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HEDELT: Campsites are great, but parks need more

TODAY’S column starts with thoughts that popped up while I attended last week’s dedication of a new low-impact, paddle-in campsite in Caledon State Park in King George County.

The dedication was quite a neat affair, with members of a county Boy Scout troop camping on one of the sandy pads, Gov. Terry McAuliffe on hand to speak and cut a ribbon and enough federal and state employees to field football squads.

That’s not meant as a dig against either the new campground or the event.

It’s a great addition to Caledon, something that will boost the park’s use without overrunning the pristine natural area with cars and RVs.

A ceremony was a great idea and well worth the effort. But as I watched official after official queue up to extol the virtues of the $11-per-night campsites and the role expanded tourism needs to play in a diversified state economy, a part of me thought, “Wait a second.”

Here’s a platoon of supporters and officials going into full celebratory mode over what probably didn’t require an outlay of more than $10,000 in state funds.

This in a state where there hasn’t been a parks bond issue in 12 years—they had been coming every 10—where parks such as Widewater and the Middle Peninsula need funding to move forward and where few parks have anywhere near the employees they’re authorized for.

It’s the same state where new visitor centers are built in state parks such as Westmoreland and Belle Isle, but then go years with cavernous parts of those visitor center buildings empty because there’s no state funding for displays and exhibits.

I’m not someone who thinks government spending is the answer to everything. But I have watched for decades as state parks, the environment, arts and other so-called “nonessential programs” get the short end of the stick for so long that the practice has become business as usual.

The current state budget crisis doesn’t bode well for changes anytime soon.

But wouldn’t it be nice one day soon to go to an event like last week’s to celebrate great new facilities at Widewater or Crow’s Nest?

Or maybe even the state taking over a well-managed and much-appreciated hiking and biking trail right there in King George?

I’ve heard rumblings that a well-known private institution is looking at a way to step up and help the parks upgrade their visitor centers and displays.

More on that if and when it becomes a reality.

STEALING THE SPOTLIGHT

I’m glad that the sesquicentennial of the Civil War has given history lovers here and across the country opportunities to explore their interest in the subject for the past few years.

The 150th anniversary made it possible for the National Park Service and a host of groups to expand knowledge of the critical importance of battles fought in and all around Fredericksburg as their particular anniversaries came up.

That’s why it feels so wrong that an effort has been launched to have a re-enactment here of the Civil War battle of Appomattox Courthouse and Lee’s subsequent surrender, during the same period when that will be happening in Appomattox.

Two re-enactors have asked Spotsylvania officials for financial support to launch this sort of re-enactment in the county.

And they say part of the reason for doing the re-enactment here—something that could truly hurt the event there were the events really happened—is that coming to Spotsylvania Courthouse would be a shorter drive for many re-enactors, especially those in Northern Virginia.

Gee, I wonder how folks here would have felt if organizers in Lorton or Manassas had decided to stage re-enactments there of the battles of Chancellorsville or Spotsylvania Courthouse—over the same time period when re-enactments of those battles were happening here?

I don’t imagine they’d have been happy.

Rob Hedelt: 540/374-5415; rhedelt@freelancestar.com

 

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