The future site of Virginia’s newest state park in Henry County is officially open to the public.
State and local officials along with other community leaders and volunteers all gathered at the end of Pratt Road in Spencer for a ribbon cutting to celebrate the area’s newest outdoor asset on April 22, Earth Day.
Over the last year and a half, park staff and volunteers worked to convert existing farm roads into 3.9-miles of multi-use trails which can be accessed from a newly-built parking lot. The Mayo River Trail runs 1.9-miles along the property’s main road, the Byrd’s Loop Trail extends just over a half mile from the spur to Byrd’s Ledge, and the 1.3-mile Redbud Trail encompasses the property’s northwest corner.
The 637 acres of land lies mostly between the North and South Mayo Rivers, which converge just south of the state line in North Carolina. Trekkers along the main trail will find themselves at the confluence of the two rivers, with trails from the North Carolina Mayo River State Park visible across the water.
Fairy Stone State Park Manager Adam Layman welcomed guests to the ribbon cutting, which marked “a celebration not only of the trails opening, but also of the community that joined together to make today possible.”
In addition to county officials, others involved included members of the Dan River Basin Association (DRBA), the Eco Ambassador Council (EAC), the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), a number of volunteers, and even an Eagle Scout.
“Today’s celebration is just the beginning of the role that this property will play in terms of outdoor recreational access, tourism, and economic development that will be so important to Henry County, the region, the Commonwealth, and beyond,” Layman said. “I’m excited for not only what the future holds for this property, but also for the opportunity to continue growing and strengthening our partnerships and working alongside you all.”
Brian Williams, Virginia program manager for DRBA, said the project “has been 20 years in coming.” He thanked the late Dr. Lindley Butler, one of DRBA’s founding members, who, along with his wife, T, “were some of our staunchest supporters and really did the lion’s share of making sure” that the state park project became a reality. “It’s their work and their efforts, as far back as 2002,” when they began working with North Carolina on the creation of their Mayo River State Park, that pushed the effort forward.
Eventually, the landowner of the Virginia property approached Butler about selling it, Williams said. That set him on the path of convincing Virginia legislators to make the purchase.
“We had a lot of ideas about how to make this happen, then DCR stepped up to the plate and bought the initial 3 or 400-acres,” Williams said, before making additional purchases to create the 600+ acre property.
“It really is significant,” Williams said. “Working through DCR, the North and South Mayo Rivers, part of them became state scenic rivers. It’s a very important piece of property out here in the far southwest corner of Henry County.”
Once the land is officially a state park, Williams said visitors will be able to hike or paddle from Virginia to North Carolina and still be in a contiguous state park.
“We know a lot of good things are coming,” Williams told the crowd. “And now we have this place open where people can actually access it.”
EAC Chairman Tyler Carter recognized the founding members of the council—Carter Bank & Trust, The Lester Group, Blair Construction, Jones and DeShon Orthodontics, Clark Gas and Oil, Frith Construction, and Hooker Furniture—all of which “have stepped up to make an annual contribution into a fund” for projects like the park and trail system. He said the Mayo River project was the council’s flagship endeavor.
“As you go from here today, think about your connections in the community,” Carter said. “We’d love to talk to other businesses that have shared values in this area.”
Henry County Administrator Tim Hall said that looking at the site was the “absolute definitive of the wow factor. It’s just phenomenal. It’s an amenity for our local citizens.
“We want them to use it, we want them to benefit from it, we want them to be a healthier community and this is a way to do that. But this is also an avenue, literally, to bring in people to our community. Brian (Williams) said you can walk or you can kayak from Virginia to North Carolina. We want you to come back to Virginia and spend your money here on gas, lodging and the other incidentals,” Hall said.
He added that during his career, he’s heard many conversations that included the phrase, “’I didn’t know you guys had this.’ That kind of irritates me. We need people to come and see what we have, because once they see it, they’re in on the secret—the beauty of this place, the people of this place and the opportunities of this place.”
Hall said one of the county’s top priorities is to advocate the General Assembly to complete the park. “We need to convince the folks in Richmond we exist,” he said, looking around at the sunlit trail, the rolling field, and the surrounding trees filled with birdsong.
“What a glorious day,” Hall said, “What a glorious opportunity this is for the whole region.”
DCR’s Interim Deputy Director of Administration and Finance Laura Ellis said the event was a “prime example of investing in our planet,” which was the theme for the Earth Day celebration. “What another prime example of investing in the partnerships that it has taken to get us to this point and for the partnerships that it’s going to continue to take as we develop this property.”
The addition of the 3.9-miles of trails on the property “increases the Virginia State Parks’ trail total to more than 680-miles of hiking, biking, and multi-use trails,” she said, and encouraged those who use the trails to “envision the possibilities of outdoor recreational access opportunities that are here today as well as what can come of the future as we work together through the master planning process” of the new park.
“I understand what a treasure this place is. I understand and I see and feel your passion for this area and I share in that collaborative goal with a common vision of outdoor recreational access and increasing the opportunities to experience all that Virginia has,” Ellis said.
“I’m sure you’re wondering what’s next for this property,” she said. “You continue to work with us as well as to work collectively with other partners as we go through our master planning process as prescribed by state code, as we work to develop the future Mayo River State Park … As those partnerships continue to develop and continue to expand, the possibilities for the future of (the park) are truly endless.”