By Callie Hietala
A small group recently wound along the gently curving, tree-lined roads of the Henry County countryside to a newly built parking lot at the end of a road. Gathered beneath a bright blue autumn sky, group members took gold-painted shovels in hand, and broke ground on the property that will eventually become Mayo River State Park, the first state park in the county.
North Carolina’s Mayo River State Park is 16 miles of shoreline along the Mayo River. The Virginia park will join with North Carolina’s to allow the public to enjoy more of the North and South Mayo Rivers in both states.
The groundbreaking heralded the beginning of a new chapter in what has already been a 16-year effort, according to Brian Williams, Virginia program manager for the Dan River Basin Association (DRBA.) The group has helped shepherd the dream along over the years, hosting field investigations, commissioning studies, helping identify landowners in the area to increase the size of the property (there is a 600-acre minimum for a state park), and even providing canoes and kayaks for people to explore the property via the Mayo River.
In 2007, the General Assembly directed the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) to conduct a feasibility study on establishing a state park along the North and South Mayo Rivers in Henry County. Now, the site of the future park encompasses 632.68 acres, part of which will be publicly accessible by the spring of 2022, with five miles of hiking and biking trails as well as some interpretive signage, and that’s just phase one, Williams said.
Phase two will be adding additional trails, and eventually achieving a state park designation, though the timeline on when that will happen is unclear.
Williams said that from the parking lot to the confluence of the North and South Mayo Rivers is “a perfect four-mile hike.”
Fairy Stone State Park Manager Adam Layman said the creation of a park will help preserve and showcase some of the natural beauty and resources in the area, including a waterfall, known as Byrd’s Ledge.
According to local history, the ledge is said to mark the spot where William Byrd established the state line between Virginia and North Carolina during a 1728 surveying excursion, Layman said.
Williams said that achieving the dream of the future state park would not have been possible without the support of the Eco Ambassador Council (EAC), a relatively new partnership between Carter Bank & Trust and DRBA that invites member businesses to pool resources and invest in projects that benefit both the environment and the community.
The philosophy behind the council’s creation is that an abundance of natural resources and a healthy environment improve the quality of life in a community, a factor more and more businesses are considered when deciding to locate to a community.
Thus far, said Tyler Carter, commercial banker with Carter Bank & Trust and chairman of the EAC, six other businesses have joined Carter Bank & Trust in becoming founding members of the council, each making an initial $5,000 donation, including Pittsylvania County’s Blair Construction, Clark Gas & Oil based in Patrick County, and Frith Construction, Hooker Furniture, Jones & DeShon Orthodontics, and The Lester Group, all based in Martinsville or Henry County.
In his capacity as chairman, Carter said that he hopes to expand EAC membership to include more like-minded, community-focused businesses in the Dan River Basin area.
The state park project was selected from a list of potential projects as the council’s first investment—its $18,000 investment provided funds for the parking area and construction of trails. Carter described it as planting the initial seed that will allow the rest of the state park process to move forward.
He said future projects could include hiking and biking trail systems in other locations throughout the basin, river cleanups, and public environmental workshops.
Of next steps, Layman said, “the master plan development for the future Mayo River State Park is scheduled to begin during the spring of 2022. This will direct the official phases of park development and provide guidance and a timeline for the official opening of the park.”
“The project announced with the funding from the Eco Ambassador Council will provide trail access and parking area and is separate from the master plan process,” he added.
Williams congratulated the EAC and other partners who have worked hard to bring the county its first state park.
“After 16 years,” he said, “we’ll finally have something here the public can enjoy. Finding the funding to do this, to give us a state park in Henry County, we couldn’t be more thrilled.”