Tysons, VA

Two U.S. Park Police officers have been indicted in the fatal shooting of McLean resident Bijan Ghaisar in 2017, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano announced on Thursday (Oct. 15).

A grand jury handed down indictments with one charge of manslaughter and one for reckless discharge of a firearm against Officers Alejandro Amaya and Lucas W. Vinyard, who remain on paid administrative duty following the shooting, according to The Washington Post.

The indictments represent one of the first significant steps toward legal action against the officers involved in Ghaisar’s killing, a saga that has now spanned three years as his family, the McLean community, and elected officials have criticized the Park Police and FBI for the pace and lack of transparency of their investigations.

“Justice has not yet come for the Ghaisar family, but today is a major step forward in that journey,” Descano said in a statement announcing the indictments. “That journey has a number of steps to go.”

A 25-year-old Langley High School who lived in Tysons and worked as an accountant in McLean, Ghaisar was reportedly involved in a hit-and-run crash in Alexandria on Nov. 17, 2017 that drew the attention of nearby Park Police officers, resulting in an extended car chase on George Washington Memorial Parkway.

An in-car camera video taken by Fairfax County police officers who joined the pursuit as backup showed two Park Police officers, who have since been identified as Amaya and Vinyard, firing into Ghaisar’s vehicle multiple times after he stopped at the intersection of Fort Hunt Road and Alexandria Avenue.

Ghaisar died at Inova Fairfax Hospital on Nov. 28, 2017 after spending 10 days in a coma.

While the main investigation of the shooting was handled by the FBI, the Fairfax County Police Department conducted an internal investigation that determined none of its officers had fired their weapons. Chief Ed Roessler released the video footage of the incident in January 2018.

Federal prosecutors with the U.S. Department of Justice ultimately announced in November 2019 that they would not pursue charges against Amaya and Vinyard.

Descano announced on Jan. 30 that the Fairfax County Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney would investigate Ghaisar’s shooting, and he eventually convened a special grand jury in September.

The Justice Department’s refusal to produce witnesses for the grand jury and a potential trial has complicated Fairfax County’s investigation, according to Descano, who thanks Roessler and the FCPD for providing evidence and assisting with the case.

“I wish this could have been done in a faster fashion,” Descano said. “However, there is no shortcut to justice. This is a very complex and nuanced case. The pursuit of these indictments involved the careful review of over 11,000 pieces of documentary evidence, the chasing down of additional evidence, and the conducting of in-person interviews and discussions in the midst of a global pandemic.”

Because the defendants are federal officers, Descano says he anticipates that they will file motions to move the case to federal court within the next 30 days.

He also expects the federal government to seek a dismissal on the basis of the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which gives federal laws and powers precedence over those of a state.

According to The Washington Post, a civil wrongful death lawsuit against the Park Police that Ghaisar’s family filed with the U.S. District Court in Alexandria in August 2018 is scheduled to go to trial on Nov. 16.

Image via Fairfax County Police Department

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While a new $112 million bond referendum is on the ballot for November, further planning for Salona Park in McLean will remain on hold.

The 2020 bond will include money for design planning of Salona Park, though the planning will remain paused pending approval of the Langley Fork Park master plan.

Planning for Langley Fork Park will be contingent on the completion of a land exchange that has been years in the making with the National Park Service that includes Langley Oaks Park.

“We need to figure out what’s going to be at Langley Oaks Park, and then we can really finish planning Salona based on what would go on in this other park,” said Judy Pederson, public information officer for the Fairfax County Park Authority. “Once the master plan is approved, then we will start to plan out Salona Park and that master planning process.”

As the process moves along and eventually reaches the planning phase for Salona Park, there will be more community discussion to find a middle ground with members of the public on the eventual development of the park.

Consideration during the planning process for Salona Park will weigh the previous planning efforts, community input, and take into account the current conditions at the site and whether the needs of the community have changed over the years.

“It’s really going to depend on what’s right for the community and what kind of consensus we can find,” Pederson said. “So that’s the great unknown.”

Salona Park was granted to the Fairfax County Park Authority under a conservation easement in 2005. Plans for Salona Park were previously discussed in 2012, but were not solidified due to a divergence in public opinion over whether the park should be preserved in a natural state or used as an athletic field.

