The Third Battle of Cool Spring – A Brief History

On July 17th and 18th, 1864, Clarke County, Virginia hosted what has come to be known as the Battle of Cool Spring, one of several American Civil War military engagements included in the Valley Campaigns of 1864. The battle was a Confederate victory however both sides suffered similar levels of casualties; 422 Union troops fell compared to 397 Confederacy troops.

The current Virginia National Golf Club has been proposed as the site of Cool Spring Battlefield Park - Photo Edward Leonard

The Second Battle of Cool Spring ensued in the late 1980’s when a land developer purchased the portion of Cool Spring battlefield site located on the eastern side of the Shenandoah River. The developer, Golf Links Inc., asked the County to approve the site for residential development, an eighteen-hole golf course and clubhouse facilities. Soon thereafter Clarke County found itself at the center of an international media storm as environmentalists expressing concerns about pesticide and fertilizer harm to the Shenandoah River and Chesapeake Bay pitted themselves against the Clarke County Board of Supervisors and nearby residents who supported the planned commercial development.

Although the development plan that was ultimately approved allowed the golf course operation to move forward, the business operation soon began a long a series of transfers and financial difficulties that raised questions about the suitability of the site for a financially viable golf course:

Date Deed Book Action
9/27/84 DB 158/1 Shenandoah Retreat to.Steven Damato, et al
1/9/86 DB 166/70 Steven Damato, et al to Mark Vogel, et al
7/6/88 DB 188/471 Mark Vogel, et al to Mark Heacock, et al Golflinks
6/4/96 DB 263/34 Mark Heacock et al to Virginia National Golf Club Inc. (default of debt payment)
2/6/02 DB 344/458 Virginia National Golf Club Inc. to Patriot Development Group, LLC
8/15/06 DB 464/481 Patriot Development Group LLC to Virginia National Golf Club, LLC
10/26/09 DB 515/341 Virginia National.Golf Course to SPE Holdings, Inc (Petition for Reorganization under US Bankruptcy Code)’

The Third Battle of Cool Spring

In December 2011, Clarke County was approached by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA) director Paul Gilbert. Gilbert said that NVRPA was working with the Civil War Trust – an organization dedicated to preserving American Civil War battlefield sites – to consider purchasing the 194-acre Virginia National Golf Course and placing the property in permanent conservation easement with the Department of Historic Resources. Gilbert said that the Civil War Trust then planned to donate the property to NVRPA which in turn would create and manage the proposed Cool Spring Civil War Battlefield Park.

However, in order to make the plan a reality, Clarke County would need to join Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. Cost to the County taxpayers would be $65,000 annually.

The first shots of the Third Battle of Cool Spring had been fired.

Proposed Park Profile

The proposed Cool Spring Civil War Battlefield Park site would cover 194 acres paralleling two miles of the Shenandoah River beginning from Virginia Route 7 to the West Virginia state line. The proposed site has existing road access from Virginia Route 7.

Civil War Trust and National Park Service experts say that the Battle of Cool Spring was a significant battlefield with unusual scenic and historic value. The Civil War Sites Advisory Commission Report says that the site is one of 384 principal battlefields identified nationwide as worthy of preservation. Across the river from the proposed park lies Holy Cross Abbey’s sprawling 1200-acres where most of the actual fighting took place in 1864. Thanks to the monastic community’s stewardship, much of the battlefield land has been preserved in open space.

The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority plans to integrate the four miles of paved paths and existing buildings into the proposed park’s infrastructure. Combined with the current open space status of the monastery on the western side of the river, the 184-acre park purchase would ensure that nearly the entire Cool Spring battle theater was preserved.

Land Use Considerations

Clarke County has long supported open space preservation through the goals and objectives of the County’s Comprehensive Plan. According to County planning staff, the Cool Spring Battlefield Park fulfills several long-standing land use goals outlined in the Comprehensive Plan;

  • Protecting the Shenandoah River and associated flood plain;
  • Restoring, preserving and popularizing local historic resource with both local and national significance
  • Enhancing economic development by utilizing the natural and historic resources of the County to attract tourism and businesses.

