Kite-fighting debris poses problems for Mason Neck residents
In recent months, residents of the Mason Neck section of Lorton — a peninsula populated by farms, vast parkland and wildlife — have been dealing with a rather unconventional problem: kites. Not the type of kites with cotton string typically flown by families at the annual spring kite festival at Gunston Hall, but ones with a strong and abrasive line. These kites, according to residents, are deliberately flown as high as possible or used competitively for kite fighting until their lines snap. The kites then crash to the ground, often a great distance from the people who fly them, resulting in a lot of litter around parts of Mason Neck.
Besides posing an environmental challenge, the leftover lines have begun entangling community members' farm animals and pets, putting their lives at risk. Additionally, horses, occasionally with riders astride, are being spooked by the crashing debris.
"A kite to a horse is a predator," said one resident.
At a Jan. 5 town hall held at Gunston Hall by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in conjunction with the Mason Neck Citizens Association and Congressman Don Beyer’s office, many residents showed up to share their stories and request help from BLM — which manages the Meadowood Special Recreation Management Area on Mason Neck — in finding a solution.
Terry Abrams, president of the Harmony Hills Equestrian Center along Harley Road, said her property borders the BLM lands and that she has witnessed multiple kite fights.
“They are purposefully being let loose, and they are a major hazard,” said Abrams, noting that she has seen bald eagles flying amidst the kites.
Several owners of farms along Gunston Road said they often find kites on their personal property, especially on weekends. One woman reported that over 20 kites were collected from eight properties one Sunday morning.
According to BLM district manager Stephanie Carman, kite fighting at Meadowood is a “new use” that has increased significantly in the last couple of months. The BLM is beginning to explore how to address the issue, she said, including by contacting organizations that supply the kite materials; looking into other park systems’ prohibitions against kite fighting; exploring whether a special recreation permit should be required for organizations engaged in kite-fighting activities; installing signage and more trash receptacles; and conducting public outreach about the dangers of the lines to animals and people.
“To be clear, we have an agreement with Fairfax County law enforcement,” said Carman. “They are able to enforce laws on federal land. If you have a concern, you can call Fairfax County.”
Carman added that BLM would follow up with the Franconia District Station of the Fairfax County Police Department to ensure clarity about jurisdictional issues.
Besides addressing the kite issue, BLM officials told town hall attendees the agency would try to improve communications with Mason Neck residents about other initiatives. Residents had felt shut out of the planning process for a multipurpose pavilion erected at the corner of Gunston and Harley Roads, as well as from discussions on the move of the Army’s Caisson Platoon horses to Meadowood. Littering has been a persistent problem at the pavilion, according to several residents, and they also are concerned about the recent use of pesticides to clear milkweed from the Caisson Platoon horses’ grazing area, the Army’s ability to take care of horses at the site, and the possibility of permanent structures being built on the land.
According to Carman, next steps for the pavilion include installing gutters, expanding the parking lot, putting in restrooms and utilities, and making the facility ADA accessible. BLM is working on a draft environmental assessment for the project, which is expected to be made available for public comment in the next month, and the agency hopes to secure funding for construction in the near future.
As far as the Caisson Platoon horses are concerned, BLM and Army officials assured Mason Neck residents that lots of checks and balances are being put in place to ensure safe conditions for the horses on 14 acres of land near the former Belmont House. The Army has committed to restoring the meadow once its five-year right of way expires at Meadowood, said Carman, and there are no long-term plans at present to permanently house the horses there.
“While we’re very supportive of the Caisson, we cannot do that without Congressional direction,” she said.
Speaking on behalf of Congressman Beyer, District Chief of Staff Noah Simon assured community members that they would be kept informed and have significant input on any future decisions about the Caisson Platoon.
“If it looks like we’re getting closer to some permanency, I’ll be right back here … well in advance,” said Simon. “But this is nothing that is in the immediate future, in our understanding.”
Other ongoing and upcoming projects mentioned by BLM’s Carman included restoration of 120 acres of natural meadow at Meadowood over the next five years and replacement of the fence surrounding the property. To date, about 30 acres of land have been freed of non-natives, and the ground will be reseeded with native plants, said Carman.