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A participant in the recent Tough Mudder at Silver Lake Park traverses through muddy pits while trying to avoid being shocked by hanging wires.

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Prince William County Supervisor Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, said this year would be the first and last for Tough Mudder at Silver Lake Park outside Haymarket.

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More than 7,500 people descended on sleepy Silver Lake Park last weekend to clamber over a giant, rope-looped peak, slide on their backs through muddy pits and traverse about nine miles of wooded trail – all to complete the muck-soaked event known as the “Tough Mudder.”

But the decision to hold the event in a western Prince William County park designated for “passive recreation” stirred up a controversy almost as messy as the race itself. 

After a vocal outcry from some residents and members of the Prince William Conservation Alliance, Supervisor Pete Candland announced even before Tough Mudder’s June 1 kickoff that 2019 would be the first and last time the extreme obstacle course would be held at Silver Lake Park, located on Antioch Road outside Haymarket.

“The county will not be doing another Tough Mudder at Silver Lake Park,” Candland, R-Gainesville, said to applause during a May 30 town hall meeting at Heritage Hunt. “This has been committed to by parks and recreation. This has been committed to by the deputy county executive. They will not hold another event at Silver Lake Park.”

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The news came a day after county officials confirmed Tough Mudder was slated to receive about $42,000 in county incentives and other work by county staff. The amount includes a $35,000 tourism grant and about $7,000 in work by county staff to cut new trails, widen existing trails and mow paths through the park’s tall, grassy meadows so participants could more easily reach the course’s 25 obstacles.

The incentive money, which has not yet been fully paid, is based on an estimate that the event would stimulate about $1.6 million in economic activity in the county through hotel rooms, restaurant, gas and related purchases by Tough Mudder participants.

The county will be assessing the event’s economic impact over the next several weeks, said Brent Heavner, spokesman for the county’s department of parks, recreation and tourism.

Already, Heavner said, the county knows that only  1,517 of the 7,500 Tough Mudders were residents of Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park, meaning about 6,000 came from outside the immediate area (although it’s not known yet how many stayed overnight.)

Opponents said it was inappropriate to holdthe event at a public park designated solely for passive use – meaning hiking, fishing and picnicking – since it was donated to the county by the developer of the nearby Dominion Valley residential neighborhood back in 2006.

Resident Elena Schlossberg became alarmed at the construction underway at the park over Memorial Day weekend, when Tough Mudder contractors had begun excavating dirt pits and constructing the obstacles. 

Schlossberg was back at the park on Monday, June 3, to assess the damage, which she declared “gross.” The lake water was brown, the fields a muddy mess, she said.

“The lake eventually will return to its proper state, but how long will that take is the question,” Schlossberg said. Renting out the park for economic development purposes means denying taxpayers access to a natural area they pay to maintain, she noted.

“I think the damage was pretty much as expected,” said Kim Hosen, executive director of the Prince William Conservation Alliance. “Silver Lake is a natural area, and that was a pretty intense use. The streams and wetlands will take a hit and it will take some time to recover.”

Hosen said her group will continue to push the board of supervisors to place a conservation easement on the Silver Lake Park property as a show of their commitment to keep from using the park for such events in the future.

Candland said he supports that idea and will work to ensure the county does not enter into future economic development projects that require physical changes to county-owned parkland.

“You’ve got a situation here with Silver Lake Park where you’ve got a private organization out there dramatically, physically altering certain parts of the property,” Candland said. “In the end, this is taxpayer-funded property.”

The county signed a contract with Tough Mudder that extends until 2023. Candland said the county intends to work with Tough Mudder to find an alternate location – ideally on private property—for the event to be held in future years.

If that doesn’t work out, Candland said the county would attempt to extract itself from its agreement with Tough Mudder by ceasing any county incentives.

“If Tough Mudder is not willing to work with us on finding another location, we just stop all incentives and they’ll go away. We’re providing significant incentives. Once they have to start paying for all of those things, they’ll go away,” Candland said.

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Participants in the June 1 and 2 Tough Mudder scramble up and over the huge “Mudderhorn” obstacle.

Park to be restored by end of July

Silver Lake was closed to the public for 10 days for the event, from Monday, May 27 – Memorial Day – to Wednesday, June 5. Work to restore the park will continue through Friday, June 14, so areas affected will be off-limits to visitors accordingly, Heavner said.

The parks department expects that the grounds will return to normal by the end of July, Heavner said. .

“This will involve not only regrading disturbed areas but also adding topsoil where needed to promote ground cover regrowth. In open field areas, grass will be re-seeded. In other areas natural vegetation and understory will be allowed to regrow,” Heavner said in an email.

“I think the event itself was well run and executed according to plan,” Heavner added. “I think that as we look back on it, the event was pretty successful.” 

Seth Hendler-Voss, director of Prince William’s department of parks, recreation and tourism, acknowledged that the county must work with the community to determine what kinds of special events are appropriate for which venues. 

Still, Hendler-Voss said concerns about damaging natural assets at Silver Lake Park were overblown. The park -- comprised of a manmade lake, former campground and farmland – has only limited ecologically sensitive areas, none of which were impacted by the Tough Mudder course, he said.

“Silver Lake Park is a gorgeous gem of a park, but there are few dedicated, ecologically sensitive areas in that park. … The narrative that has been spun is that Tough Mudder is taking place at a park with an extremely high level of ecologically sensitive areas and that is not true,” he said. “The actual course itself has been route through old farmland, old campgrounds, old quarry sites. Zero percent of the excavated areas have any designated ecologically sensitive characteristics. … So, literally, we’re digging holes in farm fields.”

