County, state officials adjust plans for Seven Bends State Park

By Katie Demeria

Plans to develop Seven Bends State Park in Shenandoah County were sparked in 2005, but it may take a few more years before the 1,066 acres are open to the public.

Shenandoah County leaders met this week with representatives from the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation and Del. C. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, to discuss the park’s future.

According to the Seven Bends State Park’s master plan, the designated land is located near Woodstock “in the geographically unique Seven Bends area of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River.”

County Director of Tourism and Marketing Jenna French said the master plan, which was developed in 2008, will have to be put on hold for the time being.

“Right now the idea would be to have it open with just primitive hiking trails and river access, without the staffing of rangers and the more costly facilities such as the cabins and camping,” French said. “Those would still be slated for long-term planning.”

DCR Deputy Director of Operations Joe Elton said the department has not had access to the funding it had in the past, which has caused Seven Bends, and other parks throughout the state, to be put on hold.

The department funds most of its major projects through general obligation bonds, which state residents can vote on after the general assembly passes a bill.

In 1992 the department worked with $95 million from those bonds, then in 2002 they gained $119 million, Elton said.

“2012 would have been the normal cycle, but with the economy being in the shape that it was then, with the state’s bonding debt limit being tight, it’s been put off,” he said.

According to the park’s master plan, developing the complete park, including amenities like cabins and on-site bathrooms, will cost $43.8 million.

“There is some general frustration on everyone’s part that it has taken so long,” Elton said.

The department suggested starting with a minimalist operation, Elton said, to at least allow the public to access the land.

The initial stages will probably include access to trails and the river, French said, without including costly features like paid park rangers or cabins.

“You know I think it’s still realistic to say it could be a couple of years [before it opens],” French said. “We need to work with DCR to revise the master plan and come up with a more realistic plan in the future.”

The park could benefit Shenandoah County in a variety of ways, according to French. She said she believes it will operate like Andy Guest Jr. State Park in Warren County, and thinks it could boost tourism in the county.

“We see a lot of potential for what it can do for the tourism impact in our area,” French said. “We get a lot of calls from people who are interested in visiting and don’t realize it hasn’t opened yet.”

Local businesses could see the benefit of the park as well, as tourists will likely spend money in their shops. Residents would also have access to the river, which is limited in the county, she said.

“This would really provide a great asset to the community and to visitors,” she said.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com