Nature Preserve in the Crosshairs

Defense Department move threatens peaceful refuge

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    NEWSLETTERS

    NBCWashington.com

    Alexandria residents are figuratively taking up arms to make sure ramps and roads for a new military installation don't doom a cherished forest preserve.

    Still under construction, the new building already looms over Interstate 395 at the Seminary Road interchange in Alexandria's Mark Center. It's being built as part of the Base Realignment and Closure Plan.

    Nature Preserve in the Crosshairs

    [DC] Nature Preserve in the Crosshairs
    Alexandria residents are figuratively taking up arms to make sure ramps and roads for a new military installation don't doom a cherished forest preserve.

    By 2011, the first of 6,400 military employees will begin to report there. Trouble is, there's not a Metro stop in sight. Residents fear the commuters will overwhelm the neighborhood and gridlock the busy interchange.

    At the request of city officials, VDOT has designed seven alternatives to route traffic directly from I-395 onto the Mark Center site. But several plans run the ramp right through the adjacent Winkler Botanical Preserve.

    "We clearly don't want any encroachment into the preserve," said resident David Dexter, a member of that advisory group. "I mean, that's a precious resource not only for the residents here on the west end of Alexandria but throughout the community and beyond Alexandria."

    With it's waterfall and rope climbing course, the preserve  is used as a living classroom for 12,000 students each year. Preserve supporters have organized to fight any plan that cuts into Winkler.

    Now a local transportation commission and a BRAC advisory group have recommended only the proposals that spare the preserve.

    "The good news is they don't have to take this plan," said Jodie Smolik, of Winkler Botanical Preserve. "We want city council and also VDOT to say, 'This is a preserve. You can always make more roads, but you're only going to have one preserve.'"

    The Alexandria City Council holds a public hearing on Saturday before it votes on which plan to endorse.

    "One of the things that they had recommended is that the Winkler Preserve be preserved, and I hope that's what the council is going to decide this next Saturday when we have our public hearing," said Councilwoman Del Pepper.

    Other priorities could trump the council's endorsement, though.

    "We're going to study whatever the localities and the stakeholders present to us," said Nick Nicholson, of VDOT. "However, we're looking at a number of factors that we will advance, including environmental, cost, or course, and traffic operations."