By Sally Voth
Spring may have just begun, but visitors can already start taking ranger-led tours at Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Park.
The park's long-awaited visitor contact station, at 7712 Main St., Middletown, also has opened, but isn't yet fully-equipped, park ranger Eric Campbell said.
"It's open, but it's not really a full-fledged contact station because exhibits won't be in until the second week of April," he said.
Campbell said he expects a special event in conjunction with the opening of the contact station in May.
"It's a big deal," he said. "Even though we've existed as a national park for 10 years...It's a big step forward in our operational process."
Ranger programs started three years ago, and the contact station will orient visitors to all of the park's partners, according to Campbell.
"It's basically what visitors expect to see when they arrive at a national park," he said. "We exist as a national park, and we're slowly going to continue to grow and provide more services and become more visible."
Opening day at the park's Belle Grove Manor was last weekend, according to a news release from the National Park Service. It states ranger programs will be held on spring weekends, every day mid-June through mid-August, and weekends only again in the fall.
• Cedar Creek and Belle Grove "in a Box" - A Park Overview. The half-hour program includes the history of the valley, the Battle of Cedar Creek and the war's effects on the area, according to the news release. It takes place on Belle Grove's front lawn.
* From Back Country to Breadbasket - The Peopling of the Shenandoah Valley. It, too, is on the front lawn of Belle Grove.
* Battle of Cedar Creek Tour. This is a 13-mile, two-hour car-caravan tour beginning at the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation Headquarters, 8437 Valley Pike, Middletown.
* Civil War Entrenchment Tour. The walking tour begins at the battlefield foundation headquarters, and includes entrenchments on the bluffs above Cedar Creek.
* History at Sunset Tours. These Friday evening summer tours will cover various topics, and will feature sites not often seen by the general public.
Campbell said there are also some special events planned in conjunction with the Civil War Sesquicentennial.
Additionally, special events throughout the year will include the 18th annual Belle Grove "Of Ale and History" beer festival May 11, the Belle Grove Garden Fest June 1, the Belle Grove National Sheep Dog Trials Oct. 7-13 and the Battle of Cedar Creek re-enactment Oct. 19-20.
For more information, call (540) 869-3051, or visit www.nps.gov/cebe.
Contact staff writer Sally Voth at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org