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A Place for the Kids

Mount Vernon is in need for a place for young adults to gather.

Both boys are now back from another year at UVA.  My oldest, Patrick, got his undergraduate degree and will complete his Masters in Public Policy next year. Brian, my 19-year-old, just finished his first year. They’ve both got jobs for the summer, with Brian working at a summer camp and Patrick working for David Axelrod’s PR firm. 

Last Friday night, they were hanging around the house, their smelly feet perched up on the couch, munching on roasted almonds, playing Halo. I asked them if they were going out that night and they both mumbled “I dunno, there’s really no place to go.” 

We started talking about the possibilities and, you know, they’re right.  Here in Mount Vernon there really is no place for kids their age to “hang out” with their buddies. Sure, every once in a while they might drive into Old Town and grab some ice cream at Ben and Jerry’s. But it’s usually the same three guys.  There’s really no congregation point where they might run into some old high school chums or just chill with folks their own age.   

Now, I know there are some crusty ole curmudgeons out there who will shiver at the prospect of providing a place where young people can naturally congregate with their own generation. They will refer to previous efforts where communities tried to provide a gathering place for kids, like when the River City council allowed that “dangerous pool table” in their community. But I think it’s a lot better than having the kids run rampant, having to make up ways to entertain themselves, which could only lead to trouble.

The idea of a post-teen gathering place is not a new one.  Indeed, about two years ago, Supervisor Hyland put together a “Visioning Task Force” and at the first meeting of the Land Use committee a young woman named Sara Brandt Vorel stood up during an open forum and suggested that the community needed a “place for kids my age to hang out.”   She got a round of applause. Unfortunately, in its final report, no specific recommendations were made to that effect. They said something about upgrading our recreation centers but that’s not what we are talking about here.   

So, instead of just complaining about the problem, I asked my boys what they would like to see on Richmond Highway?      

They talked about a “town center” like the one in Reston or Silver Spring with a small movie theater, an ice cream store, a not-too-expensive restaurant with a nice bar (like Chili’s), an outdoor patio, maybe some kind of “arcade” or gaming area. A clothing store like The Gap would be nice, perhaps a place to get a contemporary haircut. Maybe even a (classy) miniature golf course.  Hey, what about some kind of outdoor concert pavilion?  Not the kind that would host Metallica but a great jazz or folk type venue. And, dare I suggest it, but how about a good bookstore?        

I am not an urban planner and this is all easier said than done. I do not have that “vision thing” but I keep thinking about the spot where the new Costco will be going and how that may have been a perfect place. But this is a complicated issue, we need to convince those kinds of establishments that the community would patronize their establishments. And organizations like the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation are working hard to entice businesses down here.  I just hope that they keep in mind our teenager-plus community which, by the way, does spend money. 

