County to Consider New Battlefield Park

Clarke County could get a new Civil War battlefield park if County Supervisors are willing to spend the $65K in annual fees necessary to join the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, the proposed owner of the new facility. If approved the park, which would preserve a portion of the Battle of Cool Spring battlefield, Clarke’s largest Civil War engagement, would carry an annual cost of $65K, $4.62 per year for each person living in the County, according to NVRPA executive director Paul Gilbert.

In an informational session held on Monday before the Clarke County Board of Supervisors and approximately 20 citizens who attended the meeting, Gilbert said that the Civil War Trust, a not-for-profit group whose mission is to preserve important Civil War sites, has an option to purchase the 194 acres currently being used as the Virginia National Golf Course located at the base of the Blue Ridge in northeastern Clarke County. If purchased, the Civil War Trust would then transfer the golf course property to the Regional Park Authority.

General Jubal Early led the Confederate forces at the Battle of Cool Spring in 1864

“The golf course is part of the Cool Spring Battlefield and has been designated as one of 384 battlefields in critical need of protection” Gilbert said. “With the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Cool Spring coming up in 2014 we see a golden opportunity to preserve the area’s history.”

Gilbert said that if the County approves the plan the Northern Virginia Regional Park Service hopes to convert the property to a “world-class” Civil War battlefield park and return the property to the way it looked at the time of the Battle of Cool Spring. Gilbert said that Virginia National Golf Course is currently in receivership following bankruptcy proceedings and that the Civil War Trust must exercise the option to purchase the property before May, 2012.

“We’ll try to use photos and written information to determine the how the area looked at the time of the battle and attempt to restore the land to its former character as much as possible” Gilbert said.

The Battle of Cool Spring resulted in nearly 900 casualties during the two-day engagement in 1864. After two brief skirmishes in Loudoun County at Purcellville and Woodgrove on July 16, Confederate general Jubal Early’s main force crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains at Snickers Gap and established lines around Berryville. General Early left substantial rearguard forces at the main river crossings of the Shenandoah River. On July 17, the Union cavalry passed through Snickers Gap and unsuccessfully attempted to force passage across the river at Castleman’s Ferry. On the following day, July 18th, Union generals Crook and Wright arrived at Snickers Gap and mistakenly attacked what they believed was a light picket line of Confederates along the river left to cover Early’s retreat up the Valley. At around 3:00 p.m., Union forces crossed the Shenandoah below Castleman’s Ferry at Judge Richard Parker’s Ford quickly driving off a small force of Confederate pickets. The Confederates responded by moving a division of troops to the vicinity of the ford.  At around 6:00 p.m., the Confederates attacked the main Federal position on the high ground along its right flank but were unsuccessful in driving the Union troops across the river.

Judge Richard Parker, the man who presided over the trial of abolitionist John Brown, resided in a house that still stands on the property, however, Gilbert said that the house was not included in the parcel being negotiated by the Civil War Trust.

Gilbert told the Supervisors that the park would be a place of “quiet and solitude” the during majority of the time with self-guided walking tours that will follow the existing golf cart paths already in place. In addition, Gilbert said that not only will the park protect nearly two miles of Shenandoah River flood plain, but also promote the County’s other historic resources and enhance economic development by generating business associated with tourism.

Gilbert said that he wasn’t able to predict how many people would visit the park annually but guessed that the number could be approximately 1,000. Another NVRPA civil war park located in Loudoun County, Ball’s Bluff, sees annual attendance of about 5,000 visitors.

Gilbert said that if the golf course property were to be purchased by a housing developer the area could see as many as forty additional new homes.

According to Gilbert the Civil War Trust grant that would be used to purchase the property would also include $65K to cover the first year of the County’s membership in the park authority.

Several County Supervisors and staff seemed enthusiastic about the possibility of a park but also expressed concern about costs, noise and the impact on local residents.

Supervisor Barbara Byrd (Russell) said that she preferred to see a park on the property rather than new houses but also expressed concern about the annual cost of membership in the park authority.

“We need to look for grants to cover the cost” Byrd said.

County environmental planner Alison Teetor told the Supervisors that she saw the park as a “fantastic” opportunity to extend the County’s comprehensive plan goals and to eliminate the possibility of further development along two miles of river Shenandoah River frontage.

“The property’s current rural residential zoning would allow up to forty homes that would use alternative septic systems as well as require school capacity, police and fire protection and other services” Teetor said. “With an average family size of two adults and two children the cost would be about $37K a year” Teetor said.

Teetor said that in addition to preventing potentially costly development in the area, the proposed park was also ideally aligned with the goals of the County’s comprehensive plan.

