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Fort Ward park overhaul gets a fresh timeline

A local working group has been making its way through plans to update and improve Fort Ward Park, and last week the project got a timeline for when the public could see some of those changes.

Following the Civil War, the fort was home to a sizable Black community that was later pushed out by the City of Alexandria in the name of obtaining park space and historical preservation of the Civil War-era fort.

Susan Cumbey, director for the Fort Ward Museum and Historic Site, said two of the changes coming to the park’s historical side are new exhibit panels and a new exhibit in the museum that tells the story of both the fort and the community that called it home in the years after the war.

There will be two new park exhibit panels that Cumbey said will help introduce visitors to the fort’s Civil War history and post-Civil War community. One will be located at the east side of the park near the museum and another will be on the west side.

“We’re planning on submitting draft details to the community sometime in the spring so fabrication and installation can take place in late summer and the fall,” Cumbey said.

Cumbey said the museum will also get a new exhibit and short film about the site’s history during and after the Civil War. The city is currently working through a grant process to try and secure additional funding for the exhibit.

“It will be more detailed than the exhibit panels in the park,” Cumbey said. “We will use the thematic framework of ‘bastions of freedom.’ The exhibit will be an important step toward equity.”

Cumbey said work will begin on the exhibit this year with installation targeted for late 2023 or early 2024.

A larger, more complex project, Cumbey said, is a planned interpretive trail that will run through the park.

“[The trail] will include sites of homesteads, schoolhouse chapel site, burial areas,” Cumbey said. “A budget request [will be] be submitted for the fiscal year 2023 to get the ball rolling on that larger project.”

In addition to funding, Cumbey said the trail project will require additional public outreach.

In addition to changes to the historical presentation of the site, the park will be undergoing changes to bring it into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). A city report noted that key locations in violation of ADA provisions include:

  • Vehicular parking areas
  • Picnic shelter
  • Playground

Part of the trail improvements will also include changes to the park layout that aim to make it more accessible, though additional archeological work will need to be done to ensure some planned changes like a playground relocation don’t end up damaging burial sites.

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