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Just the suggestion last year that the Fairfax County Park Authority could allow more activities to take place in Riverbend Park outraged many Great Falls residents who treasure the 400-acre natural park.

County park planners have been working to revise the master plan for Riverbend Park, which was last updated in 1975.

The latest iteration of that plan, which would allow for very little change in the park in future years, primarily drew praise from park users attending a public comment meeting last week.

“The current proposed draft is thoughtful and well-balanced,” said Tim Hackman, a member of the Friends of Riverbend Park Board of Directors.

The 1975 master plan, which is essentially just a single-page park map, included several features that were never constructed: an equestrian center, a large camping area and a youth hostel. Those were all removed from the updated plan, which is a much more extensive document that details the park’s history, as well as planning for its future.

One of the biggest proposed changes in the draft master plan is a reconfiguration of the park entrance and parking areas, to create 200 more parking spaces and to prevent park traffic from backing up onto Jeffery Road, which is now an issue on peak days.

These changes could be made without adding any more pavement to the ecologically sensitive park, according to Park Authority planner Andy Galusha.

Some park users expressed some concern about allowing more parking, fearing that bringing more people into sections of the park where most of the activity takes place would degrade the park experience for everyone.

“I think there ought to be a lot of serious thought given to what the impact would be,” said Richard Bliss, a longtime Great Falls resident and former Park Authority Board member.

The plan also proposes improving an existing park maintenance road so that it can be used by park visitors to move between the two main activity areas of the park – the waterfront and the nature center.

The visitor’s center at the park, which sits in a floodplain and has flooded multiple times during heavy rains, will ultimately be replace by a larger facility out of the floodplain that has more space for staff offices and other uses.

The draft plan also would allow for the educational offerings at the park to be expanded, anticipating that the park’s nature center will ultimately be replaced by a larger facility that can accommodate more people, and adding more outdoor classroom space and a nature watching tower near the meadow.

Any additional development of features at Riverbend would occur in areas that have already been disturbed by human activity and are not part of the protected areas of the park, Galusha said.

The draft master plan is expected to go before the Park Authority Board for approval this spring, but that does not mean that anything will change at Riverbend in the near future, Galusha said.

“We have very little funding for any of these developments, so they won’t be taking place anytime soon,” he said.

The public comment period on the draft master plan will remain open through March 11. For more information or to read the draft master plan, go to http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/plandev/riverbend.htm.

kschumitz@fairfaxtimes.com