As state lawmakers work on Virginia’s budget, a line in the document that would allow the state to accept donated land for a state park in Loudoun has been dropped from the senate version of the budget bill.
Governor Ralph Northam’s introduced budget bill this year included a line that would allow the state to accept land for a new state park planned in far northwestern Loudoun, near Neersville and Harpers Ferry. Loudoun’s representatives in the area are baffled as to how the line—which asks no money of the state—came to be deleted from the Senate budget bill.
“I know it’s been a major issue for me and Del. [Dave A.] LaRock (R-33) to get this passed, and so we were quite surprised when it fell out in negotiations,” said Sen. Richard H. Black (R-13), whose district includes the area of the possible future park.
“I will speculate that it only shows that on the senate side, everything—even accepting a gift—is in play when the wheeling and dealing and the trading starts,” said Del. Dave A. LaRock (R-33), whose district includes that area. “It’s not a pretty sight, it’s not what you want to hear.”
Neither serves on their respective chamber’s finance committee.
While the state park, for now, asks for no money from the state, taxpayer money has already been invested. In October 2018, Loudoun County supervisors agreed to pay the Bob and Dee Leggett Foundation $2.9 million for 280 acres for the park. The Leggett Foundation had already donated another 604 acres.
For now, the state would get a free park—the nonprofit Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship has agreed to keep managing the land, and the land already includes facilities like a trail network. However, as a state park, it also will come with some future costs to the state. 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.
LaRock and Black both said they are hopeful the final budget will include Loudoun’s future state park.
“I’m optimistic, but cautiously, because I really am baffled that it would be significant enough for someone to pull it out of the senate budget,” LaRock said. “Nobody’s signaled to me why they’ve done it.”
“I feel optimistic, but you never know with the budget how things will go,” Black said. “But I feel pretty optimistic that we will manage to get that reinserted.”
The project to bring a state park to Loudoun 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.
Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-27), who sits on the Senate Finance Committee, and Sen. Emmet W. Hanger Jr. (R-24), who co-chairs that committee, have not yet returned requests for comment.