Name change proposal for Lake Audubon floated to community

A November dawn at Lake Audubon in Reston (photo by Ray Copson)

Lake Audubon — a man-made lake in Reston — may soon chart new waters with a new name.

Reston Association’s Board of Directors has begun preliminary conversations to consider launching a community dialogue on potentially renaming the lake, which is named after 19th century artist and known enslaver John James Audubon.

The move, pitched by at-large director John Farrell, would kickstart a community dialogue on the possibility of a name change. Early next year, Farrell and others will host an exploratory meeting with area stakeholders to discuss whether or not there is interest in changing the name of the lake.

“It seems to me that there needs to be a reconciliation of our fundamental founding principles of inclusion with this guy’s history,” Farrell said at a Dec. 15 board meeting.

Audubon enslaved at least nine people and was publicly dismissive of the abolitionist movement.

Earlier this month, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted to rename Lee District to Franconia District. The effort is part of a series of moves to disentangle the county from names honoring Confederate leaders.

Farrell pointed to two articles from Audubon Magazine that highlight Audubon’s history, which state that he enslaved several people and didn’t recognize black and indigenous people as equals. They also highlight a story in which Audubon returned a family of escaped slaves to their enslavers and say the ornithologist was “prone to exaggeration,” writing about discovered birds that did not exist.

In October 2021, the Audubon Naturalist Society — a major US conservation group — said it will change its name due to the “pain” caused by Audubon.

“The deliberate and thoughtful decision to change our name is part of our ongoing commitment to creating a larger and more diverse community of people who treasure the natural world and work to preserve it. It has become clear that this will never be fully possible with the current name,” ANS Executive Director Lisa Alexander said in a news report on the issue.

Audobon is famed for his studies of American birds.

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