“Placing a park along the river promotes the goals of our comprehensive plan” Teetor said. “It will ensure protection of the Shenandoah River and its flood plain, promote our historic resources and tourism and enhance economic development by supporting tourism-related businesses.”

Teetor urged the Supervisors to find a way to pay for the project.

Gilbert endorsed Teetor’s view saying that tourism is the Commonwealth’s second largest industry, Gilbert told the Supervisors that a recent Civil War reenactment at NVRPA’s Ball’s Bluff battlefield park generated $100K for local businesses in and around Leesburg. However, Gilbert also said that reenactments are generally staged infrequently at his agency’s regional parks and speculated that a Cool Spring battle reenactment in 2014 would be the only event planned in the near future.

“99 percent of the time the park will be a quiet and contemplative place” Gilbert said.

While several citizens attended the meeting, only one, Shenandoah Retreat resident Bill Lukens, offered a comment on the proposal. Lukens asked whether existing agreements that allow access through the golf course property between the Shenandoah Retreat and the river will be preserved. Gilbert replied that once the property became a park citizens would have complete access to the entire two mile stretch of riverfront as well as a beach area currently owned by the Virginia National Golf Club.

Monday’s discussion session about the proposed park was only the first step in the County’s review process. Supervisor David Weiss (Buckmarsh), whose district includes the proposed park, emphasized that he would like to hold a public hearing about the plan in order to better understand what citizens think about the idea before any decisions are made.

Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority currently has an annual operating budget of $20.7M and a capital budget of $4.8. 83% of the organization’s operating funds come from enterprise operations which include entrance fees, concession operations and rental fees while 17% of funding comes from membership fees contributed by each organization. The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority currently includes administers 25 regional parks and manages over 11K acres including the WO&D Trail Park as well as several Civil War and Colonial sites. If the park plan moves ahead, Clarke County would become the seventh NVRPA member – joining, Arlington County, Fairfax County, Loudoun County, the City of Alexandria, the City of Falls Church and the City of Fairfax – and receive two votes on governance matters for the organization.

Gilbert said that if Clarke County were to join the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, Clarke County citizens would benefit not only from the park but would also pay lower rates for entry and use of other parks within the NVRPA system.

While County citizens may enjoy the benefit of a regional park, Alison Teetor said that the park would also benefit local farmers in an indirect way.

“The park will eliminate fertilizer and pesticides used by the golf course in the flood plain” Teetor said. “By creating a riparian buffer along the river the park will do a lot to increase the County’s TMDL points.”

Under section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act, states are required to develop lists of impaired waters and calculate the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) that a waterbody can receive and still safely meet water quality standards. Teetor is currently assembling Clarke County’s TMDL data. TMDL totals generated by Clarke County could come with potentially significant pollution abatement expense for area farmers. Removal of pollution sources generated by the golf course would reduce the County’s overall TMDL score and improve the overall water quality of the Shenandoah River generated by Clarke County sources, a potential cost saving to Clarke County agricultural concerns.

Comments

  1. Birdonawire says:

    My property backs up to the golf course. I would love to see the golf course be transformed into a park. Perhaps the park authority would consider horseback riding trails as well. That would help bring more visitors and they could pay a fee to help maintain the trails. I’ve got my fingers crossed hoping that this takes place.

  2. Richie Blick says:

    Awesome! I frequently hike around Balls Bluff Battlefield in Leesburg and love history and imagining our ancestors marching and battling based off of the stories told in the kiosks along the trails. I even found a civil war bullet there. Since Clarke played a role in the civil war, we should have a battlefield park and be in the regional concept! NVRPA really take care of the other battlefields, parking lots and trails and they also have volunteers to assist plus tour guides. That property is pristine and already has a road, river frontage, and is right off of Rt 7 so it seems ideal to preserve and restore. This would also be great to have the option to take OUR school children to a historical public park in OUR own county instead of neighboring ones. I for one will gladly volunteer my time in this park to help in any way I can!! And my children.

  3. I love the idea of a civil war park. But, 65K a year of tax money seems a bit high priced. It would end up like the county park I would probaly have to pay a fee to use it . I would rather see places in the county for gainful employment.

    CDN Editor: Although not specifically stated, the indication from yesterday’s discussion was that Clarke County residents would pay a reduced fee to use any of the NVRPA facilities, including the proposed Cool Spring park.

    • CDN Editor
      The article mentions ($4.62 per year for each person living in the County) If this is true as written most school age children and younger would be hard to include in the cost since they don’t pay taxes.So my thinking is that it will cost each person a bit more than stated if you are making this payment of 65k per year from collected taxes. agree

      CDN Editor: Approximately 14,000 citizens times $4.62 = $64,680 (but what’s a few bucks between friends?)

