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Plans for splash park take shape at Occoneechee

South Boston News
SoVaNow.com / November 30, 2016
Occoneechee State Park is a step closer to gaining a long-planned splash pool and playground, now that a site has been chosen and a design for the facility is complete. State Parks officials are seeking out contractors to prepare the area where the splash park will be located.

Occoneechee manager Scott Shanklin said the $1.5 million project will be built in an open field across from the road leading to the state park marina. The current plan calls for the construction of an 8,000 square foot splash pool, fitted with 16 different water features, a playground, picnic pavilion, restroom facilities and adjacent parking.

“We’ve already chosen the water features. Our hope is that we have enough money to build every part of the splash ground,” said Shanklin. “That depends on the bids. We are committed to keeping and building the splash pool, restrooms and parking.”

The design comes from the Richmond-based engineering firm, Austin Brockenbrough & Associates. “They’ve done a lot of work for State Parks around Virginia,” Shanklin said.

Ground breaking for the project is tentatively set for March. Shanklin thinks construction will take about six months, and then the builders and park officials will need to test the facilities and work out any kinks before opening the new amenities to the public.

“Depending on the weather, we might be open for a month or so in 2017,” Shanklin said, but he added he expects a more likely opening date will be spring 2018.

He expects every aspect of the park to be 100 percent handicapped accessible.

The splash pool portion will operational only during warmer months. Shanklin said they’re still working out the exact dates as well as the name for this amenity. “For now, we’re calling it a spray ground, but I don’t think that will be the name. I think it’s actually a splash park.”

Progress on the spray ground/splash park was just one piece of news that Shanklin is excited to share. Ground clearing is under way near Campground C, which will soon be home to three new yurts. “We are next on the list,” said Shanklin, adding that construction of yurts at Fairy Stone Park near Martinsville is nearly complete.

Yurts are a type of housing for camping. The name comes from the ancient Mongolian region where they have been used for hundreds of years. The yurts to be erected at Occoneechee State Park will fill the niche between cabins and tent camping, according to Shanklin. They are a single large, canvas-walled room set on a wooden deck, which are furnished. Some even have air conditioning, Shanklin explained.

He anticipates high demand for the yurts as fewer and fewer people coming to Occoneechee are what he calls “traditional campers.”

Shanklin said the yurts are one of the few amenities being built with park labor, not outside contractors. He’s sent a few of his rangers to Fairy Stone to learn the in’s and out’s of yurt construction. When the time comes, they will oversee the yurt building project at Occoneechee.

He expects the yurts to be available in March.

Occoneechee State Park also is in the process of becoming Dark Sky compliant, Shanklin said.

Dark Sky Compliant is a designation given to outdoor lighting fixtures that meet the International Dark Sky Association’s (IDA) requirements for reducing waste of ambient light. Lights that fall into this category have features like being fully shielded, are within maximum wattage limits, etc. The regulation was established in the interest of saving energy, maximizing safely and maintaining the natural ambiance of the night sky.

Shanklin explained, “the park is currently evaluating our lighting fixtures. We will be replacing some and there will be some modification of existing fixtures” to comply with the designation.

He is working with Staunton River State Park manager Adam Layman on this project. Layman led the effort to eliminate light pollution hampered stargazing at Staunton River.

In 2015, because of his efforts, Staunton River was named an International Dark Sky Park. It was the 25th such park in the world and Virginia’s first to receive this certification. Staunton River is also one of only six Dark Sky parks east of the Mississippi.

Looking back over his 17 years at Occoneechee, Shanklin said he’s proud of the changes and improvements that have come to the nearly 2,700-acre park over the years — including a marina, boat fueling dock, cabins, archery shooting, equestrian camp, and now yurts and a splash park.

So what’s next for the park? Shanklin said he’d like to see a conference center built overlooking the lake, and he would like to add at least seven more cabins to the park.

Each new amenity, Shanklin says, is an economic benefit for the park and nearby Clarksville, drawing new and additional visitors for longer stays to a park that currently averages around 200,000 visitors each year.

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