Following community input and approval from the Board of Supervisors for the county, the master plan will also need to be approved by the county’s planning commission.

“There are just too many unknowns for us to really prognosticate on the timing,” Pederson said. “All I can say is that we’re ready to start. And we just will be working with the supervisor to figure out what the first next step will be.”

Photo via Google Maps

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Parking lots and restrooms are reopening along the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

The National Park Service recently announced that the parking areas and restrooms will be available by Wednesday (June 3). People were able to access some of them starting Friday (May 29).

“The National Park Service (NPS) is working with federal, state, and local public health authorities to closely monitor the COVID-19 pandemic and using a phased approach to increase access on a park-by-park basis,” according to NPS.

The parking areas include Fort Marcy in McLean, along with several parks in Alexandria and Arlington. “Parking areas at Great Falls Park have already reopened and will be open at 50 percent capacity,” NPS said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has guidelines for how people can enjoy parks and recreational facilities with reduced risk of spreading COVID-19.

Image via Google Maps

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The McLean Citizens Association (MCA) is supporting a recent request for federal funding for work on the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

MCA sent a letter on Feb. 17 to the Department of Transportation, urging support for the National Park Service’s grant applications.

The funding from the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America grant program would help rehabilitate 8 miles of the parkway from Spout Run Parkway to I-495.

NPS is looking to:

  • repave the road
  • repair stormwater management systems and walls
  • rehabilitate two historic, scenic overlooks
  • replace guardrails
  • construct new curbs
  • build emergency turnarounds along the north end

“The condition of this stretch of the GW Parkway has been deteriorating, and urgent action is needed to perform reconstruction of this portion of the road system,” the letter notes.

More than 33 million vehicles per year travel on the GW Parkway, according to Fairfax County. Last year, emergency work had to fix the cause of a sizable sinkhole on the GW Parkway, disrupting traffic for months in the area.

Noting that the grant program is “highly competitive,” the letter goes on to say that the work will also improve the “historical and cultural characteristics that make the Parkway one of the most scenic roadways in the country.”

Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors is also backing the federal funding ask.

Image via Google Maps

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Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors is supporting an application for federal funding to pay for a rehabilitation project along the GW Parkway.

Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust proposed the board matter, which supports an application for funding from the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America grant program.

The funding would support the parkway’s North Section Rehabilitation Program, which aims to reconstruct nearly 8 miles of the GW Parkway from Spout Run Parkway to I-495.

“The proposed project addresses serious deterioration of the parkway and implements significant safety improvements,” the board matter says.

If the funding is approved, the board matter says the National Park Service (NPS) plans to:

  • repave the road
  • repair stormwater management systems and walls
  • rehabilitate two historic, scenic overlooks
  • replace guardrails
  • construct new curbs
  • build emergency turnarounds along the north end

The project will also include work on a northern section, addressing a $1.7 billion maintenance backlog that includes $395 million for the parkway, the board matter says.

More than 33 million vehicles per year travel on the GW Parkway, according to Fairfax County. Last year, emergency work had to fix the cause of a sizable sinkhole on the GW Parkway, disrupting traffic for months in the area.

Foust noted that the project is meant to address safety and longevity issues for the parkway.

The Board of Supervisors voted to approve sending a letter of support for NPS’s application for the federal funding.

Map via Google Maps

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Construction crews are working to fix the cause of a sizable sinkhole that opened up on the GW Parkway back in March — inconveniencing those who regularly travel on the road.

The sinkhole was caused by a failed drainage structure, Aaron LaRocca, a spokesperson of the National Park Service, which maintains the GW Parkway, said.

The structure was made of brick and was originally built more than 60 years ago, he added.

In an attempt to fix the issue, LaRocca said NPS removed the old system which required them to dig 50-feet underground and crews are now in the process of installing a new drainage pipe.

“We know this construction is inconvenient, and we’re working hard to reopen the lane to traffic as soon as it’s safe,” LaRocca said. “We’re looking forward to sharing an update when the work is complete.”

NPS expects to reopen both lanes of traffic by mid-October, LaRocca said, but restoration for the area is expected to last longer.

Map via Google Maps

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As the National Park Service decides what to do with Claude Moore Colonial Farm property, locals question if their voices are really being heard.

Yesterday (Sept. 26), NPS presented options for future park development near McLean High School, which would divide the land into multi-use space. 

