Supporters of local parks voiced their opinions during Thursday’s state public hearing about the Virginia Outdoors Plan. The plan is updated every five years and is the gateway to acquiring state and federal funding for land conservation, outdoor recreation and open space planning.
Representatives from organizations like Albemarle Natural Heritage Committee , Virginia Canals and Navigation Society, the Piedmont Environmental Council and others gave input as to what they believed had been left out of the plan.
Topics included increased collaboration between localities and agencies to connect trails, protection of rare and endangered species, safety issues facing bike paths and the accessibility of local trails to the handicapped.
Lonnie Murray , representing the Albemarle Natural Heritage Committee , asked the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation to focus on connecting natural areas so that wildlife would be able to move freely between them.
“We’re not just creating isolated pockets of protections — we’re creating corridors,” Murray said.
The presentation also included a presentation by DCR staff on the results of an outdoor demand survey. The survey asked Virginians what qualities they look for in a state park.
Oftentimes the results were dependent on what types of activities were available in the region. For example, 63.5 percent of all Virginians travel to state parks to visit historic areas whereas for those living in the Thomas Jefferson Planning District that number is 75 percent.
The survey also showed that 67.7 percent of Virginia residents want more parks with hiking and walking trails, whereas only 40 percent of Virginians see a greater need for playing fields for outdoor sports.
Last year, local officials sought unsuccessfully to have athletic fields included in the master plan for Biscuit Run State Park . The future park is located in Albemarle County on a 1,200-acre site south of Charlottesville between Route 20 and Old Lynchburg Road .
“What they learned from their survey can be used to explain their resistance to having their park land used for field sports, because that was not what people in the state said they wanted in their state parks,” said Sally Thomas , a member of the board for Scenic Virginia and former member of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors.
Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville is currently attempting to negotiate with the state on a proposal to swap land it owns at the Southwood Mobile Home Park for land in Biscuit Run. If successful, the nonprofit plans to donate some of the land they acquire to Albemarle County for athletic fields.
At this point, none of the recommendations for new parks in the Virginia Outdoors Plan, including Biscuit Run State Park , have any funding.
“The proposals in the Virginia Outdoors Plan will be dependent on grant funding and local implementation,” said Janit Llewellyn Allen, an environmental program planner with DCR, in an interview.
The DCR will continue to take public comments on the Virginia Outdoors Plan through April 6 in meetings around the state. Comments may also be sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.