Conservation Group Works to Boost Sleeter Lake Park Popularity

After decades of planning, the Town of Round Hill opened Sleeter Lake Park to visitors last year. Now, area volunteers are

working to expand the outdoor offerings at the 11-acre property.

Friends of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a nonprofit organization that raises awareness of the many threats to the Blue Ridge Mountains, has been working through its Friends of Sleeter Lake Park subcommittee to add recreational amenities to the lakefront park to make it an even more popular recreational hotspot. To do that, its members are collaborating with various conservation and preservation organizations and working to create a land plan that calls for many more park amenities.

The Town of Round Hill opened Sleeter Lake Park in August 2018 after nearly three decades of planning. Since then, residents have enjoyed passive recreational activities including catch-and-release fishing, picnicking and boating. While the park offers those amenities from March 1 to Nov. 1 each year, it’s still lacking a bit in the offerings it has the potential to provide.

That’s why Friends of the Blue Ridge Mountains is taking the lead on creating paths, a picnic pavilion, overflow parking, a welcome kiosk, a wetland viewing platform, fishing stops, additional plantings, grassland and more. Already, it has planted 21 trees that were donated by Meadows Farms Nurseries.

An outdoor classroom will also someday feature a natural meadow, a monarch waystation, a bluebird trail and an observation beehive, along with a pollinator garden that the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy is working to install.

A map of Sleeter Lake Park, drawn up by Friends of the Blue Ridge Mountains, calls for added amenities like paths, a picnic pavilion, overflow parking, a welcome kiosk, a wetland viewing platform, fishing stops, additional plantings and grassland.

Round Hill Town Administrator Melissa Hynes said that classroom project should be fully installed in the next five years.

“The town wants to educate visitors about the use of native plants, preserving wildlife habitats, protecting the viewsheds and supporting the lake ecosystem,” she said.

The nonprofit is also working on a study with the Loudoun County Preservation Society to determine the feasibility of stabilizing a centuries-old stone house in the park—a house that was the subject of an October archaeological dig performed by the Banshee Reeks Chapter of the Archaeological Society of Virginia. The nonprofit is also working with area historians to come up with ways to transform the stone house intoan educational feature.

Friends of the Blue Ridge Mountains Vice President Norman Myers said he’d also like to eventually see a trail connect the park with the village of Bluemont about six miles away, and with the Appalachian Trail about a mile from there. He noted that the Bike Loudoun group recently was awarded a grant to further look into the Emerald Ribbons project—a proposed countywide system of interconnected parks and unpaved trails located on land donated by or purchased from private landowners that the Board of Supervisors included in the county’s 2019 Comprehensive Plan.

In addition to working with all of those organizations, Friends of the Blue Ridge Mountains has also worked with others like the Loudoun County Preservation and Conservation Coalition and the Goose Creek Association, all in an effort to find ways of improving park offerings. Myers said those relationships have created a productive synergy. “It’s been really fun,” he said.

Myers said that in the future, he’d like to see a prototype system tested at the park that catches stormwater and allows it to soak into the aquifer before it reaches the lake. He said that system could be implemented elsewhere to help further protect resources in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Overall, the nonprofit’s goal is to provide residents with the best recreational haven that the conservation and preservation organizations can offer. “It’s an ongoing process,” Myers said.

Myers said that more of the land plan should come to life next spring, when the volunteers begin creating paths and fishing stops and planting native trees—Redbuds, Flowering Dogwoods, White Pines and Pin, Oak, Scarlet and Willow Oaks—that support the area’s wildlife.

Friends of the Blue Ridge Mountains’ work at the park isn’t the only effort that’s transforming the lakefront property. The planned Franklin Park Trail Project—a town and county project that will connect Round Hill with Franklin Park—will also make the area more of a recreational hub and bring in more visitors.

Currently, the county government is reviewing bids for the project and is expected to award a contract and begin construction next year.

County supervisors in September also authorized the purchase of 106 acres between Sleeter Lake Park and Franklin Park to create 320 continuous acres of parkland. The $1.2 million purchase is expected to close by Dec. 15.

The Friends of Sleeter Lake Park subcommittee meets regularly to organize volunteer efforts and park improvement projects. Learn more at friendsofblueridge.org.

pszabo@loudounnow.com

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