Park commission to focus on trail projects, interpretation this year

Improving the network of trails around and within the Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park will be a major area of focus in 2015, according to the park’s Federal Advisory Commission.

At the commission’s first quarterly meeting of 2015 on Thursday, Cedar Creek Site Manager Amy Bracewell said they will focus on key “pilot projects” of its trail development management plan throughout the year.

The pilot projects are the first steps in a project for the park and its partners to create a series of connected trails for park sites between Strasburg and Middletown.

Bracewell said the idea for the project is “to be able to allow visitors to see … the historic resources in the park and to be able to kind of connect the pieces.”

One of the pilot projects for 2015, according to the park’s latest trail management plan, would extend the New York Monument trailhead near the Belle Grove Plantation 1.35 miles along an historic entrenchment that runs adjacent to the plantation property and include the creation of an observation point for a view of the battlefield and Belle Grove.

“We’ve been talking with the [Potomac Appalachian Trail Club] to have them install a couple of foot bridges over the entrenchment lines to protect the earthworks,” Bracewell said.

Cedar Creek has, in conjunction the National Park Service, completed a project for a trail connecting park service headquarters in Middletown with the 8th Vermont Monument.

Bracewell pointed out to the commission that the management plans are “a working document” and will change as the park acquires land or completes projects.

The project’s grand scheme contains possible connective trails that the park cannot, at the moment, complete.

“A lot of the long-term visions and all of the lines … are just ideas. There’s no flags in the ground on private property,” Bracewell said. “This is just a wish list.

“We’re focusing on what we can do now, and we’ve created this wish list for the future.”

Looking forward, Bracewell said, “When we acquire land or when we are able to connect certain features of the park, then the park and all of the partners will look into” building additional trail segments.

Bracewell said the park has set no dates of completion for the pilot projects, but also said she would be working with park partners — like the Shenandoah Valley Battlefield Foundation — to implement projects this year.

“I think we would love to have the pilot projects done by 2016. I think that would be a good goal, especially with the National Park Service’s centennial in 2016,” Bracewell said.

Jim Northup, superintendent at both Shenandoah National Park and Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park, spoke about the centennial at Thursday’s meeting.

Northup noted that “every unit” within the National Park Service system is “talking about what each park wants to do as part of the centennial.”

Although Northup said Cedar Creek plans would most likely be discussed at the commission’s next meeting, he said “a component of the centennial celebration” will be revealed nationwide on April 2.

Northup said this component is a campaign called “Find Your Park” and is being spearheaded by the New York branch of a marketing firm called Grey Global Group.

The campaign, Northup said, “Is really intended to get people to rediscover parks near them, whether that is a national park or state park or county park.”

Northup added that the park service will be “working with tourism organizations in each of our respective areas to try and take full advantage of that.”

Also at Thursday’s meeting, Bracewell told the commission that Cedar Creek and Belle Grove is hosting a two-day workshop April 2-3 at Lord Fairfax Community College in order to explore “interpretive slavery within the park.”

“We have Belle Grove and the slave population and the history that we don’t interpret and don’t know much about,” Bracewell said.

Cedar Creek is working with the Tracing Center, an educational group out of Massachusetts that, according its website, is focused on race and other forms of discrimination.

“They specialize in the interpretation of slavery and working with nonprofit groups on how to present slavery,” Bracewell said.

The workshop, Bracewell added, is part of many research goals the park has and is being organized for “[park] rangers, all of our partner site leadership and … all of the front line interpreters that interpret slavery.”

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com