington. It
bisects a business district slated for renovation. It can be a
convenient wayside for both trail users and sidewalk pedestrians.
Although lacking dedicated parking, it can also be a destination
for residents arriving under their own power. Trail users
arriving from the south find it a gateway to Arlington's stream
valley park system, making it an especially good location for a
thematic installation about the stream.
We recommend that an appropriate county process, such as the
Neighborhood Conservation Program, be employed to develop a
master plan for this new park. The master plan should seek to
incorporate the thematic and community values outlined in this
report. Site design needs to be closely coordinated with the
interpretive and community art objectives detailed below. It is
our hope that ACE will continue to be a partner in this community
process and that funding will be identified to continue the role
of the artist, working in partnership with the landscape
ACE recognizes the significance of the maintenance burden that a
new park requires. Decisions in the design process need to be
carefully considered to minimize maintenance requirements. While
we are not in a position to lobby on budgetary matters, we would
hope that the community would take appropriate measures to
provide staff the needed resources to properly maintain the
We have developed a primitive site design for the park indicating
a rough distribution of amenities.
The site should include a new
collateral trail diverging from the southbound W&OD near the
second high voltage pole, meandering through the woods, and
looping back to the W&OD near its intersection with the Pike.
One or two gravel paths should lead to properly fenced overlooks
into the stream valley, where future interpretive signs could be
installed. A path should also link the loop to the Pike sidewalk
through the existing opening in the split rail fence.
This design will require at least the partial leveling of the
berm, apparently left from railroad construction in the early
1800s. This is necessary both to provide access from the W&OD at
a reasonable grade and to help ensure personal security of
visitors through better visibility.
In terms of amenities, tables and seating should be designed to
encourage interaction among people and with the interpretive
elements. It should not encourage sleeping or loitering. A
drinking fountain, bike rack, and trash receptacles should be
installed. The strategy for security lighting needs to be
The intersection of the W&OD Trail, Columbia Pike and Four Mile
Run is the epicenter of one of the most diverse neighborhoods in
the world. We have concluded therefore that unconventional
methods will be required to engage the public and attract them to
our educational message.
Through our community outreach efforts, we have realized that a
successful park project, that is, one that will be used,
maintained, and valued by local citizens, is one which addresses
the ideas, experiences, and themes which run through the
community and are represented in the individual lives of its
citizens. Our great challenge and aspiration is to develop both a
process and an installation that transcends these differences and
delivers a unifying message that all can relate to and draw
The best method we know of for rising to these challenges is
through a participatory public art project. We hope that the
community will recognize the potential value of an art component
and embrace the concept in the context of master planning for
the site. The Arlington Cultural Affairs Division is willing to
assume the leadership role in coordinating the public art
project, however non-traditional sources of funding may be
Possible themes for the project include:
Any number of alternate ideas for a community-inspired public
artwork may be explored during the planning and design phase.
The finished artwork should provide a participatory interpretive
experience, rather than a more passive, information-sharing
- A three-dimensional representation of a watershed including
moving water pumped by a renewable energy system
A project which visually represents the idea of a "crossroads",
or a "journey", utilizing water as an important design element
A project which addresses the existing storm drain in the deep
depression near the trail/street junction, replacing it with a
functioning rain garden or mini-wetland
A project which combines the above elements while also
referencing the immigrant experience which is common to the
surrounding neighborhoods as well as to Arlington as a whole
ACE continues its work to develop and install interpretive
signage under a grant from the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.
Our interpretive signs will be designed to integrate text,
graphic imagery, and easily understood icons in such a way as to
engage and interest viewers with varying levels of sophistication
and English language fluency. The current vision is for three
vertically oriented, large (approximately 2 « x 3 « ft), embedded
fiberglass, four-color, steel-framed signs.
The themes of the three panels will be
1. From Arlington to the Chesapeake, a watershed orientation;
We hope that the educational message of the signs will appeal to
people regardless of ethnicity or length of residence. Not only
will they be intensely graphic, but the themes should be
something all people can relate to. The geographic "you are
here" message and the planetary perspective provided by a
satellite image of the region may be especially salient to people
who have experienced dislocation in their lives. Water itself is
a universal resource and value.
2. Flow of time, Four Mile Run is important to the human history
of the area and has been significantly altered by man;
3. We all live upstream, stewardship of stream and Bay
The signage needs to be integrated into the site design in order
to fulfill their function and to reduce risk of vandalism. Since
under the terms of our grant the signs must be installed well
before the site can be developed, we will seek a temporary
location for them. This conveniently provides the opportunity to
present our message to a different audience.
