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Dig in for a Spray Park

South Boston News
Lifting the ceremonial first shovels of dirt at Occoneechee State Park’s new spray park are Del. Tommy Wright, state Sen. Frank Ruff, Clarksville Mayor Kevin Allgood, Secretary of Natural Resources Molly Ward, First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe, Gov. Terry McAuliffe, DCR Director Clyde Cristman, Tom Smith, Assistant DCR Director, Rochelle Altholz, Deputy Director of Administration and Finance Craig Seaver, Director of State Parks, Occoneechee Park Manager Scott Shanklin and USACE Chief Ranger Sherry Storm. / April 19, 2017
Gov. Terry McAuliffe completed his first-of-its-kind tour of Virginia’s 37 State Parks when he visited Occoneechee State Park in Clarksville on Monday.

The governor, wife Dorothy and several family members were in town for the groundbreaking ceremony for Occoneechee’s newest attraction, a water spray park.

“I saved the best for last,” McAuliffe said, as he and the First Lady, Occoneechee Park Manager Scott Shanklin, state Sen. Frank Ruff, Del. Tommy Wright and others turned ceremonial shovels of dirt.

Occoneechee State Park’s $1.1 million spray park will be the second such attraction inside a Virginia State Park. When completed, it will have more than 25 water features.

Occoneechee will achieve a first in one area, said McAuliffe: “It is the first state project of this magnitude involving local permitting. It saves time and thousands of dollars.”

Last year, McAuliffe signed Executive Directive 7 to leverage the use of shared data and data analytics among state agencies to improve services and outcomes, maximize the use of resources, and increase the return on investment of citizens’ tax dollars in state government.

The catalyst for the directive stemmed from a complaint he received from a State Park friends organization, McAuliffe explained. They wondered why they had to spend nearly 50 percent of the cost for a project on state permitting. The same permits, if issued locally, would have cost about $200.

Executive Directive 7 now allows state projects to go through a local permitting process. McAuliffe said he would like to see the directive enacted into law before he leaves office.

The park was designed by Keith Stanley of Brockenbrough Engineering out of Richmond. The general contractors for the project are Warfield-based R.F. Howerton. Project Manager Michael Tanner said he expects to begin construction in the next 30 days, and weather permitting, hopes to complete his work in about 300 days, but the site won’t officially open until May 2018.

McAuliffe is the first Virginia governors to visit every state park. He said he visited the parks to highlight the importance of the park system to economic development in Virginia.

“I am 99.9 percent focused on economic development,” McAuliffe said adding that the Virginia State Parks system brought over 10 million visitors to the state last year and more than $225 million in revenue to the Commonwealth.

“Occoneechee State Park contributed $4.2 million to the local economy last year,” McAuliffe said.

He said his visits are more than a “driveby.” He and his family use the parks — they hike, camp, canoe and kayak. Early Monday morning, the McAuliffe family explored the stars at Staunton River State Park in Halifax County. That park has been named the 1st International Dark Sky Park in Virginia and the 25th such site in the world.

An International Dark Sky Park is kept free of artificial light pollution. The purpose of a dark sky park is generally to promote astronomy. The absence of light allows visitors to the park to view the sky much like our ancestors who lived before the invention of the electric light bulb.

“I saw Saturn and a constellation with millions of stars,” said McAuliffe, his voice ringing with excitement.

Earlier in the weekend, the governor participated in an archeological dig at the Staunton River Battleground Park. The site, known as the Wade Site, has been used as an archaeological field school for students from Longwood University and others since 1998. Investigation at the site has yielded information on daily life along the banks of the Staunton River from 1000 1450 A.D.

“It’s important for me as an advocate of the parks to bring publicity to the State Parks,” which he also called an integral part of his new Virginia Economy — his administration’s recommendations for how to reposition the state economy to support more economic growth by increasing private sector jobs.

“People need to know what treasures we have or what a special bargain the parks are,” said McAuliffe.

He called each of the 37 parks unique in its own way, noting that Virginia is where you go to visit George Washington’s home or learn about the birthplace of country music.

McAuliffe thanked the many people he said who help make Virginia’s park system and Occoneechee a success, from the 3,700 park system employees to Senator Frank Ruff who “made certain the money for Occoneechee’s spray park stayed in the budget in 2015.” He also thanked employees of the Department of Conservation and Recreation who work the parks at the state level and locally, Occoneechee Park Manager Scott Shanklin, and DCR Director Clyde Cristman, Director of State Parks Craig Seaver, Assistant DCR Director Tom Smith and DCR Finance Director Rochelle Altholz and Secretary of Natural Resources Molly Ward.

He also praised Jim Wilkerson who heads the Friends Group for Occoneechee State Park for his support.

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