WOODSTOCK – Recreation aficionados shouldn’t expect to see improvements to the Seven Bends State Park in Shenandoah County anytime soon.
Virginia Department of Transportation representatives for the regional district told the Board of Supervisors on Thursday that work on the needed improvements for the access roads and associated bridges into the park wouldn’t begin for four years, even if the state budgets funds for the project.
The same concerns about the state park remain: access roads, bridges and the cost to make needed improvements.
The Department of Conservation and Recreation continues to make some improvements to the park site even as visitors use the facility. But the main hurdles – Hollingsworth Road and Lupton Road – need repairs to accommodate traffic.
The Board of Supervisors scheduled state Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, and Del. C. Todd Gilbert, R-Mount Jackson, to update members on the project at the Thursday meeting. Shenandoah County’s representatives in the General Assembly told the board they didn’t know about the request for updates and, as such, had not prepared any formal presentation. But both representatives spoke to the board about the project anyway.
Gilbert said he’s proud of the work done on the project thus far and that the park presents an economic development opportunity for the community. Gilbert went on to say he was at the meeting to hear the board’s concerns about the project.
Obenshain said he and Gilbert have worked hard to make sure that the past two state budgets included funding for the park. Obenshain recalled that when the General Assembly adopted the biennial budget last year, they saw that Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed spending plan included land and money to open new state parks not previously funded. At the same time, the governor’s proposed budget did not include funds for Seven Bends State Park, Obenshain told the board. The legislators pushed for the adopted budget to include money for Seven Bends.
“(We) piped up and made it clear to the state that we thought that it was inappropriate and unfair, particularly when some of the funding for the opening of those state parks was coming from remediation for environmental issues that arose on the Shenandoah River,” Obenshain recalled.
But the budget does not include as much money as legislators would have liked, Obenshain added.
Park users and neighboring residents continue to raise concerns with county officials and board members about the access roads into the park, Chairman Conrad Helsey said.
District 4 Supervisor Karl Roulston said people who talk to him about the park support the amenity as a benefit for the county. But residents live on the narrow access roads and motorists often must back up to allow other drivers to go around them, not to mention the hazard created by larger recreational vehicles, Roulston said.
Edwin V. “Ed” Carter, the assistant administrator for the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Edinburg Residency, fielded questions from the board about the project. District 5 Supervisor Dennis Morris asked about funding the park.
“To answer your question first: No, we don’t know where the money is,” Carter said. “Significant work has to be done on the roadway and the bridge.”
The bridge on Hollingsworth Road limits vehicles to 10 tons and is deemed structurally deficient, Carter said. VDOT is working with a consultant to study the roads and bridges to the park, Carter added. VDOT and the consultant are conducting traffic counts of vehicles traveling on the access roads, Carter said.
Roughly a dozen residents interested in the topic sat in the audience. Helsley took the unusual step to allow members of the audience to ask questions or comment on the park status. Speakers voiced concern about increased traffic on the narrow roads.