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Fairfax County’s master plan for Riverbend Park in Great Falls hasn’t changed since 1975, but residents who frequent the park say that is just fine with them.

“Every time I use the park, I am grateful for the geniuses who put those parcels together,” Jim Lynch said. “It is a place of unspeakable beauty and it should be managed the way it is currently.”

The Park Authority is in the process of updating the master plan for the 400-acre natural park along the Potomac River. The majority of the park is a protected natural area, but it does have a nature center, picnic areas, hiking trails and a boat launch to access the Potomac.

Riverbend also has a rich history, including Native American sites and a recently obtained Underground Railroad historic designation, said park planner Andy Galusha.

The park does have a small, already developed portion of its property, the site of two residences, that Park Authority staff consider to be an “opportunity area” for additional park features.

Dozens of residents attending a planning meeting Tuesday night said they are not interested in new features for Riverbend.

“I don’t think there is any way of improving on what nature has done,” Richard Bliss said. Any additional development “would do a disservice” to all the work that has been done in the past to preserve natural elements there, he added.

With the goal of generating funds to support the operations at Riverbend, the Park Authority entered into an agreement last year with a company called Go Ape, which wanted to install a high ropes course at the park.

Although some park supporters, such as the Friends of Riverbend Park group, backed Go Ape because of the revenue potential, many others in Great Falls objected to putting a commercial use in a nature preserve and raised concerns about parking and increased traffic.

Go Ape is no longer pursuing the Riverbend Park site, and residents at Tuesday’s meeting said they want to ensure no commercial uses are considered in the future.

By a show of hands, most in the room indicated they would support a small entry fee for the roughly 320,000 people who arrive at the park by car each year as a more appropriate source of revenue for the park.

The Park Authority expects to complete the first draft of the new master plan this summer, which will then be opened for public comment again. The goal is to complete the new master plan by the end of this year, said Sandy Stallman, manager of the Fairfax County Park Authority Park Planning Branch.

Residents can continue to submit comments and suggestions about the Riverbend Park master plan via email at parkmail@fairfaxcounty.gov or by mail to Andy Galusha at 12055 Government Center Parkway, Suite 406, Fairfax, VA 22035.

kschumitz@fairfaxtimes.com