Nothing to See Here

Why I don’t want Virginia’s newest state park to get any press.

Illustration by Michael Witte

My oldest son and I are walking through the woods when we come upon a small pond on which a fallen tree trunk extends out some 25 feet from the shoreline. On that log on this glorious spring day sit 11 turtles with necks stretching toward the sun. My son asks if those are smiles on their faces. Probably not, I say, but it’s clear they all feel like smiling.

We sit down along the shore of this pond for half an hour and watch the turtles and chat about nothing much.

Three hundred yards down our path past an abandoned antebellum farmhouse we see three American goldfinches flittering in and out of a green briar thicket. We cross Piney Run on a fallen log and walk up past the old mill and up the ridge where three deer see us and break for the valley below. At the upper pond we eat our sandwiches, then begin the 45-minute walk back to the car. As we approach the gravel parking lot we see the first human of the hike, a neighbor of ours from four miles south of the park.

The next morning a magazine editor friend calls me up asking if I can recommend any neat hiking trails around our home in Loudoun County. She wants a small story. “Easy couple hundred bucks,” she says. “Well there’s the Blue Ridge Cen…” I start to say, then catch myself. In a flash I give up my love for informing people about cool stuff (and making easy money) and pivot: “Um, you know, the Blue Ridge centered around there at Harper’s Ferry. But you know that. So, no. Nothing cool out here.” 

Have you ever had a place you enjoy visiting so much that you wanted to tell everybody how great it is? Have you ever had a place you enjoy even more—so much, in fact, that you don’t want to tell anybody how great it is?

This chunk of about 1,000 acres is special enough that Virginia recently purchased two-thirds of the property from a non-profit environmental stewardship group. The plan is to turn it into a state park. ‘Nuff said.

So I call up Craig Seaver, state parks director for Virginia, who wants to go into a little more detail with me. He’s excited, he says, that “we were able to acquire such a special place.” After years of negotiations,the state purchased about 600 acres of the park-like property and is moving toward purchasing the rest. 

He starts to talk about the beauty of the land and I tell him I don’t need those sorts of details. I was just wondering, you know, how long it would be before the state would start paving roads and building cabins and doing email blasts so many, many more Virginians could enjoy my, er, this special landscape.

“It could take quite a few years,” he says. They haven’t even begun the master planning process. Once they do, there will be a period for public comment, then it will take time to design any road or facility improvements. Just creating the master plan could take a couple years.

Seaver also says there isn’t money for the project right now, butthat state representatives from Northern Virginia are pursuing sourcesof funding.

“But it might be tough to get that funding anytime soon, right?” I ask. “It might be,” he agrees.

“That’s too bad,” I say disingenuously. I mean, Craig is a great guy. He’s doing important work. I just really want him to fail.

Dee Leggett, co-founder of the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship—the non-profit organization that has owned and managed these 900 acres of land for 20 years—says, “The state has no money whatsoever for the park,” assuring me, “nothing will be changing anytime soon.” (Her group has agreed to continue to manage the land on behalf of the state in the meantime.)

So Leggett and all the volunteers will likely be doing the great things they’ve been doing in semi-obscurity … for many years to come. 

It could be a decade or more, Leggett and Seaver tell me, before there is even a larger parking lot out there. I’m guessing they may never have an advertising or marketing budget that will attract more than a few hundred visitors a month.

Free advertising in the form of a story in some newspaper or magazine is probably the best way to spread the word. But Leggett doesn’t ask for a story, nor does Seaver. And I don’t offer to write one.

I guess then, there’s no news, and nobody really wanting a story about a place that can’t handle too many more people anyway. 

 So, nothing to see here. Please move along.

I wish you could join me at this quiet little center for environmental stewardship along the Blue Ridge. It will be lonely out there with the turtles and the birds and the mountain and ponds, but I’ll do my best—as often as possible—to manage.  

This article originally appeared in our June 2018 issue. 

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