Site of proposed Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority Cool Spring Battlefield Park (Click to enlarge)

County planners also say that the proposed park is consistent with Clarke County Parks and Recreation Master Plan goal of providing passive recreation areas to County citizens and that the annual cost – about $5 per citizen – is a modest expense in exchange for gaining a well-managed park.

County officials also see the proposed park as a way to meet the County’s soon-to-be- imposed Environmental Protection Agency total maximum daily load (TMDL) limits for reducing pollution flows into the Chesapeake Bay. County officials say that elimination of the golf course and replacing it with riparian buffers and reforestation could address as much as five percent of the County’s TMDL reduction requirements. Much of the responsibility for achieving TMDL levels currently rests with the County’s agrarian interests.

County planners have also pointed to the proposed park as a high quality local attraction which will contribute to increased tourism and business development through sustained increased tax revenue and support for existing businesses.

Local Concerns

Many County residents have voiced opinions both “for” and “against” a regional park on the banks of the Shenandoah River based on initial information presented by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. However, subsequent questions generated about the day-to-day operational challenges of operating the park have yet to be answered. Some of the issues raised include:

–       Staffing:  Local residents have expressed concerns about potential trespassing, litter, fires, camping and criminal behavior at the park, especially after hours. NVRPA has not said definitively whether permanent staff would be stationed at the park.

–       Road Maintenance and Access:  Because the existing access road from Virginia Route 7 is privately maintained, the County has limited authority on any final road maintenance agreement between Shenandoah Retreat residents and the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. Concerns have also been raised regarding road maintenance on Parker Lane and limiting access to other Shenandoah Retreat roads.  

–       Future Withdrawal from the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority: At Friday’s Clarke County Planning Commission meeting, one Planning Commissioner said that state law does allow for a county to withdraw from a regional authority provided that the authority does not suffer financial hardship resulting from the withdrawal. The official speculated that because NVRPA is already well funded, any future withdrawal by Clarke County would not cause a financial burden. However, the official also added that it would be unwise for the County to join the NVRPA with any plans to withdraw in the future.

–       Litter: Concerns regarding litter and trash removal have been expressed with questions about how often trash will be removed and who will be responsible for litter cleanup at the park.  

–       Fire Safety: Residents have expressed concerns over camp fires and other unmonitored activity at the park site. Concerns have also been expressed about the impact and cost of additional fire calls on local volunteer fire companies.  

–       Camping: Concerns about over-night in the park have been expressed, although, NVRPA director Gilbert has said that overnight camping would not be allowed at the park.

–       River Access: Although Shenandoah Retreat residents have a legally protected easement that guarantees access to the river even if the area is converted to a park, concerns still exist about how the boat launching and beach access would be handled.  

The $65,000 Question

One significant issue that cannot be answered by NVRPA is whether the park’s $65K annual fee is the best use of taxpayer funding given the uncertainties associated with the state and federal economies. In order to decide the matter, some residents have raised the idea of a special public referendum about the park that would put the decision in the hands of voters rather than the Clarke County Board of Supervisors.

In the meantime, County officials have been considering potential funding approaches that would reallocate existing tax dollars to cover the costs. Although specific budget allocation amounts have not yet been proposed, a portion of the $65K price tag could come from several sources including money currently designated for promotion of economic development, funds set aside for use by the Clarke County Easement Authority, as well as a portion of the funds set aside for use by Clarke County Parks and Recreation for capital improvements to the Park.

Discussions have also been conducted with the Town of Berryville for financial support from an occupancy and meals tax.  One county official said that it is possible that one or more private groups with interest in the park could offer additional financial support to the County to help offset the annual NVRPA membership fee.

Carpe Diem or Go-Slow?

Nearly everyone in Clarke County seems to agree that the proposed Cool Spring Battlefield Park holds potential for the County. The problem is that some see the park’s potential as “positive” while others see the potential as “negative”. A recent public information meeting held on January 26th at the Blue Ridge Fire Hall was filled to capacity. During the session citizens heard the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority’s plan and in return raised specific issues that NVRPA is expected to address in time for the Board of Supervisors to review at February 13th work session.

Depending on the outcome of the February 13th session, an additional public information meeting could be held as early as February 21st.