The options featured different ideas that GW Parkway Superintendent Charles Cuvelier said were synthesized from community feedback at the first meeting. But a few attendees who spoke up during the public comment period last night said they felt like NPS ignored their feedback.

During the half-hour presentation, Cuvelier walked through three plans with the audience. All of the proposed plans included expanding hiking trail networks and expanded event space for gatherings.

The “Adventure + Exploration” plan suggested the creation of a camping area where visitors could hook up utility lines. The “Cultivation + Connection” plan emphasized the implementation of community gardens and farms with agricultural fields. Lastly, the “Rejuvenation + Renewal” idea proposed preserving ecological interest points as well as adding a pollinator meadow and a reforestation nursery.

At the first community feedback meeting in April, people were asked to place blue dots around things they would like to see incorporated into the new park design. From the feedback, it appeared that the most popular idea was the continuation of colonial farm activities.

McLean residents Dan Sperling and Rick Schneider told the superintendent last night that they thought the three proposals ignored previous feedback.

“It seems like you have come in with preconceived notions of what you want to do here,” Sperling said. “Not a lot of people knew about this [meeting] tonight. It was only by accident that I found out about it.”

These statements were met with applause from other community members gathered in the audience.

“I wish that you guys would seriously consider what we already have here and not seem like you’re chomping at the bit to do something else,” he said. 

Cuvelier countered this statement, saying, “We wouldn’t do this if we didn’t want to hear from the public.”

Several parents and even a local school teacher in the area said that they want to keep the area as a colonial farm because it is the last place in the region that properly portrayed life from the era “free from apartment buildings and shopping malls.”

“The existing park here is unique to northern Virginia,” Schneider said. 

Going forward, NPS is still looking for community input on the project. The examples from last night’s meeting were to put forth a few ideas and nothing is set, an NPS spokesperson said.

Additionally, NPS plans on renaming the park to South Turkey Run Park to better represent the connection to the surrounding area, Cuvelier said.

NPS has a soft timeline for a final proposal and is hoping to release it in spring 2020.

“I can’t give you an exact date, just a general timeframe given what we are trying to accomplish,” Cuvelier said.

Image via National Park Service

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The Friends of Claude Moore Colonial Farm want the McLean park to be maintained as an olden-style farm, but they’re starting to recognize that they might not be the ones to do that.

In a press release, the group said that the National Park Service offered to take ownership of buildings remaining on the property and built by volunteers, but the group is holding out in hopes that another volunteer organization can step up and take ownership of the buildings.

The Friends of Claude Moore Colonial Farm was forced off the property last year when a long-running dispute over oversight resulted in the NPS reclaiming management of the property and telling the operators of the colonial farm to leave.

Since then, the Friends of Claude Moore Colonial Farm have been in the process of removing the farm equipment and dismantling the buildings.

“It is the Friends’ wish that these structures, valued at nearly $1.8 million and delineated below, be preserved for any future group seeking to revive the Farm at that site,” the group said in a press release. “The Friends would donate these structures to that group. The Friends are asking for input from the community on this issue and also asking them to contact the National Park Service directly about this.”

One of the buildings at the site was built with federal funding and belongs to the park service. Other structures, however, were built by The Friends of Claude Moore Colonial Farm.

The National Park Service is currently in the process of deciding what to do with the property. There are a wide variety of options proposed, maintaining the farm as a colonial style recreation is one of those being considered. Now, Friends of Claude Moore Farm is hoping to use the existing buildings to help sway the public, and the NPS, toward that option.

According to the press release:

Other structures, such as the Pavilions, the Farm House, the Environmental Learning Center, the Blacksmith Shop, the Facilities Barn, Book Shop, greenhouses, livestock and storage buildings, Market Fair Grounds, Caretaker’s cottage and the Gate House were built entirely with non-federal resources, materials and volunteer labor.

The Park Service has asked us to demolish and remove some of the structures, such as the Market Fair stands, and asked us to donate to the Park Service other structures perceived as potentially more valuable. In previous public statements and correspondence, the Park Service has stated that the Farm could re-open under new management and under their rules; and we believe that these structures, which were an integral part of the life of the Farm for many years, would be useful to any future groups seeking to revive the Farm. The value of these structures funded and built by the Friends is almost $1.8 million as shown on our 2017 IRS Form 990.