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Hendler-Voss said he hoped to appeal to residents’ patience and asked them not to judge the event before cleanup is complete. One goal of the event, he said, was to introduce more people to Prince William County’s parks.

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“We’re not in the business of locking up our parks to public use. I want thousands of people to come to Silver Lake Park so they can come back and fish,” Hendler-Voss said. “It’s all about growing our parks’ usership.”

Reach Jill Palermo at jpalermo@fauquier.com

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(10) comments

RLKessinger

Why does anyone care about Silver Lake Park at all? Clearly the PWC bureaucracy does not. The 'Park' is not really a park. Just a dirty, rundown mess. Compare it to the North Fauquier Park near Marshall. Looks like life on two different planets.

thamzeh

So in basically lost the privilege of using the park for about 2 months in prime season because folks at parks service think this may generate more park traffic. Really? I thought local parks are for the use and enjoyment of local residents. Thanks for taking that away. I hope the $2 was worth it. Your decision Certainly ranks high up with this stupid moves people make.

Wilwilson

Just throwing this out there for the residents of Prince Williams... I am 1 of the 6000+ Tough Mudders that came from out of state. I stayed Saturday & Sunday night at your hotel, I ate breakfast and dinner at your local restaurants, I fueled my truck at your local gas stations, and I even bought a couple souvenirs from your local stores. I happily spent my money in your town just as the other remaining 5999 out of Town’ers that came to your town. If you’ll have us next year I’d gladly bring my money again.

technocrat

There are thousands more like you... it was a great event for the county.

PWCLiberty

The falsehoods keep stacking up for Seth: "Zero percent of the excavated areas have any designated ecologically sensitive characteristics" But check out the pictures here ..... https://thederecho.blogspot.com/2019/06/seth-zero-percent-hendler-voss.html

Firestorm

Is Seth Hendler-Voss perhaps the most unconscious person in Prince William County? He knows nothing of the history of Silver Lake, obviously. Anything that is a habitat of wildlife can't just be blown off. That lake is the home for birds, ducks, geese, turtles, snails, snakes, etc. That makes it ecologically sensitive. Then there is that forest area that is a rare forest, dating back to the Triassic period. Does he know where that starts? Stops? Nooooooo. Yes, Seth baby, I will be one of those people at the BOCS meeting on June 18t calling for your head on a platter. You don't give a rat's rear end about Silver Lake. You were careless and disrespectful with something that belongs to the people of PWC. No, we aren't all a bunch of crazed tree huggers. We just like our parkland and open spaced unmolested.

Hunter

It's hard to know whether Seth Hendler-Voss is simply missing the point or throwing out red herrings. It's a fact that he sold exclusive access to Silver Lake for several weeks during a ideal hiking, fishing and picnicking season, including Memorial Day weekend. Let's go through his statement: SHV: ““Silver Lake Park is a gorgeous gem of a park, but there are few dedicated, ecologically sensitive areas in that park. … The narrative that has been spun is that Tough Mudder is taking place at a park with an extremely high level of ecologically sensitive areas and that is not true,†he said. “The actual course itself has been route through old farmland, old campgrounds, old quarry sites. Zero percent of the excavated areas have any designated ecologically sensitive characteristics. … So, literally, we’re digging holes in farm fields.†In other words, "Why are y'all complaining? This park isn't special. It used to be a dump. Why's everyone so upset that we're tearing it up?" “We’re not in the business of locking up our parks to public use. I want thousands of people to come to Silver Lake Park so they can come back and fish,†Hendler-Voss said. “It’s all about growing our parks’ usership.†Aside from the flawed premise ("...it's all about growing parks' usership,"...really? Is that our measure of success?) again, he literally "locked up the parks" on behalf of a private company for the price of $2 per year. He apparently thinks people are going to come flooding back to this park as a result of this event, and let's think about that for a moment: If they really brought their tax revenue from as far away as Seth Hendler-Voss likes to imagine, they're probably not going to come back to a community nature park unless the Tough Mudder also returns. After all, like he said, Silver Park is just a bunch of old farmland and quarry sites. Disparaging Silver Lake? Check. Locking up Silver Lake for public use? Check. Flawed strategy oriented toward a flawed measure of success? Check and check.

PWCLiberty

Seth Hendler-Voss's theory of conservation: The park shouldn't have come from farmland if it didn't want excavated. It was asking for it. Psstt. Seth, most of PWC is former farmland. Finance bro's. Tech bro's. Now enviro' bro's? "Man, we're gonna sell Tough Mudders for two dollars and reep the windfall in fishing licenses. That'll scale, right?"

PWCLiberty

Seth Hendler-Voss deserves credit for being undistracted by truth and aggressively missing the point, even in the face of photos and facts. It's an impressive performance. Imagine, making a statement about not "locking up" Silver Lake Park to the public ... while Silver Lake Park was, er, locked up to the public for a week, so that a private corporation could host an event. Seth might be excused for not knowing about the 2009 agreement that should have stopped an event like this from ever happening at Silver Lake, except that the opposition has been vocal, widespread, and impossible to ignore. Unless inhabiting a personal "cone of subjectivity" is a superpower. If it is, Seth, my man, you got it. Of particular enjoyment is when Seth tries to downplay the impact by describing it as "excavation" or thinking that somehow, the proffer restrictions didn't matter because this is just farmland and quarries. No ecosystems here. But, hey, Seth, at least fixing the damage only means keeping chunks of the park, oh, wait, locked up to the public. Seth, baby, time to trademark Tough Muddle and sell some shirts.

ed1

"Muddy water". Great. How much silt will settle out from this? 6,000 from out of county, most were within driving distance. The financial gain is highly unlikely to match the cost.

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