This is the second in a multi-part series from Patch about the economic and other impacts of the declining equestrian industry in Fairfax County.
Part 1: Fairfax County Losing Equestrian-Related Revenue Due to Lack of Planning was published Tuesday, Feb. 21.
Part 3: Laurel Hill Equestrian Facility Moves Forward was published Thursday, Feb. 23.
Part 4: Fairfax County Equestrian Opportunities was published Friday, Feb. 24.
Woodlawn Stables, a horseback riding institution near Fort Belvoir, may be spared by upcoming road improvements to Richmond Highway after all.
The stables, at 8907 Richmond Hwy., have been in continuous operation since 1979, when the area had fewer commercial developments and significantly less traffic.
Woodlawn Stables is located just north of Woodlawn Baptist Church and south of the intersection of Richmond Highway and Old Mount Vernon Highway. Increased traffic along Richmond Highway has caused headaches for Fort Belvoir employees and local residents, prompting local governmental departments to assess options on how to mitigate congestion in the area.
The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), Fairfax County, the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Belvoir, and the Federal Highway Administration Eastern Federal Lands Highway Division are all involved in the studies.
In addition, the 2009 Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Constrained Long-Range Plan includes widening this segment of Route 1 from four to six lanes by 2015.
“I’m encouraged by the possibility that we could stay,” said Cindy Mitchell, who owns the Woodlawn Stables business with her mother, Joan. “Our proximity in the heart of Mount Vernon provides a lot of people their first opportunity to try a rural sport, and that would be lost.”
Laura Miller, Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Coordinator with the Fairfax County Department of Transportation, said three options are under consideration for the Woodlawn Stables, Woodlawn Plantation and Woodlawn Baptist Church area of Richmond Highway. The entire north end of US Route 1 Improvements At Fort Belvoir is a 3.5-mile stretch of Richmond Highway that runs south from Telegraph Road through the Mount Vernon area. (For details, scroll to the bottom of the linked page.)
The Richmond Highway expansion and realignment project are, in part, related to Ft. Belvoir's new hospital and base expansion.
Option 1: Widening in Place
Widening-in-place would entail adding 68 more feet to the current 80-foot right-of-way. "This option would basically split the difference between Woodlawn and the Baptist Church, leaving the Stables' property essentially as is," said Miller. Developers are also trying to avoid the cemetery at Woodlawn Baptist Church, but this option might require the relocation of several graves.
Option 2: Bifurcation
“The second option is based on the 2003 VDOT location study, and works better with the topography," said Miller. "Generally traffic would remain in place, but the south bound lanes would be higher than the north bound lanes," she said, adding it would be difficult to maintain traffic flow during construction.
Option 3: Southeastern Bypass
The third option is a bypass, wherein Richmond Highway would dip southeast of the Woodlawn Stables’ barns toward the Potomac River, then back. “The existing Route 1 would become internal access to the stables and or green space,” said Miller. “The grazing pastures would become smaller with this option.” The current site plan shows the bypass going through what is now the outdoor ring and cross-country country course.“We’ve not settled on an option,” said Miller. “The project team is also investigating what other facilities are available for relocation of Woodlawn Stables, either temporarily or permanently, if that became necessary.”
The project is currently in the National Environmental Policy Act documentation phase. It will be available for public review in early April, with a public hearing scheduled for sometime that month. The environmental assessment study is expected by the end of May, according to Miller.
'Location is Everything'
“Location is everything for Woodlawn Stables,” Mitchell said. “Working parents don’t have time to drive an hour or more each way for riding lessons for their kids.”
Corine Bickley agrees. The Gallaudet University professor began riding lessons at Woodlawn Stables eight years ago, and has transitioned to horse owner and volunteer. "I'm here several times a week, which would not be possible if it weren't so close-in," she said.
Bickley is hoping to begin using her horse Holly as a therapy horse with the Wounded Warrior Project. "Woodlawn's proximity to Ft. Belvoir would make this a perfect opportunity," she said.
While hopeful about staying, Mitchell said she's also realistic because nothing is final. “My concern is if things do fall apart for us, I’ll have 37 horses to relocate during an unfortunate economy.”
In the past few decades, other horse-related businesses have closed due to the development of housing or businesses in Fairfax County. Jane Dillon's horse farm on Telegraph Road became the Coast Guard Station. Patti's Riding Stables in Burke and stables in Bay Ridge and Great Falls fell to housing developments. The loss of these businesses has meant lost revenue for Fairfax County and a lower quality of life for Fairfax County resident horse enthusiasts.
Mitchell and her mother took over Woodlawn Stables in 1991 from previous owners Tom and Jane Scanlin. The Mitchells had been riding, teaching and working at Woodlawn Stables since the 1980s. “When Tom and Jane we’re getting out, it was just the natural progression of things for us to up the ante and purchase the business,” said Cindy.
Woodlawn Stables is an institution. “Our current summer camp director is the third generation daughter of a family who’ve ridden here,” said Cindy. “That kind of longevity in a business is remarkable.”
Woodlawn Stables consists of approximately 55 acres. The business leases the land from the National Historic Trust. Cindy said Woodlawn Stables currently has about 37 horses, including 14 boarded by private owners. They have between 300 and 400 weekly students, depending on the season.
“We understand that improvements need to be made for Richmond Highway, but they shouldn’t be made at the expense of the open space still remaining,” said Cindy.
Full Disclosure: Burke Patch Editor Susan Larson has worked at boarding, breeding, lesson, trail riding, fox hunting and polo facilities in Illinois and Virginia. In 2005 the United States Capitol Police Horse Mounted Unit honored her for her support as barn manager during their tenure. She is a past member of Clifton Horse Society, former volunteer with Simple Changes Therapeutic Riding Center, and current member of the Mason Neck Horse Coalition. She boards her horse at The Stables at Meadowood.