Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed state budget allows the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation to accept donated land in northwestern Loudoun County, clearing the way for a new state park after years of hurdles and complicated negotiations.
The project has been underway since at least 2012. Then-Gov. Bob McDonnell announced plans for the park in northwestern Loudoun just before leaving office in 2014. Since then, efforts have focused on transferring land on the Blue Ridge to the state government.
“We have dealt with numerous people, and everybody’s been kind of pushing or pulling in the same direction to get it done,” said Supervisor Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin), who has led efforts in the county government to create the state park. “It just takes so many moving parts. It takes many people involved, and we’re thankful for everybody that’s hung in there with us while we were working to make this happen.”
The Bob and Dee Leggett Foundation donated 604 acres near Neersville to the Old Dominion Land Conservancy, which then donated to the property to the Department of Conservation and Recreation in 2015. In October, the Leggett Foundation sold an additional 280 acres for $2.9 million; the county government paid for the property, but the Old Dominion Land Conservancy is holding the title until it can be donated to the state.
The park has not formally been named, but the state refers to it as Sweet Run, for a waterway running through it.
Attorney and former state delegate Randy Minchew, who has worked for the Leggett Foundation to make the complicated land deal go through, said closing on the last stretch of land is expected Dec. 27. If the state budget line authorizing accepting the land survives the General Assembly and is signed into law, it will go into effect July 1, 2019.
Before accepting the land, the state must complete due diligence on the property, which Minchew said the county prepared for by doing painstakingly thorough investigation on the land.
“There’s no way that the commonwealth will be as very precise and exacting as the county has been,” Minchew said. “And because of that, I think there will be no problem when the commonwealth does its due diligence to accept this property into the state park system.”
It is also a prime spot for collaboration with national parks because of its location near the Appalachian Trail, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, and the C&O Canal. Minchew said those discussions have already begun.
And he said the park has some of the best fly fishing and hiking around.
The state estimates the park needs $14.3 million for development, $321,200 in startup costs for tractors, mowers, and other equipment, and $754,311 in annual staffing and operating costs.
But for now, it can get the park for free—the nonprofit Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship would continue to manage the land.
Minchew said he expects to see some operational funding for the park.