Youngkin helps dedicate Blackwater Park
Published 1:42 pm Wednesday, December 14, 2022
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin was among the state and local officials who gathered Tuesday morning, Dec. 13, in Franklin to dedicate and celebrate the city’s new 203-acre park at 1716 N. High St.
Franklin City Manager Amanda C. Jarratt noted Wednesday, Dec. 14, that the city is waiting on the gate installation before the park can be open to the public, but she said city staff anticipates receiving the gate in the next few weeks. Once open, the park will have the hours of dawn to dusk, in accordance with city policy for all its parks.
Immediately following remarks from Franklin Mayor Frank M. Rabil and Youngkin on Tuesday, they both participated in a ribbon cutting with key contributors to the new facility.
“I want to echo again just a heartfelt thanks from across the commonwealth for all of you that believe that parks matter,” Youngkin said during his speech. “Thank you for believing that parks matter, because they do. Environmental stewardship is at the heart of the commonwealth, and I’m just so pleased to be here with all of you celebrating the grand opening of the beautiful Blackwater Park.”
Rabil opened his remarks with acknowledgements and thanks to all those who made the park possible.
“Those of you in attendance today have been extremely important in the planning and building of this park, and it is truly a community asset, and we appreciate your being here, and we appreciate the support you’ve given,” he said to the more than 50 people on hand.
The mayor then highlighted three individuals.
“I would like to recognize Hal Purcell and the Purcell family for their initial investment and contribution to the park,” he said. “Thank you, Hal.”
Next, Rabil expressed thanks to attorney John Lain.
“He helped us work with the Army Corps of Engineers and (Department of Environmental Quality) for the planning of this boardwalk to make sure we were doing everything correctly,” Rabil said.
Lastly, the mayor highlighted Jamie Craig, of Beechtree Group LLC.
“Most of all a tremendous ‘thank you’ to Jamie Craig for his vision and passion to make Blackwater Park a reality,” Rabil said.
THE FIVE-YEAR JOURNEY
“Back in June of 2017, I first met Jamie over at (International Paper), and we were talking about a really nice contribution that they were going to give to the city of Franklin — 17 acres,” Rabil said.
As they were talking, he had a suggestion for IP representative Jennifer Dixon.
“I said to Jenny at the time, ‘Well, you’ve got a 200-acre tract of land down the road. Why don’t you just give that to the city also?’ That wasn’t very well received,” Rabil said, instigating a wave of laughter at the dedication. “Needless to say, it did pique the interest of Jamie and the Beechtree Group, and they inquired about purchasing the property and — even at that time — about maybe potentially putting a park here.
“So through Jenny and the people at IP, they contacted their CEO and had to get all the way up to Memphis, get all the approvals to have this piece of land sold to them for that purpose,” Rabil continued. “So this was originally International Paper land.”
He noted that Sylvan Resources Fund was formed in December 2017 to purchase the property where the park is now based, and the Purcell family helped with that initial purchase, which closed in December 2017.
“Jamie met with City Council in October of 2018 to measure our interest in potentially collaborating with him on this project,” Rabil said. “He told us that grants had been submitted and that we were ready to go. I would say (that) to say that council was skeptical of what was going to happen here would be an understatement.”
The mayor noted that in February 2021, the funding for the park was almost ready to go.
“They had been out here and marked the trail of where they were going to go,” he said. “And then we had a meeting down at Fred’s (Restaurant) in July, and everybody was still shaking their heads (thinking), ‘Is this thing going to really happen?’”
But construction began in September 2021, he said.
“So here we are 15 months later, and we had some really good partnerships here,” he said.
The facility was constructed by Repair Tech and also Crowder and White, and Rabil noted that they both “agreed to complete the work and carry the invoices until closing, which was phenomenal on their part.”
He said that the Sylvan Resources Fund advanced some additional money “so that we could continue with that and wait until all the grants came through.”
