State Park Initiative in Culpeper County Virginia

Today, we are pleased to welcome back guest author Mike Block

A view of Cedar Mountain
A view of Cedar Mountain

As the Vice-President of the Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield, as well as a former member of the Board of Directors of the Brandy Station Foundation, I have spent the last 11 years immersed in Civil War Culpeper. Due to my positions and relationships, I have gained valuable knowledge of the land, the battles, the personalities and organizations that impacted the landscape of Culpeper, both during the war and today. My experience and knowledge of Culpeper’s history is allowing me to be an active participant in an opportunity unrealized just a few years ago for the Cedar Mountain and Brandy Station Battlefields.

The Civil War Trust owns nearly 1200 acres of battlefield at Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain, a preservation effort that began in the mid- 1990’s. Most recently were purchases that bookend the iconic Fleetwood Hill, scene to no fewer than 12 separate engagements during the war, including the largest cavalry battle in North America. Additionally, there are another 3638 acres protected in the county through conservation easements.

The Civil War Trust has begun an initiative that if successful, would transfer their holdings to the Commonwealth of Virginia. When realized, Culpeper would be home to a new State Park, one centered on the critical battles of 1862 and 1863. Cedar Mountain was the first major battle fought in Culpeper and bridged the Seven Days and Second Manassas Campaigns, and the June 1863 Battle of Brandy Station inaugurated the Gettysburg Campaign.

The land is currently preserved through private-public partnerships between non-profits, The Civil War Trust, The Piedmont Environmental Council, and The Brandy Station Foundation, with active cooperation with the Virginia Department of Historical Resources and the Virginia Outdoor Foundation.

What would a state park bring to Culpeper? Tourists. A new state park would create an economic boon for Culpeper County as well as neighboring Orange and Fauquier Counties. It would attract history buffs and outdoor enthusiasts alike. The new park will straddle the “Journey Through Hollowed Ground” and be located between the Shenandoah National Park and historic Fredericksburg, with the town of Culpeper, a great destination, at its center. For those living in Culpeper, it will quickly become a nearby family destination for a variety of activities.

In addition to the history overload, including dozens of historical markers and monuments, the park will offer miles of established hiking trails and access to the Rappahannock River. Plenty of parking areas are in place to facilitate easy access to the park. The new state park will be conveniently located along Routes 15/29.

As the Virginia Outdoors Plan puts it, plainly and simply: “Recreation and parks bring together diverse groups of people and organizations to create healthy, vibrant communities.” With the hundreds of acres of scenic and historically significant land preservationists have saved across Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain, the essential building blocks for a new state park are already in place.

The Civil War Trust and the Commonwealth of Virginia already have produced a similar success story in land transfer. The Sailor’s Creek Battlefield is an excellent example of what could be accomplished at Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain – a state park managed by a small but effective staff, where most of the land was preserved by the Civil War Trust and ultimately transferred to the state.

How important is heritage tourism? A recently released economic impact study from the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission showed Virginia’s Civil War sesquicentennial commemoration brought more than $290 million and 3.7 million people to Virginia.

Conducted by Chmura Economics & Analytics at the request of the Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission, the study shows that programs marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War generated more than $8.4 million in state tax revenue and nearly $5 million in local tax revenue.

The study estimates the total economic impact of Civil War sesquicentennial programs and events, combining commemoration expenditures and visitor spending, at $290.3 million, supporting 3,488 jobs. Direct spending by visitors to sesquicentennial events is estimated at $165.7 million. According to the report, sesquicentennial programs and events, as well as visitor spending in Virginia related to the commemoration, “contributed positively to the Commonwealth’s economy in terms of sales, jobs, and tax revenue.”[i]

Heritage Tourism is big.

At the suggestion of state officials, the Civil War Trust has hired an independent contractor to prepare a report on the feasibility of a Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain State Park. The contractor is working in partnership with The Friends of Cedar Mountain, The Brandy Station Foundation and The Piedmont Environmental Council on this study. This report will investigate the historical and recreational opportunities at the two battlefields, explore economic and tourism benefits, and examine best practices for managing the properties that will compose the new park.

When opportunities present themselves, please support the Civil War Trust initiative in any way you can. This is just the beginning of a process and there is much to do. Your future support just may be the key to its success.

Fleetwood Hill at Brandy Station
Fleetwood Hill at Brandy Station

[i] Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission press release, August 25, 2015.

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