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Arlington's Long Bridge Park Opens Saturday

Park is just north of Crystal City, will eventually connect bicyclists and pedestrians to Mount Vernon Trail.

Arlington County has transformed a brownfield north of Crystal City into a massive public park that boasts three full-size, multi-sport fields and will eventually connect to the Mount Vernon Trail with a bicycle and pedestrian bridge.

Long Bridge Park officially opens to the public following a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 11 a.m. Saturday.

"To have the park opening… As you design these things, and you see plans, you wonder what will it really look like?" said Tobin Smith, chairman of the Long Bridge Park Design Advisory Committee.

"What's cool is now to see the pictures that are now being taken compared to what was drawn. So, it's really kind of cool to see the vision, what we thought we were creating, to go out and see it, which is really fulfilling. That really brings it home."

More than 100 public meetings have been held regarding the park, Smith said.

So far, the county has spent about $33 million on the park, which blankets 18 acres of land immediately adjacent to 6th Street South. The county was able to leverage various public and private dollars to help pay for the endeavor.

Another $65 million is anticipated for an aquatics center, which will feature an Olympic-size pool and an indoor fitness area. Later, another $50 million is pegged to expand that into a multi-activity center that will be able to accommodate indoor field sports, bringing the total investment to just under $150 million.

The complete, expanded park will be about 30 acres. Construction is planned through at least 2015, though the final improvements could take another decade beyond that to finish.

The park features two large rain gardens – and several smaller ones – designed to filter stormwater before it flows into the nearby Potomac River.

Spots of contaminated land have been consolidated and capped, allowing for gradual slopes from the park’s lowest point – about 9 feet about sea level – to its highest point, which is about 43 feet.

At different points, the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol building can be seen in the distance.

“We took a space that was unusable and turned it into a park,” said Amado Fernandez, the project’s architect.

“The magic that we’ve done? That’s the magic.”

Erik Beach, a planner in the county’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources and the project manager for Long Bridge Park, said care was taken in the design to sculpt the park, to make it “monumental.”

“We’re very proud of it,” he said. “We’re very happy.”

Planes, trains and automobiles form an underlying theme to the park, with Interstate 395 on one side, and a rail line and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on the other. Occasionally, airplanes taking off or landing fly directly overhead.

“We decided to embrace that noise,” Beach said. “What kid doesn’t like to see planes fly overhead?”

Already installed is Wave Arbor, a two-piece public art feature. Each piece suspends a series of wing forms that rock in the breeze, waving at passersby.

“It’s meant to be a celebratory piece,” said artist Douglas Hollis, who created the sculpture.

The work of art cost $413,000, and the North Tract Lofts and Boeing Co. each contributed $75,000 toward that.

The county’s recent negotiations with Boeing to put the company’s east coast headquarters on the other side of 6th Street also resulted in the acquisition of the extra land needed to fully expand the park. The Boeing building will replace the dilapidated buildings currently across from the park, and will include a large landscaped area to help it blend in with its surroundings.

Marymount University contributed $2 million to help build one of the fields, and the school will use that field about 500 hours each year – about one-fourth of its available time – for all of its lacrosse and soccer practices and home games.

A few bleachers have been installed, but the county hopes people will use the slopes on the sides of the field for chairs or blankets to watch games.

Cherry trees line and small picnic areas line the esplanade that runs along Roaches Run Waterfowl Sanctuary, which separates the park from George Washington Parkway.

The occasional fossil can be seen in the bluestone-lined walls of the esplanade.

The park’s name pays homage to the original name of the 14th Street Bridge.

Educational and interpretative signs are planned for the future.

“That was key in the design – that it be more than a sports complex,” said Robert Capper, the county’s construction manager and supervisor of Long Bridge Park.

“And it truly is.”

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