The recent Tough Mudder event permitted by the Prince William County Parks and Recreation Department at Silver Lake Park underscores the need to place this park in a conservation easement with strict enforceable guidelines.
It is distressing that the parks director, despite of immense community outcry, continues to advocate for use of a passive natural park as an event center for active recreation. Rather than heeding the department’s own surveys and responding appropriately to Silver Lake Park’s restrictive proffers, he appears to be doubling down on active use.
Protecting the integrity of Silver Lake Park against the intrusive actions of the parks department has brought the community together. Among those who come to the park for its peaceful natural beauty, as well as those who enjoy active recreational activities such as Tough Mudder, there was universal consensus -- Silver Lake is NOT the appropriate venue for such activities.
Concerns with respect to the protection of Silver Lake Park were borne out of many previous broken promises regarding other parks in the area. The long stagnant development of James Long Park marked by the absence of the proffered community pool and professional riding ring is but one example of promises made and never delivered. Instead, the county has delivered what is little more than a soccer park. There have been too many unfulfilled commitments by Prince William County’s government to the community when it comes to parks.
It is stunning to see pictures of fouled mud and muddy water being pumped from massive mud pits onto the Silver Lake property and then this same sludge filling the creeks and wending its way back into the lake. The watershed banks of the lake are now an opaque brown with a disgusting sheen of chemicals from the mud and event participants visible on the streams and Lake. The damage is best exemplified by a widely distributed photo of a white duck now swimming in the lake with its breast stained with residue from the muddy mess.
The “wetland protection area” bank was damaged as evidenced by the muddy path worn from one of the larger mud pits to the lake, where it was used like a bath tub by the participants.
All of these disruptions to Silver Lake Park fly brazenly in the face of passive recreation. According to the EPA, "passive recreation refers to recreational activities that do not require prepared facilities like sports fields or pavilions. Passive recreational activities place minimal stress on a site’s resources. As a result, they can provide ecosystem service benefits and are highly compatible with natural resource protection. What the parks director permitted and promoted (some might say perpetrated) required construction, shoreline alteration, trail alteration, wildlife disruption and enormous stress on Silver Lake's resources.
The pictures taken the day after the two-day event speak a thousand words, but citizens will be interested in only two words: ‘conservation easement.’
That Parks and Recreation Director Seth Hendler-Voss is tone deaf and continues to advocate that this type of active recreational event is an acceptable use of Silver Lake necessitates board action to protect Silver Lake and all other passive recreational facilities in the county. Clearly the proffers and environmental restrictions are not only being ignored, but their intentional violation is being thrown in the face of a community that actively fought to protect Silver Lake. How many times does the community have to fight to protect Silver Lake?
Two weekends ago, it was Tough Mudder, what comes next? Motocross races, monster trucks? The onus now lies on the board to ensure Silver Lake is protected, and that promises made to the community are fulfilled. We pray you choose wisely.
The writer is a resident of Haymarket and executive director of the nonprofit Coalition to Protect Prince William County.