Find a park. https://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/find-a-park
This year, as we have practiced physical distancing to combat the spread of COVID-19, many of us have discovered a newfound appreciation for our natural world and the great outdoors. We have safely hiked, cycled, picnicked, and kayaked across the Commonwealth (or, are planning to!). As Virginians, we are lucky to have such a diverse topography and wilderness to explore and enjoy, from nature preserves in the tidewater region, mountains and valleys to the west, dense forests, and a plethora of rivers, lakes, and creeks.
On this Thursday, April 22, we celebrate Earth Day. Every year since 1970, the global community has commemorated this day to honor our planet and promote environmental protection. This week also coincides with National Park week (April 17-25) and the dedication of Virginia’s 40th state park, Machicomoco State Park, in Gloucester County. Machicomoco is an Algonquian word that means “special meeting place”, and the park serves the dual purpose of sharing the history of Virginia’s Indian tribes as well as providing Virginians with critical greenspace. Machicomoco Park is surrounded by three creeks and has a great viewshed overlooking the Pamunkey River, now known as the York River. More significantly, it is the first state park to honor and recognize the history and legacy of the indigenous people of the region. The park not only invites visitors to reflect, and to be a refuge from our daily stress, but to learn about the Algonquian Powhatan Confederacy, their language and cosmology that are so deeply rooted in the land. A Special Meeting Place is just that, with two miles of wooded trails to educate visitors about the waterways the indigenous people navigated and explored. The park was designed in collaboration with tribal representatives, and at last week’s opening ceremony Chief Stephen Adkins of the Chickahominy said that this “marks a signal event in the lives and history of both indigenous peoples and their friends and neighbors who comprised the total citizenry of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Never in the existence of the Commonwealth has it designed a site so replete with rich native history as Machicomoco.”
There are 39 other wonderful parks across Virginia that are all worth a visit. Some, like Machicomoco, can even be visited by boat, and for 85 years have offered healthy, safe and recreational opportunities for all Virginians. It all started in 1936 with just six parks: Seashore State Park (now First Landing State Park), Westmoreland State Park, Staunton River State Park, Douthat State Park, Fairy Stone State Park, and Hungry Mother State Park. The state park system has thrived and expanded since. Another recent addition is the Natural Bridge State Park in 2016, on land once owned by Thomas Jefferson. It features an amazing 215 foot tall natural bridge, a limestone gorge carved out by Cedar Brook. There are six miles of hiking trails including the Cedar Creek Trail that leads from the bridge to the historic Monacan Indian village and the 30-foot cascades of Lace Falls.
Our state parks have thousands of campsites, hundreds of cabins, more than 500 miles of trails and convenient access to Virginia's major waterways. Virginia also has four State Parks that have received the elite International Dark Sky Park designation — Staunton River, James River, and recently added this month: Natural Bridge and Sky Meadows. An International Dark Sky Park is a park possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights, a difficult feat to achieve with light pollution.
As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I was proud to support $1.5 million in the budget for our local Mason Neck State Park’s drinking water supply. This biennial budget also provided funding for the Preservation of Open Space Lands Trust Fund which protects lands in the Commonwealth used for parks or recreational purposes, conservation of natural resources, historic and scenic lands, wetlands, and much more, including $2 million in funding for a possible new regional River Farm Park, here in Mount Vernon.
Across the nation, there are 63 National Parks, and 423 national park sites (including battlefields, national lakeshores, historic monuments, scenic trails and parkways). Virginia boasts 18 of these locations, including Shenandoah National Park, Richmond National Battlefield Park, Colonial National Historical Park, Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, and running through my district: the George Washington Memorial Parkway. In 2020, while wearing masks and maintaining social distancing, 237 million people visited these parks. This Earth Day, make a plan to visit one of your Virginia or national parks!
Visit here to find your Virginia park: https://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/find-a-park