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Occoneechee yurts, splash park ready for 2018 season

South Boston NewsSouth Boston News / December 06, 2017
Yurts and a new splash park are just two of the upgrades that will greet visitors as they return to Occoneechee State Park next year.

Officials with the park on Thursday detailed plans for improvements and new uses in Occoneechee State Park over a 30-year time frame.

The park has undergone a $1.5 million upgrade that includes the installation of three housing yurts and a splash park with a water activity area, playground, bath house and picnic shelter.

Park Manager Scott Shanklin said the yurts, a circular canvas house used for camping, fill the niche between the very popular park cabins and tent camping. They’re located near campground C. The name comes from the ancient Mongolian region where they have been used for hundreds of years.

Each yurt sits on a wood floor and is furnished with a queen size bed, table and chairs and seating area. There is no electricity running to the yurts, but each one has its own outdoor grill for cooking and plenty of windows which can be opened to let in the light. Since they have no heat or fireplaces, the yurts are not available for winter rentals, but will be ready for use once spring arrives.

Work is nearly completed on the park’s other new attraction, an 8,000-square foot splash pool, fitted with 16 different water features, a playground, picnic pavilion, restroom facilities and adjacent parking. Shanklin said, he and officials with the general contractor Warfield-based R.F. Howerton, tested all of the spray heads and they worked great. Construction is nearly complete on the nearby restroom facilities, which will wrap up the job. Shanklin said he is excited for the grand opening of the feature that will take place at a yet to be scheduled date in spring 2018.

Park Planner Bill Conkle with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation said other projects in the works for Occoneechee in the next 10 years include:

» Conference center

» A new park office and welcome center

» Seven additional cabins

» Two new dock facilities for 20 tie ups near the cabins

» New 30-site campground

» Bathhouse for the equestrian campground

» Expansion of the internal trail system and connection to external trails

» Development of a multi-use hiking/biking trail parallel to the park road that connects park facilities

» Widening the main park roads

Shanklin emphasized that the 10-year time frame for the identified projects is a loose schedule. Their development and execution are contingent upon state funding, and of course the priorities of the incoming governor’s administration. “The improvements we’ve made to the park in the past several years are thanks to the efforts of Sen. Frank Ruff, and his push for funds.”

The plan unveiled Thursday night was for 30 years, and included some more far-reaching projects. Conklin said development plans for Occoneechee for years 10-30 include renovating the current visitor center, construction of a new staff residence, enhancing the Occoneechee Plantation interpretive site, additional internal trail expansion, improvements to the amphitheater and construction of a performance center, construction of a discovery center associated with Native Americans of the region, development of a Native American interpretive trail with signage along the existing Panhandle Multiuse Trail, and construction of a boat landing site at the support center.

Not on the plan, but an initiative undertaken by Shanklin and his team this year was to make the park dark-sky compliant. It cost only a few thousand dollars, less than $5,000, said Shanklin. By changing lighting fixtures throughout the park, he reduced the amount of ambient light dispersed into the sky and improved opportunities for viewing starry nights and a nocturnal environment.

Occoneechee because of its location adjacent to Buggs Island Lake is popular with anglers and boaters. The 2,700-acre park includes 13 cabins, 3 yurts, 48 campsites, an equestrian campground with 11 sites and 11 covered horse stalls offers easy access to the park’s trail system, picnic shelters, an amphitheater, playgrounds, boat ramps, splash park, and a private concession offering boat rentals and snacks.

The park marina offers a fuel dock and boat slips with water and electric service for annual rentals. Six slips are available for rent to overnight camping and cabin guests. The park also has 20 miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding. The visitor center and museum introduce visitors to Native American history and the indigenous Occoneechee people.

The park, located on Highway 58 just east of Clarksville is open year round from 8 a.m. to dusk.

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