The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
State Parks critic now on oversight board
BY CHELYEN DAVIS
The governor has appointed to the board overseeing state parks a campground owner who wants to limit state park offerings and raise their fees.
Bill Small, who runs Small Country Campground in Louisa County, was the driving force behind legislation in the 2012 General Assembly that would have required state parks to raise their camping fees at or above the fees charged at nearby private campgrounds.
Last week, Gov. Bob McDonnell appointed Small to a four-year term on the Board of Conservation and Recreation, which oversees—among other things—the state parks and their campgrounds.
During the legislative session, Small said that state parks were unfairly competing with private campgrounds, undercutting them with low fees and offering comparable hookups to attract large RVs, rather than just primitive camping spaces. He said state parks don’t pay taxes and have an unfair advantage over privately-run campgrounds.
Small got Sen. Bryce Reeves, R–Spotsylvania, and Sen. Tom Garrett, R–Louisa, along with Del. Peter Farrell, R–Henrico, to sponsor legislation in the 2012 legislative session that required state parks to avoid competition by setting their fees at or above the mean fee charged by private campgrounds in the area.
The bills also would have barred state parks from expanding new camping areas unless they could show that the nearby private campgrounds were at capacity.
The legislation was opposed by members of the Virginia Association of Parks and the Friends of Lake Anna State Park. Virginia Association of Parks president Johnny Finch said at the time that state parks are under-funded and that the state shouldn’t require them to raise their rates to funnel more business toward private enterprise.
Early in the session, Farrell withdrew his version of the bill, prompting Small to send him a letter accusing him of caving to “pressure from those socialist leeches that want FREE and SUBSIDIZED camping.”
Small’s letter also referred to “anti-business pukes” who want more facilities and amenities at state parks at taxpayer expense. And he criticized park volunteers, who he said “volunteer a few hours each month at state parks so they can camp free all summer.”
According to a person who answered the phone at Small’s campground, Small is currently on vacation out of state and unavailable for comment.
Asked about Small’s appointment to the DCR board, McDonnell spokesman Jeff Caldwell said in a written response that McDonnell “believes that Mr. Small, as the owner of a private campground, will be an important voice on the board and we have confidence that he will display the temperament necessary to be a successful board member.”
Reeves and Garrett withdrew their bill later in the session, after the director of the Department of Conservation and Recreation promised to study the issue.
In a letter to parks workers and volunteers after the bills failed, state parks Director Joe Elton said the bills “represent a profound misunderstanding” of how the state park system plans its facilities and sets its fees.
Elton wrote that the state parks in Virginia currently charge higher fees than parks in neighboring states or national parks in Virginia, and that campers expect camping fees in state parks to be affordable.