Flying Recreational Drones in Our Parks?

Flying drones for sport is increasing and some recreational or hobbyist drone organizations are advocating that park officials allow recreational drone flying in our parks.

The Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) is considering a proposal to allow more recreational drone and other unmanned aircraft use in seven parks throughout the county. Currently drones are only permitted in Poplar Ford Park under certain conditions.

FCPA Actions

FCPA staffers are conducting a study and preparing recommendations for the Board of Directors of the FCPA. In August, ASNV and Northern Virginia Conservation Trust representatives met with Ryan Stewart from the Park Authority’s Planning and Development Division, the staff study team’s lead, and Samantha Wangsgard, the study team's ecologist.  In July, the study team presented its findings on how recreational drone use is currently conducted. They are now evaluating impacts on land, resources and facilities. In late summer and early fall, they will evaluate potential outdoor sites and hold public outreach sessions before the end of December.

They are considering these parks for drone flights:

  • Baron Cameron Park (interim athletic fields)
  • Greenbriar Park (athletic field #3)
  • Lake Fairfax Park (cricket fields)
  • Laurel Hill Park
  • Mason Neck (athletic fields)
  • Popes Head Park (soccer fields)
  • Rock Hill District Park (athletic fields)

ASNV Actions

ASNV, the American Bird Conservancy and the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust wrote a letter (which can be seen here) to the Park Authority Board in June outlining our concerns about the potential harm of recreational drone use to birds, wildlife and habitats.  Among other points, the three organizations urged FCPA to establish a clear overall policy and criteria, to conduct a biological inventory of any area under consideration and to prohibit these activities in natural areas and natural resource parks.

We specifically highlighted the meadow in Laurel Hill Park where bobolinks were observed during migration and where eastern meadowlarks nested this summer, stressing, “It appears to be a meadow or grassland area.  Northern Virginia has lost most of its grasslands and meadows.  Therefore, this is a rare and valuable habitat in the region.”  The study team has included our letter in the drone report.

The Drone Business Is Booming

The Consumer Technology Association reported that in 2016 sales of “personal drones” more than doubled the number sold in 2015, with 2.4 million sold in 2016 and 1.1 million in 2015.   “The global market for nonmilitary drones [commercial and recreational] has already ballooned into a $2.5 billion industry, one that’s growing 15% to 20% annually,” reported Fortune magazine in 2014.  And, the industry has hired a Washington lobbyist to help navigate the rules and influence legislation.

How You Can Help

  1. Share your concerns with us about flying drones in parks.  The FCPA staff has requested scientific studies, observations and natural resources and bird migration data.  Help us conduct research.
  2. Join our Advocacy Committee.
  3. Attend the public information sessions about the drone study and speak out.

To get involved, contact Joanne Bauer