The House of Delegates Appropriations Committee has unanimously approved a budget bill that includes Del. Dave A. LaRock’s proposal to dedicate $1.4 million over two years to open and staff a state park in northwestern Loudoun County.
If it survives into the final state budget, it will be the first time the commonwealth has spent any money on the park as Virginia prepares for the 1,000-acre addition to its state park system.
In fact, there is already a park there today. The Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship has maintained the land for more than two decades, including trails and facilities. That group has continued to maintain the park while a range of nonprofits, philanthropists and elected leaders have worked for years to make it a state park.
“This year I think there is a realization that with relatively modest funding we will add this gem to the commonwealth’s park system,” LaRock (R-33) stated. “There are trails, a large pond, buildings, camping areas, and all the amenities already in place for a successful day-one opening of this newest state park. I’m confident the public will see huge value as word gets out the there is a new and exciting outdoor fun destination open to the public.”
Although the park has no formal name yet, it has been designated “Sweet Run State Park” in state budget documents. The money would cover the cost of four full time employees: a park manager, chief ranger law enforcement, park ranger maintenance, and an office manager, along with operations funding, maintenance and environmental education programs and equipment. The funding would kick off a park master plan process, which takes about a year to gather public input and decide what the park should offer.
Gov. Bob McDonnell announced plans for the park in northwestern Loudoun just before leaving office in 2014. That began work transferring the land to the state government—land the state is getting for free.
The Leggett Foundation in 2015 donated 604 acres near Neersville to the Old Dominion Land Conservancy, which then donated to the property to the state in 2016.
The next major hurdle was cleared in 2018 when Gov. Ralph Northam proposed a budget, which, while spending no money on the park, allowing the Department of Conservation and Recreation to accept donated land. The Leggett Foundation sold an additional 280 acres for $2.9 million with the Loudoun County government paying for the property and the Old Dominion Land Conservancy holding the title until it could be donated to the state.
That commenced an extended due diligence period by the state, which concluded earlier in February with the state taking title to the land. Former Delegate Randy Minchew, who worked for years on the park and helped negotiate the Old Dominion Land Trust land transfer, said that opened the door for the state to spend its money on the park.
And he said Sweet Run will be a jewel of the state park system.
“To me, this is one the best deals that the commonwealth ever got,” Minchew said. “It’s free land in Virginia’s third most populous county that connects the Appalachian Trail scenic corridor with the Harpers Ferry National Park. It brings it all together.”
Minchew, a Boy Scouts leader, said he has made much use of the park, including bringing scouts there for training to climb Mount Rainier. Among those who have completed Eagle Scout projects there, his own son built 18 homes for screech owls there, he said.
To pass into the final budget, the amendment must survive the reconciliation process between the House and Senate budgets—so far the funding does not appear in the Senate version of the state budget. It will then go to Gov. Glenn Youngkin for a signature.