Capital budget could provide funds for park

The planned Seven Bends State Park project may finally see the start-up funding it has been lacking over the years.

According to Craig Seaver, the recently appointed director of Virginia State Parks, an amendment to the state budget could provide the park with over $2 million in start-up funds for the 2016 fiscal year.

The amendment was a part of Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s proposed budget plan that was submitted to the General Assembly on Dec. 17, 2014.

The current 270-acre site, according to the updated 2014 project master plan, is located right along the North Fork of the Shenandoah River, just outside of Woodstock.

“[The money] would be for very limited initial development of the [project] site to allow public access to the river,” Seaver said.

A portion of the funding, Seaver said, would go toward the “abatement of leaden asbestos.”

Seaver noted that VSP is currently testing and analyzing for asbestos in the area, a process that is “standard procedure in order to open a state park” on land such as this.

The park would also look to have nine buildings deemed hazardous to public safety removed from the property.

“We’re not going to open the property up to public access when you have hazards like that,” Seaver said.

In addition, Seaver said that the money would also be used “to create parking lots, entrance roads and some access to the river.”

Those access points would be canoe and kayak put-ins, Seaver said.

“Basically, this money is just enough to get the place safe and provide some minimal recreational offerings … for guests to access the river and some trails,” Seaver said.

The $2 million is a small step compared with the total estimated project costs of $43.8 million.

Seaver said the phase one development for a state park can run $15 million for infrastructure such as water and sewage.

“This a little different approach here,” he said, “To work as efficiently as we can to find partnerships … to make this happen.”

With overall funding still an issue, the bigger and costlier aspects of the master plan – cabins, campsites and trail expansion – are far-off goals at the moment, Seaver said.

This proposed funding hinges on the passing of Virginia’s budget for FY 2016 by the General Assembly, which is currently in session.

Brian Coy, director of communications for Gov. Terry McAuliffe, said that passing of the budget, as well as approval or veto by McAuliffe, would come by the end of February.

Assuming the budget – as well as the amendment passes – Seaver said the funds would be made available July 1.

Seaver said VSP would be developing a strategy before the assembly’s session ends and assess how much of the proposed budget will be available.

“Next fall would not be unrealistic to start to see some things happen out there,” Seaver said.

However after the funding is available, Seaver said that there are many steps, such as working with the Virginia Department of Transportation, before these initial first steps can take place.

“We look forward to the day when we can cut a ribbon,” Seaver said.