The Commonwealth of Virginia is a state of firsts!
Old Dominion is the birthplace of the nation, the home of eight presidents, and the first state to create a state parks system.
2011 marks two major milestones in Virginia as the state recognizes two of its most treasured assets, Shenandoah National Park and the Virginia State Parks system as they both celebrate their 75th anniversary.
On June 15, 1936 the Commonwealth became the first state in the nation to open an entire park system on the same day.
Six parks were opened to the public in 1936: Douthat, Fairy Stone, Hungry Mother, Staunton River, Westmoreland, and Seashore (now First Landing State Park).
In 2010, Virginia State Parks hosted more than 8 million visitors who contributed approximately $189 million to Virginia’s economy with 224,269 visitors to Douthat State Park alone.
From the original six, the park system has now grown to 34 parks found in nearly every corner of Virginia and have been honored as the best state parks in America by organizations such as the National Sporting Goods Association.
Each site is different and offers visitors a great variety of outdoor recreation.
The state parks encompass a variety of environments from sand beaches of the Atlantic to the high mountains of far western Virginia, from Civil War battlefields to railroad beds-tuned bike trails, and from bald eagle sanctuaries to an abandoned gold mine.
The park system can trace its roots back to 1933 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).
The CCC was a public work-relief program that provided employment for young men who had difficulty finding jobs during the Great Depression. At the same time the program implemented a general natural resource conservation program throughout the nation.
Most of the original cabins built by the CCC in Virginia State Parks are still in use, having been upgraded with modern facilities, and are among the most requested cabins in the park system. Now more than 260 climate-controlled, fully furnished cabins are in the parks and include kitchen equipment, bedding, and towels. Many have fireplaces. Ten parks have large family cabins with multiple bedrooms and baths, perfect for reunions.
But it’s the Great Outdoors that makes the Virginia’s State Park experience exceptional. Many parks have beautiful lakes with swimming areas, canoe and boat rentals, and excellent fishing. Family hiking trails follow lake shores and through woodlots and meadows providing an excellent opportunity to see a multitude of wildlife species.
The parks offer more than 1,700 camp sites ranging from rustic to those equipped with electric and water hookups.
Certain parks are in a class by themselves:
- Caledon Natural Area on the Potomac River is home to one of the largest concentrations of bald eagles on the East Coast
- A five-mile gorge traverses Breaks Interstate Park in far Southwest Virginia, giving it the nickname “Grand Canyon of the East”
- Fairy Stone State Park is named for the small cross-shaped mineral formations rarely found in such abundance elsewhere
- New River Trail State Park may be the longest and narrowest in the country, measuring 57 miles long and averaging 80 feet in width as it parallels the New River along a former railroad bed now turned into a popular biking trail
- A real railroad line goes through Natural Tunnel State Park, utilizing the namesake naturally formed tunnel to get through the mountain
The parks host a variety of special events and festivals throughout each year.
Special programs and events and free admission days highlight activities perfect for families who want to shake off the stresses of everyday life and share the enjoyment of nature together.
Contests including the “75 Days of Summer Contest” run from June 15 to September 5. Visit a state park and enter the drawing. The grand prize is a pop-up trailer from Coastal RV. Enter online daily contests and sweepstakes. Weekly prizes include a camping trip with a fully furnished camper trailer from Road Trip Rentals.
The nation behaves well when it treats the natural resources as assets, which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value.
—Franklin Delano Roosevelt