Monticello Road is a community arts project in Charlottesville, Virginia. Through photography and a series of public events and conversations, we explore how an art can be an essential, integral and everyday part of a healthy community.
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Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Broaden Public Access to Ragged Mountain
It's essential that we get more people--especially kids--into the woods. It's definitely possible to do so without harm--but it will require some work.
(Story|Line Photo: Preston Jackson)
Here's a brief I emailed to Charlottesville City Council about a proposal to open up the Ragged Mountain Natural Area to runners, cyclists and leashed dogs, which are currently prohibited. Council response follows in the comment section.
I had hoped to write you a proper brief about Ragged Mountain and even testify at the meeting tonight, but I have another commitment and won't be able to make it. I believe that if it will not interfere with drinking water quality, then allowable uses should be expanded. It needs to be a zone of active teaching and it is an opportunity and responsibility that must be shared with Albemarle County.
Key Issues (besides water quality, which I cannot address):
1. It is essential and urgent that we do all that we can to nurture a powerful connection between all citizens and the natural world. There is tons of literature pointing to that fact and in this case it means going beyond hikers with walking sticks or ski poles and looking at other ways of using the space--especially for young people. There are many ways of enjoying nature, while we obviously don't want to destroy it in the process.
2. That means allowing runners, bikers, casual (dog) walkers in certain areas, while excluding all users from other, sensitive, areas.
3. I've seen many, many cases where diverse park users coexist well. Look no further than Saunders-Monticello for a great example, which shares many characteristics with RMNA, is even closer to town, heavily used by all of these groups and has marvelously secluded spaces for those who want that. While RMNA is a unique place--neither Carters Mountain nor Walnut Creek--there are positive models and lessons from elsewhere.
4. My work in other places (Central Park, for example) leads me to suggest that it might be strategic to include horses in the mix. It will not be popular with all, but the benefit might outweigh the objections. Just a thought.
5. Although opening the uses will be an improvement, it will not be sufficient to simply make the space available, putting up a sign and saying "Open." Not everyone benefits as much as they should and there will need to be programming that actively gets people into the park. Again, I'm thinking specifically about children. The schools and Parks and Rec need to use this resource, but there are also many non-government players doing great work.
6. Making this all work will require really smart design and implementation. It's not just a question of changing language. Real, physical work will need to happen including trail design and maintenance, access and perhaps parking as well, and definitely interpretation. Many have pointed out that the area is unique--people will sense it but they will also need to be told--and and understand why.
7. All of this will be costly but the City need not stand alone. Indeed, the County wants this badly--it says so throughout their planning documents. It is safe to say that users will come from all over the region, especially adjoining neighborhoods (which are all in the County) and the County will reap the vast majority of the property tax benefit that this will bring. So while the City owns the land, there is no reason to even consider bearing all (or even most) of the capital and operating costs. Perhaps you can offer the County two choices: an uneven split (something like City 25 / County 75) or a binding survey-based arrangement that accounts for frequency and intensity of use as well as income. Although we will want that data anyway, I would make clear that this is a new venture, not envisioned in the revenue sharing, and there will be no free ride.
8. Because funding will be shared, so planning and management should be collaborative as well. This is an opportunity to work together with our neighboring jurisdiction and, while doing so open doors for more future cooperation and hopefully a broader approach toward common problems.
By doing these things, we can make our community better and get more kids and families into the woods. I write this a true friend, who knows the Ragged Mountain Area well and who has worked with kids, athletes, parks officials and naturalists and I'm sure you'll hear from them as well. This is a good opportunity and can be a real benefit--if we do it well.
If you wish, I will be happy to expand on any of these ideas.
Meantime, thank you for your service and I hope to continue the conversation soon~
Masters candidate in Urban and Environmental Planning
Council delays opening Ragged Mountain Natural Area to bikes, dogs (Charlottesville Tomorrow 10/20)
Public speaks out on Ragged Mountain uses (Daily Progress 10/19)
Ragged Mountain changes delayed for environmental study (Daily Progress 10/20)