HD27 - A Feasibility Study for the Establishment of a State Park on the Rappahannock River
The 1998 General Assembly requested that the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) conduct a study to determine the feasibility of establishing a state park on the banks of the Rappahannock River between the confluence of the Hazel River and the City of Fredericksburg. The department has spent almost six months gathering technical information about the river corridor and the historic, cultural, and recreational significance of the study area. DCR formed and met with an Advisory Committee; members were recommended by the local governments, state agencies, and interested groups and organizations. The DCR staff also made presentations to the local governments within the corridor and held three public meetings to obtain the input of local citizens.
While the establishment of a state park along the banks of the Rappahannock River within the study area is feasible, numerous concerns have been raised which cause the proposal to establish such a park to be controversial. A large number of private landowners along the river were opposed to such a state park.
Therefore, while feasible, it is not realistic to establish a state park along the banks of the Rappahannock River from its confluence with the Hazel River to Fredericksburg. This concept would be expensive to implement from both an acquisition and a management perspective. The idea was opposed by the majority of the riparian land owners attending the public meetings. While the concept of a state park consisting of just several nodes at key locations along the river was somewhat better received, it too carried the perception of attracting higher use and causing a degradation of the resources and a loss of the remote experience.
Thus, the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) recommends the establishment of a Historic Rappahannock River Conservation Corridor or other appropriate designation be considered as a preferred option. The purpose of the special designation would be to enhance the protection of the resource while managing recreational use in line with the remote experience. Implementation of this option would require additional study by all stakeholders to determine what specifically should be done and how it should be done. Critical lands should be identified for resource protection and low-key recreational management. In effect, any lands acquired by DCR, or others, would be managed along the lines of a conservation or natural area in harmony with the theme of protecting the significant natural and historic resources and the remote recreational experience.
Specifically, the Department of Conservation and Recreation has reached the following conclusions:
1. It is important that management of the existing public access sites continue to be monitored and enhanced. There is a strong perception by those who lived near some of the public access sites that these are often littered with trash and serve as places for drinking and loitering. Many felt that these public access points require more frequent law enforcement.
2. An additional study should be made of the capacity of the river to handle increased use and how existing use can be better managed to reduce conflicts. No additional public access, beyond what is currently planned, should be developed until these issues are further evaluated. One of the key reasons for landowner/user conflicts is the lack of appropriate public access to the river. Once a person puts in at Kellys Ford public access site, he/she must go all the way to Motts Run to take out. This is normally a two-day trip. Thus, the canoeist must either trespass on private property to shorten his trip or spend the night camping on the river. This too often occurs on private lands. While increasing public access to the river could relieve this problem, it could also cause use to increase beyond acceptable levels, thus destroying the very nature of the remote experience. Therefore, the additional study is needed.
3. Protection is needed for the many cultural resources in the river corridor. Educational/interpretive programming should be developed around them. The outstanding resources range from early Native American sites to Civil War battlefields and from historic locks and canals to one of the earliest North American industrial sites.
4. While feasible, it is not realistic to establish a state park that would extend along the banks of the Rappahannock from its confluence with the Hazel River to Fredericksburg. This concept would be expensive to implement from both an acquisition and management perspective. The idea was opposed by the majority of the riparian land owners attending the public meetings. While the concept of a state park consisting of just several nodes at key locations along the river, option B, was somewhat better received, it too carried a perception of attracting higher use and causing a degradation of the resource and a loss of the remote experience.
Thus, the department recommends that option C, a Historic Rappahannock River Conservation Corridor, or other appropriate designation, be considered as the preferred option. The purpose would be to enhance the protection of the resource while managing the recreational use in line with the remote experience. Implementation of this option would require additional study by all stakeholders to determine what specifically should be done and how it should be done. Critical lands should be identified for resource protection and low-key recreational management. In effect, any lands acquired by DCR would be managed along the lines of a conservation or natural area in harmony with protecting the resource and the remote experience. Facility development would be limited to that necessary to provide resource protection, interpretive programming, and to manage recreational use.
5. Should a major development occur on the Rappahannock River in the City of Fredericksburg, or elsewhere within the study area, the riparian lands should be protected with a substantial buffer of the critical waterfront property. Historic interpretation of the corridor, natural resource protection, and tourism should be important aspects of any future strategy to provide visitor information services.
During the study process, the department staff learned of a local business' conceptual plan for a major development proposed in an area near I-95 within the City of Fredericksburg and southern Stafford County. The proposed site includes some riverfront lands in the lower three miles of the study corridor. One component of this planned development would be a museum/visitor center complex. If implemented, this complex would involve major cooperative efforts among local governments, a number of state programs, and private enterprise. The visitor center is envisioned as an important focal point for the entire region and should include historic and environmental exhibits, as well as site related interpretive programs. An element of this complex could include a series of trails or walkways in the riparian areas near the river, providing access to the shoreline and the historic canals, lock structures, and other resources found along the river bank. As this concept is refined, the Department of Conservation and Recreation and other partners could assist in the identification and management of these resources within the framework of a river corridor protection plan.
6. A conservation and management presence could be established at the northern end of the study corridor by combining a Civil War battlefield owned by the Association for Preservation of Civil War Sites with additional riparian lands, should they become available, which would link the battlefield to the river. This area could serve as an educational and interpretive facility for the northern end of the conservation corridor and could be administered by DCR as part of a river management plan.
7. The key historical site of Spotswood's Tubal Furnace should be protected, possibly by being brought into the state system. This is an unprotected site, representing the earliest part of the Industrial Revolution in America, which has been seriously degraded over the years. It is vitally important that this area receive additional protection. If acquired, the site should be stabilized, and interpretive and educational programming provided.
8. While the entire river is not a part of this specific study, interest was expressed during the report's preparation in looking at the whole river as a resource worthy of special protection and management. Consideration should be given to amending the American Heritage River designation proposal to include the lower portion of the river down to the Chesapeake Bay. In addition, thought should be given to the development of a Rappahannock River Water Trail that would traverse the length of the river. If implemented, this could have a positive impact on tourism throughout the region.