  4. GetDownBall says:

    I lament the possibility of no more golf at Virginia National. Those who have played the course regularly over the last decade know that it is hands down the most beautiful, peaceful, and equally challenging course in the area. While the course has seen some tough times financially, it sure is nice to have such a sporting treasure in our own backyard.

    • Birdonawire says:

      I agree it is a beautiful golf course. Aside from the golf carts putting around, the golfers are for the most part very quiet. Ocassionally, you would hear cheers when someone did well. But that just caused me to chuckle. My dogs will miss spying on the golfers. I wonder if they ever felt as if they were being watched….

  5. Hope some thought and planning go into figuring out how to make this as revenue neutral as possible, should the county decide to go thru with this project

  6. Hopefully they realize this is a floodplain. Areas of this course never dry out and last April much of it was destroyed.

  7. The Printer says:

    Let’s all stop with all the Hogwash discussions, because as you read the article it is plain to see the “hidden agenda” behind why the County supervisors want to secure this land. To prevent any type of growth to CC. This is always the top priority whenever anything is mentioned about CC.

  8. frank lucreai says:

    as a civil war buff and someone who loves history. you may find that it pays for its self in increased visitors0
    i feel like the civil war battled fields belong to us all. our grandfathers payed for them in blood sweat and tears. please consider doing this and consider how to grow it in the future. once its gone its gone forever. ive visited all most all the civil war parks in va and alot of the historical sites in your fine state

  9. So now we have an extra 65K for this, but they had to lay people off at the school? This is a waste of money . Not many would go and those that would would be the same folks, probably out of convienience.

  10. What a historic opportunity our county has!

    There is a Recreational aspect: We have the chance to create our first park on the banks of the Shenandoah, with access to all citizens, especially for those of us not fortunate enough to own property right on the river.

    There is a Historic aspect: We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to preserve an area of historic importance pertaining to the Civil War, with the side benefit of more tourists visiting the area & spending money.

    There is an Environmental aspect: with this one action, we can restore almost two miles of shoreline along the scenic Shenandoah back to its natural state, thereby lowering our County’s future potential TDML / Clean Water (read= money) liability.

    All with one move, with first year’s payment covered!

    I find it hard to see a downside to this. These comments come from a golfer who will miss the beautiful old course.

    I can find plenty other places to play golf nearby. But I can’t find many other public places nearby to enjoy the “Rivah”.

    • I would prefer a county/state (even private) park with recreation and camping as an alternative to Watermelon park. The land as it was during the Civil War is gone. Major excavation has taken place several times. Perhaps an area where the battle took place could be preserved as “sacred ground”. Besides that, let’s camp, fish, tube and have a good time.

  11. goodgracious says:

    Maybe an amusement park?

  12. I too would love to see a park here. I think in the long run it would pay for itself. So what if we had to pay around $5.00 each. I think they should buy the old house too, although it is a bit expensive. I would even volunteer to help with the upkeep.

    • A park sounds nice but there is no mention of funds or plan for picking up trash that will be left by people so, if you want to volunteer… that position will be open and needed.

  13. Forget about the politics of this proposal and think about the reality of what will happen if this plan is approved. What about the good people of VA National Golf Club that already take care of the property? They will all be out of a job. Has anyone thought of that aspect of it? Are any of the decision makers of the county board going to employ these folks? To the best of my knowledge the actual fighting took place on the west side of the river. Are they going to close down the monastery too? The number of visitors to this proposed park was estimated to be 1000 annually……..that’s approximately three per day. Seems to me that Clarke County would come out on the short of the stick losing the propery taxes paid by VA National. The county would be out the 65,000 for NVPA admission but also the thousands in property taxes they currently collect from the golf course. Doesn’t seem financially viable to me.

    • Uncle Jessie says:

      Jack-
      Va National is bankrupt. This is what, the third time it’s been in bankruptcy in the last 10 years? It’s not working- primarily because the high cost of course maintenance associate with the location- and – 4 or 5 holes are consistently flooded out in some form each year which turns golfers away. As a golfer, the inconsistent course condition and poor marketing have been the downfall. Unfortunately the good people that work there are in a no win situation.

      • The Printer says:

        So with all the flooding that interferes with golfing, how will this affect the tourist that want to take a leisurely stroll down the Battlefield? Plus the gnats are horrible too! My opinion is this is not a very condusive site to do anything that will cost money!

  14. Birdonawire says:

    Any development on the flood plain would be washed away by the next big hurricane.

