With a little help from Mother Nature, the Beaverdam Creek Reservoir on the western edge of Ashburn will soon return to its role as Loudoun’s largest body of water. As it slowly refills, plans are advancing to transform it into the county’s largest park.
When full, it looks like a peaceful lake, with wooded trails, birds and insects circling, and fishers and high school crew teams cutting across the water. But Beaverdam Reservoir is an artificial lake, storing 1.5 billion gallons of water for Loudoun Water, and in 2016 it was drained to complete repairs to its dam. Today it’s a broad, grassy, muddy depression with a creek trickling through it, surrounded by woods.
Those repairs are now almost finished, and this month the valve at the dam that had let all the water out was closed. Now, said Loudoun Water Deputy General Manager Mark Peterson, to wait for rain. After a record-setting rainfall had delayed work on the dam, now that the utility is ready to refill the reservoir, the rain has slowed considerably.
“The good news is, it’s in refill,” Peterson said. “The hard part is guessing when that is going to be at a level where it feels safe enough for people to get back on.” He joked that after a year of record rain, “around the time, of course, that we started, it’s been so hot and dry.”
When it refills, fishing, boating, paddling and other activities on the 622-acre reservoir will open up again.
Loudoun Water purchased the reservoir from the City of Fairfax in 2014 and initially closed it to public assess, citing liability concerns. But after partnering with NOVA Parks, Loudoun Water reopened the reservoir to public access in May 2015. On sunny weekends, the small parking lot off Mt. Hope Road is packed with visitors.
“It’s such a special place in Loudoun County, and people had been around it, and it can work well if you do it right to allow the public access,” Peterson said. But, he said, as a water authority, managing public access to a park was never part of their expertise: “It’s not part of what we do, so we knew going in that if we were going to commit long-term to continuing to allow the public to access it, it made a lot of sense” to partner with the parks authority.
And sometime next year, it is expected, construction on new park facilities will begin, on 71 acres of NOVA Parks’ adjacent 370-acre Brambleton Regional Park.
County supervisors approved zoning changes in May to allow for that, and while it’s still under design, a concept plan provided by Bowman Consulting shows more parking, gardens, wetlands, boating and watercraft rentals, a pavilion with concessions, educational areas, and trails throughout, including a loop trail all the way around the park. That construction is expected to begin sometime in spring 2020 and wrap up in spring 2021.
NOVA Parks Executive Director Paul Gilbert said it will be the “central park” of Loudoun County.
“When you think about how large it is, and the range of amenities that it will have, it will really draw and be a very special place,” Gilbert said. “Whenever someone’s putting together a promotional video about the area, they will have images of this place, because it will be beautiful and spectacular.”
Together with the Brambleton Regional Park and another 145 acres of parkland on the other side of the reservoir, Gilbert said, it will be a 1,000-acre park in the heart of Loudoun County.
The recreation around the reservoir is guided by its ultimate use—a source of drinking water. And the design is shaped by the partnership between the water utility and the parks authority—what Gilbert called “the best of both perspectives.”
Education is one major component of that. Peterson said it will be a complement to the Aquiary, the educational facility at Loudoun Water’s headquarters.
“This is a really great way to have a sort of living learning environment, where you can go out and talk about shoreline preservation, and what is the role of that aquatic life, and how all these things are important to maintaining a healthy water system,” Gilbert said.
Although the water in the reservoir is treated before it enters the drinking supply, the utility’s first concern is still keeping the water as clean as possible. That means no gas-powered engines on the water, and no swimming.
But when the reservoir reopens for water access, there will still be plenty of hiking, paddling, fishing, picnicking, and sightseeing to do.
“Since the dawn of time, people wanted to be near the water,” Gilbert said. And in in the middle of Loudoun at Beaverdam Reservoir, there will be a lot of water.