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.
“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.