Board to consider sale of park land

WOODSTOCK – A Shenandoah County supervisor has suggested leaders consider selling land bought years ago for a park that hasn’t materialized.

District 5 Supervisor Marsha Shruntz said Tuesday she plans for the Board of Supervisors to discuss the possibility of selling approximately 150 acres known as the Keister Tract that the county owns. At the beginning of the meeting, District 4 Supervisor Cindy Bailey gave the invocation and suggested the county rid itself of the Keister Tract and another property in use as a park.

“Dear Lord: Give this board the confidence to do what is right for the people they serve,” Bailey read from a statement. “Give us courage to give Wagner property back to the heirs, sell Keister property and consider reallocating funds in the budget instead of increasing taxes. Thank you, Lord, for the many blessings you have given us.”

County Administrator Mary T. Price said Wednesday she intends to present information about the property to the board at its work session in September.

The county bought 151 acres in two parcels from John F. Horan Jr., trustee of the Keister Properties Land Trust, in 2002. The land lies along the North Fork of the Shenandoah River, about a mile east of Strasburg, on the east side of Pouts Hill Road (state Route 634). The county paid $475,000 for the property in late June 2002, more than $300,000 of which came from grants. The latest property reassessment performed in 2015 shows the larger parcel valued at $455,000 and the second at $74,800.

Even if the county could sell the property, the deed limits any future development of the land.

“By execution and recordation of this deed, the Grantee hereby declares that all of the aforesaid real estate shall only be used for public recreational purposes as set forth in … the Code of Virginia,” the deed states.

The Keister Tract also lies within the confines of the Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historic Park. Patrick Kehoe, manager of the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation, a member of the park, voiced concern Wednesday upon hearing the Board of Supervisors could consider selling the tract.

“It’s a shame,” Kehoe said. “That is a beautiful piece of property. I’ve walked it. I roamed it as a kid and it is just a prime piece of property for either farming or recreation. The county’s original plan to make it into a campsite of some sort I thought was wonderful but they’ve never had the money to pursue it.”

Kehoe pointed out that the county faces some access problems with the site and would need to build a road into the property.

Information provided on the county’s web page for the Department of Parks and Recreation states the property remains part of the “currently developing Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historic Park, and has already been through its master planning process. The department hopes to develop this site in the next few years.”

In early 2005, VIEW Engineering presented a master development plan for the tract and designs for the first phase of construction at a cost of about $80,000. The Northern Virginia Daily reported at the time that the county had already spent or pledged $295,000 for the park. The plan estimated at the time that it would cost $2.8 million to develop the park. The county had received almost $500,000 in grant money for the park.

The development of the Keister Tract for recreational use remains stymied in part by the need to build a vehicle entrance to the property. Since the county bought the property, it allowed farming to continue as it had under the previous owner until recently, Price said Wednesday.

Shruntz and District 4 Supervisor Cindy Bailey have criticized the county’s spending on parks and recreation endeavors. Bailey voiced opposition to the board’s acceptance of almost 300 acres of land given to the county with the caveat that it be used for parks and recreational purposes. Bailey has said that even if the land is free, the county would still need to spend money to develop parks – amenities she has pointed out already exist in the locality. Bailey has made similar comments about the Keister Tract and its potential use for a park.

The board accepted a donation of almost 300 acres in the southwest corner of the county from the Zula Wagner estate in 2013. Current District 1 Supervisor John R. “Dick” Neese and then District 3 Supervisor David Ferguson voted against the motion to accept the land. The donation came with the caveat that the county shall use the property as a park for recreation, education and conservation. The department has since dubbed the site the Mack and Zula Wagner Park.

Supervisors began to consider the Wagner gift before Bailey and Shruntz were elected that November and took office in January 2014. Pam Sheets, then director of the Parks and Recreation Department, talked to the board about the property she said the county could develop into a regional park. At the time, District 6 Supervisor Conrad Helsley asked how the Wagner land differed from the Keister Tract. Sheets said then that the entrance onto the Keister property was a major issue with the Virginia Department of Transportation given the location of the land. Building an entrance could prove costly, Sheets said. The Wagner property already has a VDOT-approved entrance, Sheets said. The director noted that several dilapidated buildings on the Keister property would need to be removed.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

A previous version of this story should have identified Patrick Kehoe as the manager of the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation, a member of the Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Park.

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