The closing took place in September after several delays, the mayor said.
“But since the closing, the pavilion has been built,” he said. “The kiosk and the potty shed are ready. The additional funds were secured, and the final trail materials and signage were all put up within the last week.
“We’ve still got a few little things to do, but here we are today, and we’re going to dedicate this park, and it’s now my honor to turn the podium over to the 74th governor of the commonwealth of Virginia for his remarks,” he said.
YOUNGKIN REACTS TO THE PARK
“Thank you all for coming out and really celebrating what is a huge accomplishment — a huge accomplishment of collaboration and cooperation, of vision, of fortitude,” he said, “and oftentimes, those moments when everybody else shakes their head but a few don’t, those are the projects worth pursuing. And I’m just so glad that I was included in this. Thank you for inviting me here today. It’s an honor to be here, it’s an honor to be with you to cut a ribbon at what will be open to the public — Blackwater Park.”
He echoed some of Rabil’s expressions of gratitude, including thanking Craig for his tireless efforts, vision and commitment to the park.
Youngkin described the park as “the result of this collaboration of state resources, federal resources, local and private resources, nonprofit entities, and together, you all raised $1.6 million. You volunteered countless hours and, with the support of the Franklin Parks Foundation, made what once was a dream a reality today.”
He thanked Rabil for sharing the journey from dream to reality.
“And now families and friends of all ages can now hike along the ridge trail, the boardwalk and along the Blackwater River to take in God’s wonder,” he said. “And that is what preserving his gifts to us is all about.”
The governor emphasized that school groups can come to the park to observe and learn about the unique ecological features present there.
“And our local colleges and our universities, including Camp Community College, William & Mary and (Old Dominion University), can utilize this area for research,” he said.
“This is a community moment,” he said of the park dedication. “This is a moment where all benefit.”
DEER CREEK PARCEL ANNOUNCEMENT
Youngkin then explained that he was pleased to make an additional announcement on behalf of the Franklin Parks Foundation.
“Through state and federal cooperation, the Franklin Parks Foundation has entered into a contract to acquire an additional 96 acres adjacent to the Blackwater Park, and that is affectionately known as the Deer Creek Parcel,” he said.
“And of those 96 acres, 65 acres are composed of forested wetlands, with an old-growth cypress stand, which will be protected and managed in perpetuity,” he said. “And the balance is an upland mixed hardwood forest of oak, hickory and other hardwood species typically found in this great region of Western Hampton Roads.”
He explained that these forests will protect critical natural habitats for several documented species and provide valuable flood storage during high-water events for low-lying portions of the city of Franklin.
“See, for this reason, the park is not only an investment in conservation, but it protects the city, its businesses and, most importantly, its residents from the risks of flooding,” he said.
Through the generosity of the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, $100,000 has been allocated to the acquisition cost, he said, adding that the parks foundation will be seeking additional funding through the Virginia Land Conservation Fund to finalize the acquisition cost and close on the Deer Creek Park addition in 2024.
He stated that the Obici Healthcare Foundation, in addition to all of this work for land acquisition, has awarded $275,000 to the Franklin Parks Foundation to connect the two tracts with a new bridge over Deer Creek, to develop trail systems with signage and to install primitive camping sites for overnight groups.
“This is an exciting announcement for the future of this park, and again, I’d like to offer my heartfelt thanks to the vision in order to make this additional acquisition come about,” he said. “I look forward to seeing the additional progress that we can make here at Blackwater Park, and I look forward to hiking it, I look forward to crossing over a new bridge that connects another parcel, and I look forward to amazing moments in experiencing God’s wonders here in the commonwealth of Virginia.”
OTHER OFFICIALS PRESENT
Several Franklin City Council members were present for the dedication, and among the state-level officials joining them were Acting Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources Travis Voyles, Virginia Del. H. Otto Wachsmann and Virginia Outdoors Foundation Executive Director Brett Glymph.