The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Supporting the park runs in the family
THERE are many reasons it makes sense for Culpeper’s Greg Yates to serve on the board of the Shenandoah National Park Trust, a group that supports and raises funds for the park.
The 62-year-old Culpeper County businessman has been visiting, hiking and enjoying the wild beauty of Shenandoah since his father introduced him to it with a picnic at the Pinnacles there when the younger Yates was just 5 years old.
His business background and contacts make him a perfect member of a group that seeks to raise millions for projects at the park, ranging from rescue equipment at Old Rag to a possible re-envisioning of facilities at Loft Mountain.
But when I got a chance to meet the gregarious University of Richmond grad at his home off Sperryville Pike the other day, he produced one more connection that makes him a natural for the Shenandoah Trust.
It’s a donor’s certificate from Oct. 17, 1925, with his grandfather, Conner F. Yates, pledging $30 to “finance the purchase” of five acres of land for the Shenandoah National Park Association.
“People forget, but they had to raise the money to create the park,” Yates said from his back porch, where he can see the ridges of the park in the distance. “I’m proud my grandfather was one who gave to that. And back in 1925, $30 was serious money.” Serious money is what Yates and the 21 other member of the Trust’s board of trustees are mostly about.
“People don’t realize it, but with the budget cuts parks like Shenandoah have had to face in recent years, there isn’t money for many of the projects and needs the park has,” said Yates.
That’s where the SNPT comes in, seeking funding through foundations, individual gifts and bequests throughout the region and beyond.
The group also holds fundraising events such as a new one coming up Sept. 22, “The Shenandoah Scramble.” The idea is to offer folks an array of guided hikes in hopes of bringing people connected with the park back for a day or introducing newcomers to Shenandoah.
The fundraising part comes through a registration fee and a requirement for participating hikers to raise a minimum of $100—$200 per family—that will go to projects in the park.
“I’m looking at doing one of the more challenging hikes that day, a 7-miler,” said Yates, who said he routinely gets in Saturday or Sunday hikes at Shenandoah with a neighbor.
Yates and Susan R. Sherman, the trust’s executive director, hope that the scramble can become an annual fund-raising event. It will include a group breakfast, post-hike refreshments and a commemorative T–shirt.
Sherman noted that the trust, created in 2004 to support the needs of the park, has funded projects in fields such as natural and cultural resource protection, education, research, infrastructure repair and maintenance, and visitor services.
The work includes a major restoration of Skyline Drive’s Old Rag View Overlook, forest restoration and eradication of invasive plant species, GPS-enabled hike guides, and programs that make junior rangers of young visitors and teach all comers about topics such as climate change to air pollution in the park.
Yates and Sherman are excited about a project that could be the biggest the trust has tackled. It’s described as a major “re-envisioning” of the Loft Mountain area, to possibly include the first “LEED-certified environmentally sustainable park ranger contact station and indoor/outdoor meeting and educational space in the park.”
The project, still in the discussion stage with park officials, would require a multimillion-dollar fundraising campaign.
“It’s something Shenandoah needs, but not something there’s money in the park budget for,” said Sherman, who has degrees in environmental science and environmental education and 15 years of experience with nonprofit organizations.
Yates said he’s excited about that project and others, and does what he can to seek dollars and spread the word about the need to supplement funding for Shenandoah.
He said a key is getting people who don’t have a connection to Shenandoah to visit the park.
“Go and experience the wildlife, the wildflowers and beautiful natural surroundings and you’ll see why it’s so special,” he said. “And you can’t help but want to support it.”
Rob Hedelt: 540/374-5415