  1. Tony Parrott says:

    “Enhancing economic development by utilizing the natural and historic resources of the County to attract tourism and businesses” So how many people will have to visit Clarke and spend money to make up the $25k in lost tax revenue and pick up the $65K in park fees?

    “a portion of the $65K price tag could come from several sources including money currently designated for promotion of economic development” Economic development? Only if the county opens a bait shop.

    “that the annual cost – about $5 per citizen – is a modest expense in exchange for gaining a well-managed park” If you are going to take $5 from me for the park then make it $25 and give $20 to the schools; that a necessity.

    With so many needs in our county how can we justify the spending of tax dollars on a luxury? Does anyone really believe this park will attract tourism and promote economic development? This will be open access to the river and nothing more. I understand the good intentions around preserving local history but this isn’t a necessity and could turn into a burden. Look under the RT. 50 and RT 7 not to mention the river access problems that have occurred at Watermelon Park; remember this is FREE access. If we move forward with the park then we should budget for another full time deputy now.

  2. Dave Zuleger says:

    Put the 65K to better use! It is not going to attract revenue that would offset the yearly funding. If we have the Tax Payer $ to spend, then spend it on the school’s or existing Clarke County Parks infrastructure. Like I said in a previous post (some don’t support it and that’s fine), the HS Baseball/Softball Fields and the Chet Hobert Park Baseball/Softball Fields need lights! Let the kids have some night games!

    • Clarke Co Annie says:

      Under the $65,000 Question, second paragraph; funds set aside for use by the Clarke County Easement Authority, as well as a portion of the funds set aside for use by Clarke County Parks and Recreation for capital improvements to the park.
      At a couple of the meetings county staff stated that the Park & Rec has said they would allocate $20,000 from their budget toward this project.
      It was not clearly stated if this would occur each year from now on however, if you as set on new lights or other improvement to the Park as you have stated, it may be worth a call and discover how they can “throw” such funds around

  3. I agree Dave…It would be nice to have the back fields lighted. Has anyone ever looked in to an estimated cost on the price for lighting those fields? Just curious as to how much it would actually cost to get this job done?

  4. knowswherethebodiesareburied says:

    It’s all about land use and the TMDL for the county.It’s a feather in someone’s cap and nothing more.I continue to hear about the pollution level created by the golf course. Has ANYONE seen the data to confirm this statement or is an easy way to create doubts in the citizens minds ? I don’t see an effort to fence the river from the livestock that spend hours upon hours milling around in the river during the summer months
    Who decides if Clarke’s withdrawing from the NVRPA creates a hardship ? If it’s NVRPA, guess what that outcome will be ? It was also stated that the county should not become a member of the NVRPA if they think they may want to withdraw in the future. Sounds like the Mafia to me,a lifetime membership no matter what ?
    The planners also pointed to the park as a high quality local attraction which will contribute to increased tourism and tax revenue .The so called tourist dollars they say that will this park will create will be spent where ? Is there a plan for new hotels,restaurants and such that we are not aware of ? We all know where those dollars will be spent,Winchester,Frederick and Loudoun Counties.It will take the park years to approach the 19,000 visitors to the golf course in a SINGLE year.The vast majority of which come from neighboring counties.

    • Yes, what the cattle and dairy farms produce end up in the river, but so do all the fertilizers, pesticides and whatever else the golf course uses. At this location it all goes downhill into the river, no avoiding it. Choose your poison.

      • knowswherethebodiesareburied says:

        Do you or anyone think for one moment that any golf course will run the risk of the EPA’s wrath ? First and foremost products used in the industry are biodegradable. First year turf management students know that turf filters pesticides,fertilizers etc.When looking at the west side of the river all that I see are muddy banks that will prevent zero from reaching the river.

        • Biodegradable? That’s your argument? Everything coming out of the cattle is “biodegradable”. Doesn’t mean I want it going into the rivers. Should our septic systems run into the river? (I know Berryville’s sewer water does)
          Yes, first year turf management students are brainwashed by the industry. You must be a big time golf guy.

          • knowswherethebodiesareburied says:

            Yes golf person, but also not blinded by the half truths that are being spouted from folks with out supplying facts to back up their claims.If I recall correctly a professional turf management person questioned the facts at the meeting at BRVFD and was treated rudely for having the nerve to question the natural resource manager.