Watershed friendly landscaping
Due to the educational objectives of this project, it is doubly
imperative that the development of the site follow all applicable
environmental ordinances and do no harm to the watershed. All
introduced impervious surface must be mitigated by erosion
control measures, preferably of the vegetative variety.
The opportunity exists, however, to go beyond a "do no harm"
standard and to model the kinds of practices we would hope
developers and property owners would adopt. A demonstration area
of watershed-friendly landscaping would reinforce other
educational amenities in nearby parks, including the native plant
garden at Long Branch Nature Center and Sparrow Swamp in
We recommend the creation of a bioretention bmp (a.k.a. "rain
garden") on the site of the derelict storm sewer inlet which sits
in a deep pit near the intersection of the Trail and Pike. The
facility should be engineered to detain and treat the runoff
which the inlet currently receives. Upon completion, an
interpretive sign should be installed explaining its value and
In addition to treating stormwater, the bioretention strategy
presents many strategic advantages. It allows most of the site
to remain within the turf-dominated conceptual framework that
people have for recreational parks and yards. Because of its
relatively small scale, such a facility should not carry huge
maintenance obligations. As an "island" in a prominent location,
it should not present any security concerns. It is also possible
that the artwork might be integrated into this feature.
Members of the Barcroft School & Civic League have indicated an
interest in sponsoring this project through the Neighborhood
Conservation process. ACE heartily endorses their assumption of
leadership in this effort.
Our community research and outreach has convinced us that, in
order to reach the broadest-possible cross-section of residents,
it will be necessary, from the start, to create a project which
will encourage their ownership in the park and its resources.
When we create a sense of ownership in the park by all users, we
can then expect to receive widespread support for its sustenance,
leading us logically toward enhanced environmental awareness and
preservation. Therefore, future efforts at developing this site
into a community resource needs to be as broadly inclusive as
possible. We believe that a formal citizens advisory committee
that is intensely involved with all aspects of site design and
implementation will help ensure wide-ranging support for and
participation in the Four Mile Run Interpretive Installation.
Phase 1: March 1999 through February 2000
A. Interpretive signage installation
B. Site planning and design
C. Fundraising for site design implementation and artist
D. Planning and design of environmental public art work
Phase 2: March through October 2000
Site Design Implementation
Phase 3: November 2000 through June 2001
A. Implementation of design for environmental public art work
Contracting of fabrication services
B. Relocation of interpretive signage
Installation of artwork on site
Institution of maintenance plan for artwork
C. Public celebration and dedication of The Four Mile Run
There are doubtless issues we have not addressed. We have not to
date communicated with Virginia Power about any concerns they
might have related to the high voltage lines. We do not know the
significance of fact that the VA Department of Transportation
right-of-way extends about 50 feet into the proposed park area.
County plans for streetscape improvements are apparently too far
in the future to plan around those changes. We have not
considered the area on the east side of the trail, which a
thorough landscape design probably should.
For Further Information:
Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment
Design team (Steve Coffee, Denise Chauvette, Christy Williams,
Don Waye, Marcia Finnerty), or some subset thereof, met on
5/21/98 with Angela Adams
10/19/98 with Stan Ernst, Aura Grego, Howard Hudgins, Angela
12/21/98 with Randy Randall
1/14/99 with Aura Grego, Howard Hudgins
Steve Coffee had the following meetings:
5/22/98 Ritch Viola
6/11/98 Angela Adams
7/29/98 Bill Roberts
9/2/98 Dick Wark
9/4/98 Angela Adams
10/1/98 Barcroft School & Civic League
11/3/98 Chris Nixon, Robert Collins, Chris Shaheen
11/6/98 Michael Swisher (Teen Connection)
11/12/98 Sharon Ruggieri (Arl Mill HS continuation)
12/16/98 Col Pike Revitalization Organization (892-2776)
1/11/99 T.J. Murphy (BCSL, 486-1734)
1/22/99 Bill Roberts, Ritch Viola
During November and Decomber of 1998, Steve Coffee and/or Mara
Scrupe met with the following individuals and organizations,
Arlington Teen Connection / Vietnamese Martial Arts club
Glencarlyn Civic Association
Science class, Arl Mill HS Continuation
Members of the Teen connection and the Vietnamese Martial Arts
club, based at Arlington Mill, conducted interviews with adults
in the community. The interview schedule is attached.
Other important resource people, organizations
W&OD Regional Park, Paul McCray, Park Supervisor, Kate Rudicille,
land planner. 729-0596
AT&T (fiber optic cable under trail)
Friends of Four Mile Run 503-5962
Friends of Arlington Parks 525-4224
Friends of the W&OD Trail 729-0596
Rebecca Hackney, Arlington Police Dept.
Prepared by Steve Coffee
Then with Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment
This page was revised on: August 26, 2007.