Letter to the Editor: Restore the Lakes at Kingstowne Park–and Soon!
It's time for Fairfax County to restore our once-beautiful lakes
Anyone who has not visited the Lakes at Kingstowne Park lately should. There is a newly erected chain link fence that looks more reminiscent of a prison yard than a county park. As you peer through the fence, you will see the devastation and death that remains where the lakes once stood.
Most of the fish and many of the turtles are now dead. The muskrats that used to swim the shores are now dead too. The beavers have left their formerly submerged lodges—now eight feet above the waterline—and have not been seen since. Finally, the ducks and geese that used to migrate through the lakes have been replaced literally by flocks of vultures, feeding on the remains of the former residents.
Once your eyes take in these grim sights and your nose absorbs the aftermath, you will soon come to a quick conclusion: this once-pristine area needs to be restored by Fairfax County– and soon!
The disaster that befell the lakes came on the 1st of October, when heavy rains tested the dam holding back the lakes. The dam failed early in the morning, draining both lakes with it. While Fairfax County was aware of the poor condition of the dam, they were unwilling to invest the money to fix it, believing they still had time before it failed.
The County has committed to evaluating the situation, but have not yet disclosed their plans. Well, I have my own plan. Fairfax County needs to use some of the 50% increase in our stormwater fees and a17 percent increase in our sewer service fees to restore the Lakes at Kingstowne and tie these lakes into the County's stormwater management system.
In the 2010 fiscal year, the Board of Supervisors established a Storm Water Service District and initiated a service fee. This fee was raised by 50% for the 2011 fiscal year, meaning that the average household in Fairfax County now pays approximately $65 into this fund per year. According to the Fairfax County website, the stated purpose of these fees are to "upgrade county-owned dams to meet state regulations, perform required inspections and maintenance service to ensure the safety of the dams" and to "implement water quality improvements to meet federal requirements and standards." Restoring the Lakes at Kingstowne Park is a perfect match to the stated purpose of the increased fees.
Doing nothing is not an option
Some have suggested that the County should do nothing and allow the area to simply return to nature. This line of reasoning is founded in either a profound confidence in nature or a desire to save the County money.
While this idea sounds tempting at first, it is an idea based in a lack of understanding of this area. The lakes were originally used as a rock quarry and rock-washing area. They were excavated of the rock base and over the years, the deep areas have filled with fine silt. With the lakes drained, this silt is now exposed, and what is left is an area of mud that is quicksand-like in nature. In fact, three people became stuck in the mud after the lake drained, prompting the County to erect the fence.
It has now been two months since the lakes drained and the area remains wet and muddy. Since it is based around a creek that flows year-round, the lakebed never completely dries. In fact, in one area there is a small stream that comes up from an underground source, keeping the quicksand-like mud wet. Ultimately, we cannot afford to ignore this problem and simply "give it back" to nature as nature has a plan that would be unacceptable to the safety of park visitors. This is a perfect environment for a lake, as the mud supports clams that filter the water and provide a source of food for the wildlife. At the same time, it makes for a poor and dangerous open park area.
Turning this "bad" into a "good"
While the tragedy of the dam failure has resulted in an ecological disaster, I believe the citizens and elected officials of Fairfax County have an opportunity to not only repair the lakes, but to make the entire park area even better.
First and most importantly, the use of an overflow pipe and culvert system, rather than the previous spillway, would eliminate dam erosion and restore the lakes into the storm water drainage system. Such a system maintains the lake water at a relatively steady level, but allows the water to rise slightly during heavy rains. The surface area of the lakes is in the hundreds of thousands of square feet, meaning that even a modest rise of two feet could absorb over 2.5 million gallons of water, moderating the flow downstream.
Secondly, by eliminating the spillway, the County can increase the public's access to the trails. This has long been a problem as the trails simply ended at the spillway, forcing pedestrians to either reverse course or forge a dangerous spillway as a shortcut.
Finally, culverts could easily be placed between the two lakes that would allow water, fish and wildlife to pass freely between lakes while allowing foot traffic over the top. This would essentially open more trails to nature-lovers as it would provide multiple points of access for each lake.
There is now a grassroots effort to engage Fairfax County to restore the lakes. The Lakes are located in the Kingstowne Park, bordered by Old Telegraph Road, Hayfield Road and Kingstowne Village Parkway. You may view the lakes by parking on Old Telegraph Road near the back of Hayfield Secondary School. There you will find a walking trail that leads to the lakes. For more information, pictures and a map, you may contact this group through their email address; firstname.lastname@example.org or log onto their website at www.savekingstownelakes.org.