            Once again this is not about the golf course, it’s about the ZERO ROI of $65,000.00. Did I notice in today’s edition of the local paper something about a $1.5 million shortfall ?

            The real brainwashing is taking place with the citizens of Clarke and the line is forming now for the kool aid.

    • The park is probably a bad idea given the current economic situation, but you’re embellishing numbers friend. Assuming open playing time from April 1 until the end of October, that’s some 22 foursomes per DAY each day to reach your 19,000 figure. The place is a ghost town during the week, and I’ve seen weekends where there weren’t 20 tee times booked the whole day.

      • knowswherethebodiesareburied says:

        Those numbers are far from embellished my friend.Let’s just say that number comes from the horses mouth.There were many days with well over 150 rounds and some days with as many as 200 rounds .20 tee times for the day would be 80 players, just short of your magic number of 88.

        • I assume that when you say “rounds” you’re calculating on a per-golfer basis, rather than on a per tee-time basis (seeing that I used “tee times” with the assumption of 4 per time in my post)? Otherwise your math doesn’t pass the smell test. And don’t give us the double-teeing argument – for crying out loud many of the posters here have actually been to the course and seen you’re overwhelming crowd on any given weekday and most weekends. Yep… tough to get a parking space.

          Let’s assume that you tee’d them up at 8 minute intervals and on the high end you could go 11 hours a day, and on the low end you could go 9 hours a day. Then, based on April-October play capacity is somewhere between 67 and 82 tee times per day. And you’re bragging about 38 tee times on a good day, and 50 as exceptional?

          Seems you’re well short of capacity – on the very best days, and miserably short of capacity on what are probably the majority of open days. Maybe, just maybe this is why the boondoggle has failed to turn the corner multiple times, and the current owner (unarguably a party that would have a vested interest in keeping it as a golf course) sees it as more financially viable to sell the property to a historical preservation group?

          The park concept as it has been described is fatally flawed, agreed. But for goodness sake, give up on the golf course as savior rhetoric. We get it… you’re an employee and want to keep your job. Admit it, move on, and good luck at a course that’s suited to be profitable. This one isn’t, wasn’t, and won’t ever be.

          • Curious – the course promotes themselves as the “site of the 1864 Battle of Cool Spring”. So which is it course-proponents… battle fought across the river, or next to the driving range site?

            And for cripe’s sake, correct the spelling errors on your course home page.

          • knowswherethebodiesareburied says:

            WOW !
            Your rebuttal seems to be directed at me more than the real issues at hand.I must have struck a nerve.

            Not sure how my employment has come in to play but NO I am not an employee of Virginia National.If I were, wouldn’t fighting to keep Textron from the sale of the course be career suicide?

            What does happen to the 40 plus employees who do count on the course for income ? The majority of which I have to assume live in Clarke County.Won’t that affect the dollars spent in the county ? Oh wait, all the tourists that will be drawn to the county will cover those lost dollars.

            The number of jobs lost is equal to the number of visitors the park will see in 2 weeks ! If you doubt that number, the acclaimed MR Gilbert (NVRPA) stated the park that most resembles the proposed one had a whopping 1,000 paid visitors.If each one of those visitors spend $900.00 you just replaced the lost $90,000.00. Think that will happen ?

            The 38 and 50 tees times both exceed your magical number of 88 players per day.Is the course at capacity? No, very few are nor could any course sustain capacity 7 days a week due to wear and tear.Most courses and again I assume Virginia National does the same start tee times at 6:30 AM till dark during the summer months. That surpasses the 11 hours a day theory you speak of.Using your 11 hour plan though would require 8 golfers per hour to reach that magical 88.Even with out carpooling that’s far from a full parking lot.However each WILL spend money when in the county.Once the river access is free the parking lot might be full but the key world in there is FREE.

          • knowswherethebodiesareburied says:

            Sorry , $90.00 per visit .

  5. I would probably venture to say that any tourist that may come to visit this park will most likely come across the mountain—visit the park—and then scoot on back across the mountain! Never once crossing their mind to come visit Berryville!

