While innovation may not have been at the top of your list, maybe it should have been. With the pandemic, the public has gravitated to parks. Outdoors is the safest place to be around others and the best place to seek a mental and physical break from the nearly two years of COVID-related stress we have all felt.
Innovation ranks high in the values of NOVA Parks employees. And, during this time, NOVA Parks has been creating new and expanded ways to experience parks.
NOVA Parks has over 100 miles of trails that have seen more use in the last two years than ever before. Everywhere there is parking for trail access, those lots have been full. The most popular trail in Virginia is the 45-mile long W&OD Trail. Before the pandemic, this trail saw over two million uses a year. Recently, many areas have seen two to four times the previous use. This year, NOVA Parks, the City of Falls Church, and the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority opened a new section of the trail that has two separate lanes, one for pedestrians and one for cyclists. This will soon be the national model for busy urban trails. Many low-impact building techniques were used or pioneered with this project.
Also, in the fall, NOVA Parks cut the ribbon on an all-new feature. Climb UPton is the largest and most challenging ropes course in the mid-Atlantic states and is located at Upton Hill Park in Arlington. This innovative German technology has 90 challenging elements built into the three-story tower. Look for this new feature to reopen in mid-March.
Winters used to be a slow time for parks. Then 15 years ago, NOVA Parks created the first all-LED holiday light show in the region with the Bull Run Festival of Lights in Centreville. This show has grown in popularity, and for the 2020 season, the show had twice the capacity, with two lanes going through the whole show. Around 70,000 vehicles packed with eager families have already made their way through the ever-expanding drive-through light show in 2021.
NOVA Parks created the Meadowlark Winter Walk of Lights in Vienna eight years ago. This show has also grown rapidly. Today we see over 70,000 individuals enjoy this half-a-mile walk-through show that delights everyone. In 2020 the Volgenau Conservatory was added. This glasshouse allows people to enjoy a hot drink, souvenir, or something to eat.
In Alexandria, Cameron Run Ice & Lights offers both lights and an ice skating rink. This unique site just celebrated its 50,000th visitor since it first opened just three years ago.
Through reinvention, growth, and innovation, people in Northern Virginia have more varied park offerings than ever before to help us all have safe things to do during the pandemic. Parkland is more valued today by most people than ever before, and the range of things you can do in regional parks has grown to keep pace with demand. Many activities like golf, boating, and camping have seen new and sustained levels of interest as people look to get outside for both exercise and stress relief during this long pandemic.