Although it remains unclear when the first nature enthusiasts will be exploring Virginia’s newest state park in northwestern Loudoun, the county’s political and business leaders are already looking forward to the benefits the park will have beyond its own boundaries.
The 600 acres of parkland was transferred to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation last month. The park plan, first laid out by Gov. Bob McDonnell in his final days in office, envisions an ultimate growth to 1,500 acres, including two Civil War battle sites along the Blue Ridge. The next step is for state park leaders to develop a master plan for the property, which will be the first state park to be developed in the county.
Local leaders see a lot of possibilities.
“The park is a great way to preserve the rural, historic and scenic character of western Loudoun while boosting our rural economy and improving residents’ quality of life for generations to come,” said Supervisor Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge).
“It will bring people to the county, to various trails. So you can hook up to Harpers Ferry and the Potomac Heritage Trail along the Potomac, and to the Appalachian Trail,” said Supervisor Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin), an equally enthusiastic supporter.
Higgins anticipates a big boost to the county’s tourism efforts, and to its wineries, breweries and bed-and-breakfasts—not just in western Loudoun, but throughout the county.
Hillsboro Mayor Roger Vance is excited about the opportunities afforded by the park—especially in light of the town’s efforts to grow as a business and agricultural hub for northwest Loudoun.
“I think there’s real potential for expanding the kind of footprint we want,” Vance said.
For example, there’s a plan to operate the town-owned Old Stone School as an information and tourism center. Vance said his small town could serve as a gateway to the park, with town businesses helping prepare tourists interested in hiking and exploring nature. “We can be a part of that experience, giving information, or outfitting people. It gives us another opportunity to service this community,” he said.
Hillsboro Councilwoman Amy Marasco Newton and Town Treasurer Alta Jones operate bed-and-breakfast inns, and see the possibilities for their guests.
“The state park will be an amazing asset for Loudoun,” Marasco Newton said. “It provides unique accessibility to nature … and will be quite the attraction for tourists.”
“My guests are always doing some sort of physical activity—hiking and biking as well as tourist things. They’re very interested in the park,” Jones said.
Already Hillsboro leaders are looking beyond the park’s borders, envisioning a regional network of trails that can take hikers and bikers to a wide variety of points of interests.
“They can connect that land with other parcels, and walk to the Potomac River,” Jones said. She foresees trail spurs that could connect area wineries, such as Breaux, Doukénie and Hillsborough, to town. “You could go from location to location, walking and biking, and avoid Rt. 9,” she said.
Leaders in nearby Lovettsville also see benefits to connecting to their town, as well as reinforcing the commitment to protect the rural area, according to Councilman James McIntyre.
“I’m excited to welcome this park to our area and I think it will be a wonderful addition to the outdoor opportunities we already enjoy here,” he said. “I hope the creation of this park strengthens our resolve to adhere to this shared vision as we face increased pressure to alter the landscape.”
Old 690 Brewery co-owner Ronda Powell is an enthusiastic supporter of the state park. She has a background in parks management and said the opportunity to preserve land and showcase its beauty is a win for everyone.
“We always enjoy talking with everyone that walks through our door. We love knowing where they come from, where they are headed, and we always offer suggestions on things to see and do,” Powell said.
“To be able to offer them an opportunity to see a state park so nearby is exciting.”
The same goal—of providing enticing activities for guests—is shared by Middleburg’s Salamander Resorts & Hotels President Prem Devadas.
“Our guests are looking for unique and attractive places,” Devadas said, noting the state park has potential to be a tremendous asset to the county and the resort’s nature-oriented customers. The park could also be a good fit for guests who like to ride horses, he said.
Businesses that already serve customers looking to enjoy the region’s rivers, forests and hiking trails expect to see a boost in demand as well.
Melanie Koziak, marketing manager for Harper’s Ferry Adventure Center, which is a stone’s throw from the new park, notes that the thriving outdoor recreational company already attracts visitors from all around the metropolitan area, including many from Maryland.
The company is swamped in the summer, with visitors lining up for its tree-top zip line, its ropes course, and its river rafting. Many stay at their campground before taking in a history lesson at Harper’s Ferry or shopping at the Leesburg Premium Outlets.
“We have a lot of people who come for the weekend, and they ask ‘where can I go on a hike,’” Koziak said, adding they’re often directed to Maryland Heights Trail in Harper’s Ferry federal park.
Soon, Koziak can point them to Loudoun’s yet-to-be named state park.