  6. Lets see in the Budget Funding article Feb 1 the Department of Social Services said their caseloads increased by about 43% over the past four years. People are losing their homes to foreclosure still. The price of gas is said to be over 4 dollars a gallon by May.
    The price of electric went up along with fuel oil to heat your house is over 3.60 a gallon.
    The real estate taxes on most homes have almost doubled from 6 years ago in Clarke and most houses you couldn’t get what is owed on them if you wanted to but, lets make the people of Clarke County pay more in taxes to cover this 90,000 adventure. And don’t forget about the 40 people that will be out of a job and standing the unemployment line.

  7. Clarke Co Annie says:

    And it’s not a $65,000 question. It’s almost $90,000 as the taxes paid by the Golf Co will not be paid in the future by the NVRPA.

    Also, there is NO county meals tax.

    One county official said that it is possible that one or more private groups with interest in the park could offer additional financial support to the County to help offset the annual NVRPA membership fee. Interested? In a Park with no management, staff or restrooms? With the economic times being as it is… many have gotten “hit” with lower returns and those that could before are cutting back.

    You can’t depend on possibilities or maybes. It would have to be in the County Budget. A line item to itself. One that will not have ANY return on the investment. Except in higher taxes to all Clarke residents.

    And still…what is the “get out option”? You can bet it does not come with get out free card. Then, those who do not have an interest at all in Clarke except the Park are in total control. What happens then?

    Back up BOS… please, look at the whole picture! Don’t make a decision that will leave us all going down the river without a paddle!

  8. I’m surprised that for the cost of a Happy Meal – $5 per citizen per year – that people would be against preserving a piece of history and conserving a natural resource, while providing a place where people can learn about Clarke County’s history and enjoy the river and mountains.

    • Tony Parrott says:

      Your right, $5 per citizen for another teacher, deputy, social worker, etc isn’t much. No one takes issue with having a park or preserving local history. The issue is it’s a luxury not a necessity. There is a school board meeting tonight where they are going to talk about budget and part of the conversation will be the elimination of middle school sports. Something that over 150 local children take part in every year. $65k would more than cover this expense and it’s for the benefit of local children. Heck, just this morning I heard the county computer system is outdated and EOL. That’s to the tune of $600K.
      With the county finances in shambles how can anyone justify a luxury?

  9. StoneBroke says:

    I know it is getting late in the game…but if CDN could post something about this issue….that would be great….Help spread the word!


    It has come to my attention that the elimination of all J-WMS sports will be under review at the School Board Budget meeting tomorrow night. I urge all of you, whether your children have participated in the past, are currently participating, or have children waiting to join the middle school athletes, to show your support and attend the meeting.

    Over the past three years, over 150 athletes a year have benefited from the sports program at Johnson-Williams. A majority of these athletes are competing or will compete in high school sports at CCHS. Being part of a sports team builds confidence, encourages teamwork, and provides an organized, safe enviroment to learn, exercise, and compete with same-age peers.

    If you cannot attend, please write to your school board representative and let them know the personal benefits that your child has found through participation in the middle school sports program.

    Here’s the school board information. The meeting is scheduled for 7pm, Tuesday, February 7th in the CCHS Library. Come and support your child’s choice to compete as a Cougar!

    Berryville Voting District Millwood Voting District
    Mr. Jim Brinkmeier
    309 W Main St
    Berryville, VA 22611
    Mrs. Barbara P. Lee
    28 Valley Springs Ln.
    Bluemont, VA 20135

    Buckmarsh Voting District Russell Voting District
    Dr. Elizabeth Leffel
    309 W Main St.
    Berryville, VA 22611
    Mrs. Janet Creager Alger
    400 Kimble Rd.
    Berryville, VA 22611

    White Post Voting District
    Mr. Charles ‘Chip’ Schutte
    PO BOx 324
    Millwood, VA 22646

    Thank you so much for all of your support!

  10. Shenandoah: Voices of the River
    Nearly two years in the making, this 52-minute documentary film examines the history, ecology, and beauty of this treasured natural resource—and the potentially devastating impacts on its future. With TDP founder George Ohrstrom as Executive Producer, and just one of many passionate “voices” to tell her story, “Shenandoah” comes to life through the masterful lens of documentary cameraman George Patterson and crew.

    To view the 10 minute trailer: