New site manager leads 2016 Cedar Creek plans

STRASBURG – Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park’s newly hired Site Manager Karen Beck-Herzog made her introductions at the Dec. 17 Park Advisory Commission meeting.

A press release from Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park dated Dec. 7 announced Beck-Herzog’s permanent appointment to the position on Nov. 30. She had served as acting site manager since Amy Bracewell left in July to become superintendent of Saratoga National Historical Park in New York.

At the Dec. 17 meeting, Designated Federal Officer Jim Northup updated attending members about nominations for future members that will represent the Civil War Trust, the Commonwealth of Virginia, Shenandoah County, Strasburg and the U.S. Forest Service after Katie Donahue leaves for another job. Although he said many of those members have already been decided, the formal process is dependent on an announcement in the Federal Register.

On the budget end, he also said that the National Park Service is anticipating a favorable outcome from the 2016 Omnibus Appropriations Act and extra funding for Cedar Creek and Belle Grove may yet come from the National Park Service Centennial.

Beck-Herzog presented progress updates for signage, including work on informational wayside panels, trailheads and orientation kiosks. She said that within the next 18 months, around $88,000 of park service money will be used for creating and installing directional signage and around $400,000 will be used for those informational signs.

Other projects she updated commission members on included creating and expanding trails, including some that will connect with the 8th Vermont and New York monuments and the Heater House. Beck-Herzog showed photos of the cleaned and restored Vermont Monument, having been updated with new benches and sod replacing the gravel and fencing – which she said is more historically accurate.

When discussion came to the destruction of more modern structures at Claytor and Bowman-Hite, Middletown commission member Carl Bernhards voiced concerns that the house and barn on the Claytor property could be utilized but are set for demolition. Beck-Herzog said the structures were void of historical value and Northup said they wouldn’t serve a public purpose.

“As we mentioned at our last meeting, the park service is trying to get out of the business of taking care of structures that are in poor shape and we can no longer afford to maintain,” he said.

Destruction of those properties, Northup said, would fall under a “maintenance backlog” for the park service. Donahue added that besides the maintenance and upkeep costs, dilapidated structures pose a public safety risk.

“They’re tough decisions to tear down buildings, but in the long run they can add a lot to your ability to manage the park safely,” she said.

The commission also discussed participation options for programming and participation in the “Find your Park” campaign, which celebrates the National Park Service Centennial. So far, Beck-Herzog said the wayside signage projects and the educational outreach of the Teacher-Ranger-Teacher program have been centennial efforts moving into the actual year. She encouraged the park and partners to adopt the campaign in their own ways and increase the park’s visibility.

“That’s the idea of the ‘Find Your Park’ campaign, is to get people aware of parks,” she said. “Now, parks aren’t just Yellowstone or Yosemite or Grand Canyon; but parks are in your own backyard and that they’re very special places.”

Beck-Herzog also listed some of her priorities and initiatives over the next couple of years as the new site manager, including educational efforts, strengthening partner communications and implementing the National Park Service and Cedar Creek and Belle Grove combined logo.

For 2016 and beyond, Northup suggested the commission members and partners make a park site visitation part of their spring and fall meetings.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com