It took us a year to get the Park Service to recognize the value of the physical contributions to the Farm made by donors and volunteers, and now we are reluctant to do as the Park Service asks without the input of volunteers and the community, and we urge everyone to make their views known about the future of the Farm, and its buildings and facilities.

The group also announced in the press release that they would be rebranding as Colonial Markets and Colonial Fairs, Inc. While the organization is currently without a permanent home, the press release noted that the group hopes to continue operating colonial farms and markets in Virginia.

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Update on 4/2/19 — Fairfax County Park Authority officials noted that the earlier development plans were out of date, and the current development area is much smaller than initially reported and only includes redeveloping one field into two lighted synthetic turf fields with additional parking.

After eight years of planning, Langley Fork Park is in the final stages of changing hands, clearing the way for two new fields.

Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles, a spokeswoman for the National Park Service (NPS), said the NPS is working through the final stages of a land-swap with Fairfax County. The NPS currently owns Langley Fork Park, which is a developed recreational property, while Fairfax County owns Langley Oaks — a more heavily wooded, natural parkland west of the Claude Moore farm area.

If the deal goes through, Anzelmo-Sarles said the property could change hands within the year.

“We are trying to increase facilities there, and we agreed to a land exchange,” David Bowden, director of the Park Planning and Development Division, said. “We have another piece of undeveloped property at Langley Oak. Our goal is to exchange Langley Oaks for ownership of Langley Fork Park.”

The Park Authority has managed Langley Fork Park since 1981, adding athletic fields, a fitness trail and more to the site since then, but the park remained on loan from the NPS.

The Park Authority and NPS began discussing the swap in Fall 2011. The swap was first approved by the Park Authority in 2016.

Since 1980, the population of McLean has more than doubled. In planning documents for Langley Fork Park, the Park Authority cited the increasing population of McLean — particularly for the population under age 19 — as an indicator of the need to reevaluate the plan for the park.

The new development plans involve redeveloping one field on the site into two lighted synthetic turf fields with additional parking.

As a side-note for history buffs: archaeological surveys of the property showed the first known use of the site was as a prehistoric quartz quarry, and a hearth was found that dated back to 300 B.C. An environmental assessment from the National Park Service noted that synthetic turf will not be used to improve the existing fields in the north and western portions of the site for archeological reasons.

Langley Oaks Park, meanwhile, is 102 acres of undeveloped land contiguous to the NPS’ Turkey Run Park along the Potomac. The NPS said it has no plans for any changes to the property.

The NPS is also currently in the very early stages of developing a plan for the Claude Moore Farm property east of Langley Oaks, which could include new trails connecting the two properties.

Image via National Park Service

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It’s a clean slate for the Claude Moore farm area.

At a meeting, last night (Thursday) at the Madison Community Center in Arlington, the National Park Service (NPS) opened up the public discussion for what should happen for the Claude Moore Colonial Farm property, which until late last year was operating as an 18th-century American-style farm.

“This is the first step in the process to develop a plan,” Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles, a spokeswoman for the National Park Service, said. “We’re getting ideas and comments and hoping to give people a sense of the process. We’re starting with a blank slate and we want a robust and transparent process.”

Display boards around the room highlighted a variety of potential directions the park could take, asking attendees if they are more interested in casual activities, like tending to a community garden or learning basket weaving, or active uses like nature walks with park rangers or a junior ranger program.

“One option is to still run a colonial-style farm, but we could also look at active recreation or a more relaxed nature-based park,” Anzelmo-Sarles said.

The Claude Moore farm area was fairly isolated in its earlier use, and one of the options the NPS is considering is whether or not to make the property more connected to other properties and trails.

“There are existing trails in the area that don’t really connect,” Anzelmo-Sarles said. “And there are some trails around the Langley Fork Park area that are in active use. Are there different ways we can build more access to the park or do we want that access to go away? Everything is on the table.”

Redevelopment as a commercial space, though, is not an option, she said.

From the sticky notes posted around the boards, keeping the area as a farm was a popular choice. The public comment period is open through May 25.

After that, Anzelmo-Sarles said the NPS will take the feedback and develop a few potential options for the park, followed by narrowing the choices down to a final concept plan presented within the year.

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