Clarke County residents streamed into Enders Fire Hall Tuesday evening to hear the latest developments on the proposed Cool Springs Battlefield Park that is being considered by the Board of Supervisors. The deal being proposed to Clarke County would entail the Civil War Trust buying the Virginia National Golf Course property, then putting it into perpetual easement and donating it to the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA) to operate as a park. However, in order for the NVRPA to operate a park in Clarke County the Board of Supervisors would have to agree to join the Park Authority at an annual cost of 65K.
At the special meeting held in January at the Blue Ridge Fire Hall, residents of Shenandoah Retreat turned out in force to raise questions about the idea and the potential problems it could cause. That meeting provided representatives from NVRPA with the information they needed to formulate an operational plan for the proposed park. That plan was released last week and was the subject of Tuesday night’s presentation
“This project fits our mission,” Paul Gilbert from NVRPA said, “At the last meeting we listened very carefully and took notes about the concerns people were voicing and really gave our very best effort to try to address those concerns with an operating plan that will hopefully be a great success.”
Director of operations for NVRPA, Chris Pauley went over the plan the park authority has developed. “The input we received and our expertise are going to go hand in hand with the development of this park. We really tried to focus on the concerns and quite honestly they were valid. There were a lot of concerns out there and many of the things are addressed in the plan.”
A PDF of the plan can be downloaded here. It outlines a park that is oriented towards history, but also provides a family recreational area that includes river access for the public as well as the possibility of kayak and canoe rentals.
In his presentation, Mr Pauley focused his attention on several major areas of concern.
Security – The NVRPA stated emphatically that the park would be monitored 24-7 through the use of an off-site manager, park rangers, and night watch. Mr Pauley clarified that off-site management does not mean remote from other locations, but is merely a classification that means the manager is not exclusive to one location. Also, he reiterated that this would be a no alcohol park and that violations of park policy are class 4 misdemeanors.
Roads – Many concerns were voiced about the condition of Parker Lane which will provide access to the park. NVRPA offered to take on all of the currently needed road repairs, “We are going to address the road right away and it’s going to be on our dime.” Mr Pauley went on to say that after completing the needed repairs the NVRPA would meet its obligations to the ongoing maintenance and upkeep of the road.
Fire Safety – A fire in previous years that was a result of an attempted brush clearing operation went out of control and caused a forest fire in the Retreat. That incident had many residents concerned about fire safety in the park. Mr Pauley said this will be a no camping park with no fires allowed except for large events like jamborees.
Rest Rooms – Addressing concerns over facilities, the park authority plans to augment the existing rest room facilities at the clubhouse with portable toilets.
Retreat River Access – The NVRPA was clear that Retreat residents would maintain the same access to the river that they have always enjoyed.
When the session was opened to comments from the audience, reactions were mixed. However, unlike the previous meeting the majority of speakers Tuesday night spoke in favor of the park. They pointed to the opportunity this represents to preserve a historic site and maintain an open space with river access for the public.
Some speakers voiced concern that the proposed site was not actually a battlefield. Paul Gilbert from the NVRPA said that the battlefield encompassed both sides of the river and added that while the west side that is on the grounds of Holy Cross Abbey was off limits, the east side provides a perfect vista to view the battlefield on the western shore.
Other opponents of the park were adamant that the existing golf course was viable and would continue operations despite the property being in foreclosure. Mr Gilbert addressed this and said he had participated in a conference call with the property owner who said the course consistently loses money and that they did not have plans to continue operations.
Some were not openly opposed to the park but voiced concern over what the plans to return the land to condition of 1864 meant. Paul Gilbert responded later that those plans were not complete and would require additional research. He said it would certainly include some agriculture but pointed out that changes to the land would not be drastic and would be considerate of the existing trees and wildflowers.
As the meeting continued more and more speakers took the podium to voice their desire for the Board of Supervisors to move forward with the project.
George Ohrstrom, Chair of the Clarke County Planning Commission made an impassioned appeal during the public comment session saying, “I think this proposal to join the NVRPA is a good idea. I realize it is a serious decision that requires careful examination. There were many issues raised at the meeting in the Retreat last month and I believe the park authority has answered them adequately.” He went on to say, “$65K a year is a lot of money, I think however that we all need to look at this from a different perspective. Instead of focusing on this fee as a yearly obligation maybe we need to look at it as a down payment for our future. Thirty years from now open space for use as an historical interpretive park or a river front environmental education park will be a real asset for us.”
He also referenced several organizations in Clarke county who have volunteered ongoing funds toward the annual NVRPA membership fee.
Speakers from the Clarke County Historical Society and other heritage sites in the county also added their voices in support of the project.
After the meeting Supervisor David Weiss said he still had not heard many positive comments from his constituents who live in the district where the proposed park would be, but added, “A lot of people are coming up and saying that it is going in the right direction.”
The board set a next step to have a meeting for board members to discuss the project . That meeting will be open to the public and will be held on March 5th at 9:00 am at the county building.