  15. The Printer says:

    Tourism? I guess at the next Board meeting they better start discussing where the Big Hotel is going to be built to provide for all of these tourist that they are expecting. C–Mon Man!

  16. ROUTE7DRIVER says:

    This land is not in danger of being developed since it is in a flood plain and there is no public swear or water there. Our schools need work, government building need work. Tourism? This is a joke, no motels in the county for people to stay in, only a few B&B’s and that’s about it. Down town there are restaurants but that’s about it. We have very little to no shopping. Perhaps if Berryville where was a bit more like Middleburg with its variety of small interesting shops in town this may bring people into town but other than possibly grabbing a quick lunch that about all the business this new park would bring in. Why should I a home owner outside of town pay for a park will likely visit one time a year if even that? I highly doubt this $65,000 a year investment will do anything to bring money into the county. This $65,000 fee will likely increase over the years and I bet there are other expenditures the county will have to invest in for this park that is unneeded. This battlefield park will likely sit empty and forgotten after the novelty of having it wears off much like the golf course that sits there now that is in financial trouble. I’ve heard it’s a beautiful golf course but I think it’s largely forgotten because it sits back out of the way and the county really has nothing else of interest in it. I would bet money though the county board goes for this idea, wasting money seems to be par for the course here in Clarke County….

    • Clarke resident says:

      I agree, for our Supervisors to consider such a purchase (and to lock us into paying more each year) is a ridiculous joke.

      But I wouldn’t say Clarke taxpayers exactly “waste” money… not on schools or libraries or recycling centers or community centers or retirement activity centers or ballfields or family parks- we hardly spend money on such foolhardy things. As a matter of fact, we cut corners whenever possible when it comes to meeting the needs of the children or elderly, or average taxpaying citizens.

      The majority of landowners here regularly help “save” large tracts of land that are in “critical need of protection” (so as not to pay taxes that would support aforementioned foolhardy BASIC community services). Great mindset…so why not spend to have a Civil War battlefield “park”? May even pull in some revenue off the beaten path (yeah right). Could even replace the huge Mosby Heritage Area sign that keeps falling over on the Clarke side of the mountain (rt.7). Have to wonder how much we really value our Civil War Heritage….

      Too bad the traffic on rt. 7, rt 50, 340, railroad tracks or even the Appalachian trail can’t somehow help support our little community. They’re all just passing through and the best our BOS can do is spend our money on a battlefield park.

      The joke is us.

  17. More information is definitely needed before a decision is made.

    Not only will it cost the county $65,000,the taxes paid by the Golf Co is gone. That amount was almost $25,000 annually so, in reality, the park would cost taxpayers $90,000 a year. Gilbert also stated a cost increase was expected of 1 to 1 ½% each year after.

    Apparently there are no plans for the park to have any employees. No one on site at any time. No one to monitor the activities of small groups, large groups, campfires, dumped charcoal, use of alcohol, illegal fishing, nude bathing, rowdy groups or individuals not using park etiquette.

    Will it in fact be 99 percent of the time a quiet and contemplative place or would that be only in the dead of winter.
    With 2 miles of river frontage the most draw from people when opened I’m afraid will be like those from a local area that pay for the day to play in the water, fish and picnic. Does not sound bad but if you have ever passed that area and some others along the river in a boat…illegal fishing is not all that catches the eye. Many areas are not for younger children to be within ear shot. And, some of those areas are monitored. Reverence of the area is not displayed.

    Four miles of walking area and interpretive displays while reflecting on what happened at that location almost 150 years ago would be an enjoyment but there are still questions to be answered on the basic managing of the area to keep it family oriented and safe.

  18. This is just what the county needs is another little Me-i-o . Look what has happened to watermelon park and the public boat ramp under rt7 bridge. With no plans to have anyone there to over see the park it will turn into a trash hole just look at the side of parker lane before you get to the golf course and under the bridge and the park will be free to get in so they wont have to pay like at watermelon park so where do you think most of them will go. And what about bathrooms? Where do you think they will go? I Have already seen the piles & TP they leave behind many trees under the bridge!

    I hope the Sheriffs office has the extra time and man power to check the place several times a day and night other wise it will be a free for all down there.

    There are much better things to spend county taxes on like a citzens Convenience center so we dont have to drive to winchester to take trash but while you are there you can shop because there is nowhere in Clarke County to buy most of the things people need.