Beth Jarvis May 29, 2012 at 04:12 PM
The military offers Teen Clubs and Youth Centers (Fort Belvoir, for instance) on many of their installations. They tend to have snack bars, recreation (basketball courts, pool, ping pong, video games, etc.) and a variety of for-fee trips (Kings Dominion, water parks, bowling, etc.) I loved my Teen Club in Germany growing up. We'd go every F and Sat night as they always had a DJ and it was the place to be. Seems like the county could replicate something similar. Maybe Gerry Hyland's people should talk to Colonel Strycula's people at Fort Belvoir? Another idea -- where my parents live in Fond du Lac, WI -- they have a Family YMCA http://www.fdlymca.org/membership.html which is attached to a Boys/Girls Club. It is a wonderful, state-of-the-art facility that is utilized by the entire community. It has a gym, indoor pool, bball courts, raquetball courts, meeting rooms and an entire wing for teens. Locally, in the 80's anyhow, kids used to cruise Springfield Mall. We'd drive our cars round and round the parking lots and ultimately wind up parking and going to Godfather's Pizza or Farrell's Ice Cream Parlour, neither of which are there anymore. Hoping the redevelopment of Springfield Mall might offer more in terms of a community gathering place.
Shelley May 29, 2012 at 05:23 PM
We are about to lose Woodlawn Stables, one of the only safe places that many area teens regularly hang out spending their days and evenings. Sadly, the National Trust for Historic Preservation no longer sees a need for their tenants, or a desire to continue providing our community with a unique recreational area for our teens. The Trust wants a bypass that will destroy the land of Woodlawn Plantation and get rid of the Stables. Thousands of us that grew up at the foothill of the Woodlawn Mansion, learned important life lessons there; we were taught patience and responsibility w/ 1200 lb beasts; made life-lasting friendships with other kids as we rode or explored through Woodlawn's fields, streams and woods; we discovered our love for nature as we witnessed wildlife never seen before; sat within the walls of its old buildings telling the history of the land. We were--are--proud to have carried on it's history through the generations. The history that the Trust has fostered for over half a century since owning Woodlawn; sadly, the history they are now willing to throw away and pretend never existed. Unfortunatly, many of our youth will never get to participate in this life-changing experience. Unless this bypass is stopped, our next generation will only see an elevated eyesore of more concrete and drainage ponds where there was once historic open meadows , horses grazing, and a treasured place that once shaped the lives and good character of MV's teenagers.
Shelley May 29, 2012 at 05:35 PM
For those in the community that would like to see Woodlawn Stables and the site of Woodlawn Plantation saved instead of paved over, please come to the public hearing on June 5, 6 p.m., at Hayfield High School.
T Ailshire May 29, 2012 at 05:37 PM
Seems it would be an ideal project for, oh, I don't know, maybe an Eagle Scout project, maybe a college student with altruistic intentions, to work with the rec centers to develop them in to such places.
T Ailshire May 29, 2012 at 05:37 PM
Which has exactly what to do with needing a place for young adults to congregate?
Shelley May 29, 2012 at 06:08 PM
T Ailshire: What part of my response did you not read? I think I was pretty clear in explaining that we are about to lose Woodlawn Stables, a long-standing safe hangout for hundreds of our local teenagers. Why so quick to taunt?
Cynthia Mitchell May 30, 2012 at 01:35 AM
I agree with Shelley. The hundreds, if not thousands, of youth, teens and young adults who have graced the barns at Woodlawn Stables over the last fifty to sixty years were provided with a safe 'hang out'. Most importantly due to the variety of ages, the peer mentoring from the older to the younger is irreplaceable. As adults we try to convey to our youth the experience of our years and we hope they listen. At Woodlawn Stables there are responsible young adults to whom the teens and youth actually DO listen and benefit from their experience. I can't even begin to tell you how many students selected excellent Virginia universities based on the experiences of the older students and the stories they shared. It is simply one big, happy family and we look out for each other.
William David May 30, 2012 at 11:19 AM
While Woodlawn Stables has provided some youth opportunities, the replacement, Arcadia, will be a complete working farm with the mission to "improve the health of our community, the viability of local farmers, and preserve our environment for future generations by combining education about healthy food and its sources with better logistical connections between local farmers and the urban and suburban core of the region." At Arcadia, there will be more and better opportunities for our youth to learn about a wide range of sustainable food production and how we can provide sound nutrition to those that need it. I have no complaint about Woodlawn Stables, just that I agree with the National Trust for Historic Preservation that the Arcadia concept in many respects is a far better land use of the Woodlawn property for the greater community and will stabilize their bottom line for generations. Our community should welcome Arcadia as a positive improvement overall. Riding opportunities will continue to be available nearby at the new BLM Meadowood facility near Lorton (and you'll be able to get there once Richmond Hwy is widened).
