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HEDELT: Campers love Caledon sites

Zephyr Headley and Greg Welker were at Caledon State Park in King George County on Friday to hear Gov. Terry McAuliffe and a host of others praise and dedicate the new paddle-in campground.

Neither needed the dignitaries’ glowing remarks to appreciate the virtues of the six campsites along the Potomac River shoreline.

Headley and other members of Boy Scout Troop 191 of King George had set up their tents and other camping gear in one of the 20- by 30-foot camping pads Thursday night. They reveled in the seclusion and natural beauty of the riverfront spot, which is accessible by hiking in or arriving by canoe or kayak.

Mother Nature made the visit even more memorable by sending a deluge their way just after lights-out.

Welker, a member of the Chesapeake Paddler’s Association, said 10 kayaking members of his group had been the first paying customers in the campground the previous weekend, having paddled the 12 miles from Chapel Point State Park in Maryland to stay there.

“It really is a wonderful spot, just the sort of river access our members are looking for,” said the kayaker from Bowie, Md. “It would be nice if they could develop sites like this at intervals up and down the Potomac, as they have on the Patuxent in Maryland.”

The new campsites—board-enclosed pads of sand for tents, complete with fire pits, picnic tables and nearby portable toilets—may not look like much on their own. But to McAuliffe and officials representing everything from the National Park Service to the Friends of Caledon, the primitive campground is a symbol of what can happen on the Potomac and other Virginia waterways.

Simply put, it’s a way to tap into the natural beauty of Virginia’s woodlands, wetlands and waterways in a way that expands enjoyment and the state’s economy.

Much was made by Friday’s speakers about the fact that the new campsite is part of three Virginia trails: the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail and the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail.

That’s all well and good, as those entities exist to help share history and expand the use of sites connected to those topics. But the new campsite is one of the first tangible additions hereabouts connected to the trails, something new that will make it possible for folks to stop and see one of the trails’ jewels, Caledon State Park.

During the campsite’s dedication, McAuliffe noted that Caledon’s 2,579 acres offer the sort of natural beauty and diversity—with more than 500 species of plants—that Virginia can use in boosting tourism, something he said is critical to helping diversify the state’s economy.

Decked out in shirtsleeves and hiking boots, the State Promoter in Chief said he’d awakened that morning to a stunning riverfront vista at Belle Isle State Park in the Northern Neck’s Lancaster County.

He repeated a promise to visit every one of Virginia’s state parks before his term ends, something that had park staffers and nature lovers in the crowd smiling.

Nina Cox, the manager at Caledon, noted that the park’s master plan calls for other campsites in the future, probably with some sort of limited access, to continue the careful transition from natural area to full state park.

She said that as planning for the trails and river access in the region moves forward, it would be neat to create extended paddle trips through overnight stops in spots like Leesylvania State Park in Prince William County, Widewater State Park and Crow’s Nest Natural Area Preserve in Stafford County, and other state lands on the Potomac River.

Welker pointed out that trips like that have more economic impact than people realize.

“While we might stay in spots like Caledon and Chapel Point [State Park, in Maryland] for some of the trip, we’ll typically take the boats out and spend a night at a B&B at the end of a trip, finding a local restaurant for dinner,” he said. “By then, you want a real bed and a dinner someone else cooked.”

One member of Friday’s crowd noted that the new campground helps the evolution of Caledon, moving it from a natural area mainly concerned with protecting wildlife to a park with more public access.

“It’s going from an eagle park to a river park,” said Don Baugh of Environmental Strategies, though that didn’t stop a bald eagle from performing a fly-by during the governor’s speech.

He took credit for it, making the day a winner for eagles, paddlers and politicians alike.

Rob Hedelt: 540/374-5415;