    Last, lets not over look the tax increase to the people of Clarke County who most of will never visit the park but pay dearly for in taxes and when it goes bad the county is stuck with and end up paying more to clean the place up and keep it clean

  19. livein22611 says:

    What benefits do we get from NVRPA? Will they patrol the are daily? Take care of all trash pick-up? Will they pay for all the renovations needed on the land? Or will we just be paying for the inclusion in their system? We need more information on how this benefits Clarke County other than just keeping some new houses out. If it’s designated as a historical battlefield site, how much other use can we really have there other than just walking the site? Lots of questions.

  20. It could be a good idea if rules were strickley enforced. But I think we all have a good idea on what kind of tourists will want to use the park. I clean enough trash every year along the river. WMP is a fine example of tourism in our County! No Thanks

  21. Clarke County Board of Supervisors
    Regular Meeting Agenda
    Main Meeting Room Berryville / Clarke County Government Center
    101 Chalmers Court, 2nd Floor, Berryville, Virginia

    January 17, 2012
    Afternoon Session 1:00 PM
    1) Call To Order

    8) Virginia National Golf Course / Regional Park Authority Update 23; 58

    GREAT this meeting is Tomorrow at 1pm. No wonder nobody goes to meetings or knows what goes on here until after the fact. I guess i’ll quit work to be able to attend!!!!
    1pm is ridiculous and inconsiderate…

    • Makes it real easy to push unwanted items through when there is no one there to object. I have lived here for twenty couple years and having rich farmers and lawyers holding our purse strings has allowed for these meeting times as long as i can remember. You are so right, ridiculous and inconsiderate.

  22. Castleman trash cleaner says:

    I would love to have a nice riverfront park, that I could bring my guests to, that’s not embarrassing.

    As a resident that wants to use the river to tube, canoe and kayak in a safe clean enviroment, it scares me on what this could turn into. I’m aggravated enough about the accesses we have now, they are not safe, clean or affordable. I would use Castlemans side but its a 15ft ditch so I have no choice close by.
    I use the river less and less, its not right or fair.

    I too have many many questions. I have weighed both sides of this the good and bad, they came out about equal. So many costs have to be factored in.

    I would be against overnight camping, fires, alcohol and loud music. No glass bottles. I like all of those things but I know how to act and have respect for the great outdoors. Rules that would really be enforced!

    We already have a park that does not enforce rules nor is there anyone who forces them to enforce their rules.

    I’d want more than a promise that all rules will be enforced no matter what or whom it is.

    Could this be for residents only? I’d buy a yearly membership at a reasonable rate.
    Maybe a survey can be ran to see how many residents would use the park.

    The residents should have a say in what should be done with this property. It will effect all of us some more than others that live close to this site.

    I just want what is best for ALL of us and the River.

    Honestly I’m getting sick of all the bottles/cans I pick up.

    A 1pm meeting is absurd and is not fair to residents. I guess we all better speak up now.

  23. Does anyone know how to rent River Lots? Any help would be appreciated.

  24. CDN Reported Jan 10, 2012:
    Monday’s discussion session about the proposed park was only the first step in the County’s review process. Supervisor David Weiss (Buckmarsh), whose district includes the proposed park, emphasized that he would- like to hold a public hearing about the plan in order to better understand what citizens think about the idea before any decisions are made.

    Lets see…Board of Supervisors work session Jan 9th… Board of Supervisors regular meeting Jan 17th….No mention of public meeting as yet.

    Mr. Weiss and other BOS…Many are expecting a public meeting before Clarke County representatives move forward with a decision in this matter.

    All questions and concerns need to be answered for the interested and impacted Clarke County residents before the BOS make a decision for the people they represent.

    Possibly the BOS have utilized the time in-between the meetings to gather further information? One can only hope.

  25. Tony Parrott says:

    Two issues that I believe should also be considered.
    1. $65k yearly membership fee. This could pay for another deputy, teacher or EMT. Not sure this is a good investment for county tax $$$. The ROI will probably never come out in our favor as tax payers.
    2. The loss of 50 local gobs. Aprox 10 full time and 40 part-time. Now I do understand if someone else purchases the property these people may lose their jobs but that is not a given. If the property remains a golf course they may be safe. Not sure I would want to be a supervisor voting to eliminate local jobs and spending money that could be better used somewhere else.

    Others who have commented have also brought up some good points to think this through. I’ll be contacting my supervisor to share my thoughts.

  26. I do not want to see the golf course go. for the last 10 years they have been a good customer of mine, buying thousands of dollars worth of materials. Even after the foreclosure last year, the finance company employed a management company to operate the course. The continued to be a good customer and paid their bills. They also paid taxes and handed paychecks to a lot of local people who work there. There are a number of local businesses who had the course as a customer.

    If the course gets destroyed, I’m out a good customer, making it harder for me to run my business in the county. We need jobs and business, not more parks.