DAVE May 30, 2012 at 11:29 AM
Shelley, go pitch in another ballpark to drum up support for your cause.
Rebecca Kenyon May 30, 2012 at 12:32 PM
Wow, hostile crowd to the Stable folks. Shelley, I agree with you 100%. My kids take lessons there and I don't get the hostility towards the horsey-set. What do you think we're rich or something? No, we just like it there and find a way to pay for lesson, and borrow our helmets, boots. Woodlawn has been an equestrian facility for at least 60 years and its a throwback to times gone by. So, I guess the 'best idea' is to tear it down, relocate (or allow to be destroyed) 50 horses, move the road bed and put up a 6 lane raised highway with 2 massive drainage ponds and sound barriers (read with sarcasm). Next we'll stick a fake farm (Arcadia) there to steal the yuppies money on fake farmer camps for our kids. This is a land grab developers dream come true.
Ron Fitzsimmons May 30, 2012 at 12:34 PM
I really would appreciate it if folks sticked to the original thread here.
Rebecca Kenyon May 30, 2012 at 12:43 PM
sorry Ron. You are right. When my twins are teenagers and Woodlawn Stables is gone, I'll remember that you brought it up. Good luck, but IMO the idea won't go anywhere in this town unless someone can make a bunch of $$ off of it.
DAVE May 30, 2012 at 12:43 PM
My kids like to go to either the GW or MV Rec Centers. They hang out and ice skate, swim or do other activities. Granted your kids are older, but the same concept holds true. At least they aren't out getting into trouble.
T Ailshire May 30, 2012 at 12:45 PM
No hostility to the stable folks. There was a discussion of it recently -- a much more appropriate place for advocating. This post has been about a place for young adults to hang out. Sure, the stable may be a great place, but not a place to "hang out". Hanging out, if you will, is a side element of work and lessons at the stables. Shelley has some excellent points, VERY appropriate for the OTHER THREAD.
Don Carr May 30, 2012 at 10:44 PM
Ron, here's a thought: why not convene a group of serious-minded "post teens," and, under the sponsorship/mentorship of the Patch and your column, have them develop proposals? Have them work up meaningful ideas and then select ONE idea they would like to see come to pass. Then have them develop a proposal and present it to the business community, under the auspices of the Mount Vernon Chamber of Commerce, to solicit sponsors to make it reality. This would be a great experience for the young people, and would afford the business community a worthwhile civic endeaver. The complete undertaking would set a great example for other communities in our region to emulate.
Shelley May 30, 2012 at 11:47 PM
@Don, you propose some great ideas. @William David, I don't know a reason that teens can't have both? No one has said it has to be one or the other. Currently, they both coexist and bring many benefits to the Trust. Athough I'm not quite able to envision teens flocking to a garden to hang out, but hey, to each is own. As a side note: Woodlawn Stables also is a complete working farm with a mission, although, I admit, providing knowledge of sustainable food production is not one of the many attributes a horse farm can claim on it's long list...But then again, I'm sure learning to administer an intermuscular injection in a horses neck isn't one Arcadia can list either : ) FYI, I have heard people mention that riding opportunities will still exist at Meadowood. Meadowood is managed by a different business owner and is not a lesson barn, but rather a boarding facility and therapuetic riding center. The hundreds of teens at WS can not ride there unless they can buy a horse and pay to keep it there. @TAilshire, I respectfully disagree with your assumption that teens don't "hang out" at barns. Based on your comment, I am assuming you don't have much experience with horses or barns, but I can gaurantee you, on any given day you can go to a barn and see plenty of teens hanging out, not just the ones working there. You are correct, many have a lesson and then hangout with their friends several hours afterwards. I, myself, was one of those teens so many moons ago.
Shelley May 30, 2012 at 11:58 PM
Oh, and DAVE! How could I forgot DAVE?...It just wounldn't be the same experience to post on the Patch's forum without receiving a stingy dig from you. Mwah!
DAVE May 31, 2012 at 12:12 PM
Shelley, I owned horses as a kid and have probably shoveled as much or more horsepoo (on alot of levels) as you. You slant the facts to fit your purpose. The number of teens that hang out at the stables is probably .000000000000001% of the teenage population. So the "we're doing such a great public service, blah, blah, blah" is a bunch of hooey. I kind of like Don's idea, but do you really think you are going to get a group of teenagers to spend the 15 years it's going to take to come to fruition.
AJ May 31, 2012 at 03:12 PM
I'm not a teen anymore but I have been saying the same thing for years Ron!!! Now its my brother's turn to lament the place to hang out. Springfield has a laser tag that even now as a 20-something I find awesome. My biggest problem with Springfield when I was younger was that it was already getting kind of sketchy and my parent's didn't like letting me and a group of girls go there alone. Plus, how do we get there? Kingstown is also terrific but again, I know teens have a hard time with rides. Does anyone remember the really awful mini-golf that used to be in by Home Depot?Can't they stick something like that in across from the Walgreens?

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