Charlottesville City Council seems to be taking seriously the problem of access to the Dogwood Vietnam Memorial.
It formed a working group to study the issue and, after hearing the group’s report, announced plans to hold a work session — probably early in the new year.
But already it’s clear that there’s a big hurdle to cross before access can be improved. Money.
Charlottesville’s Vietnam Memorial holds the distinction of being the first of its kind in the country. That auspicious start toward honoring veterans of the Vietnam conflict has foundered, however.
Yes, it’s nice to see the memorial rising from its slope and clearly visible from the U.S. 250 Bypass and John Warner Parkway as they intersect at McIntire Park. But a drive-by viewing isn’t enough. What about people who want to visit the site?
In its original incarnation, the memorial was accessible from a parking lot next to a wading pool, which in turn was close to the memorial. That pool and parking lot were obliterated by the city’s new skate park, and a vehicular access ramp was eliminated.
The parking lot for the skate park is at quite a distance from the memorial, and therefore is not useful for many of those who want to visit the memorial — including older men and women and disabled veterans.
The other option for parking for both facilities is at the Charlottesville-Albemarle Rescue Squad building — catty-corner to the memorial and requiring visitors to cross multiple lanes of traffic.
Additionally, when the Warner Parkway was built, it cut into a portion of the hill on which the memorial is located and necessitated that the memorial be redesigned. Veterans and city staff members disagree on how severely that relocation affected access by making the new path to the memorial steeper and less accessible; veterans and their advocates say that access never has been adequate.
Whatever might have been true in the past, however, the fact is that currently the path does not meet standards under the Americans With Disabilities Act. That is a serious — a very serious — failure.
But even if the trail is fixed, it still doesn’t solve the problem of parking. The distance from available parking lots is still either too far or too fraught with danger from traffic.
The city has tried several stop-gap measures. The sequencing of stoplights has been adjusted to allow people more time to cross the roads. Signage has been improved. The site is opened to vehicles for special occasions, and Mayor Nikuyah Walker suggested that such occasions be expanded.
At minimum, the trail must be improved to meet ADA standards. But that would be, literally, the minimum accommodation. More is needed.
The working group suggested rebuilding the trail to exceed minimum standards. It also proposed building a new parking lot on the east side of McIntire Park and then creating a bridge across the highway to the trailhead.
Even better would be a bridge that goes directly to the memorial and bypasses the problematic trail altogether, the group suggested.
There is no cost estimate for that proposal. But the city can’t even afford the lesser of those two options — new parking lot, new bridge, rebuilt trail — at an estimated price of $2 million. City leaders say that money’s not available.
Nonetheless, we believe Charlottesville should at least try for the higher option — a bridge directly to the site. That, of course, will necessitate knowing just how much the project will cost.
And even the lesser option will require private donations if it’s to be built any time soon.
A fundraising campaign inevitably will be needed in order to provide adequate access to the Dogwood Vietnam Memorial. The quicker we make up our minds to that, the quicker we can get started.
There’s no time to lose. Veterans are aging. They deserve the chance to visit their memorial without struggling to get there.