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DOWN BY the riverside, some great things are happening. There's the recently opened Rappahannock River Heritage Trail, a 3.1-mile loop along the river's banks. And a brand-new canoe/kayak launch in Old Mill Park. But stuck in the mud is the biggest potential enhancement of all, Fredericksburg's Riverfront Park.
Some sort of park along the Rappahannock has been in the planning stages since 1982, when the City Council produced a design that was never implemented. In 2007, the council picked up the baton again, forming the Riverfront Task Force to figure out a way to open the water's edge for residents to enjoy. But on the eve of awarding a contract to design the park, the council is hesitating again.
What will the park cost? Why allocate funds for a design when the project is nowhere near coming to fruition? Shouldn't a parking garage be built as well, at the same time? What about environmental issues? These were some of the concerns raised by council members, who voted on Tuesday to table the discussion until after the new year begins.
Regarding the financial concerns, as the saying goes, "in times like these it's important to remember there have always been times like these." Times when money is short and the needs are great. Times when not acting seems wiser than stepping out. And Fredericksburg has been here before, with the parking garage, the downtown hotel, and the new courts building, to name just a few projects that seemed destined to remain in perpetual purgatory.
But cities all over Virginia are discovering that waterfront is prime real estate when it comes to improving tourism, developing a sense of community by creating gathering spots, and enhancing the quality of life for residents and their guests. Lynchburg, Richmond, Alexandria, Newport News, and Norfolk have all begun to develop their waterfronts, creating walkable, bikeable paths, open areas, parkland, and commercial attractions like restaurants and shops.
Beyond keeping up with the neighbors, the council needs to listen to itself: At its recent retreat, it named the development of the riverfront as one of its top priorities. So why not move forward? Because the designs may not be implemented? Here's an idea: Implement them!
The Rappahannock is the signature feature of Fredericksburg. The river is the reason why the city grew up here. It provided food during the devastating aftermath of the Civil War battles. Today it provides recreation, water, and seafood. Drawing people to the riverfront with an attractive downtown park will seed economic growth and enhance the quality of life for residents.
Wait 'til next year? For now, we'll have to, but council members should include contracting the design work, then targeting a date for implementation, in their New Year's resolutions.