As a Park Ranger in the Chesapeake Bay Office, I have the treat of working with numerous partners and youth throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Early in July, I visited Virginia’s Westmoreland State Park to see the first camping sites being built at the park. For this project, NPS worked with the park manager and staff, the National Park Conservation Association, and Virginia’s Youth Conservation Corps to construct three campsites for use by park visitors and paddlers on the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.
The drive into the park is lined with tall, green trees and immediately conveys a calming and relaxing welcome. Joggers and walkers shared the road and headed off into the various trailheads that the park has to offer. My first stop was the clean and impressive visitor center with a gorgeous panoramic view of the Potomac River. This LEED-certified facility is well-designed, using sustainable materials and solar shading, and is beautifully landscaped, employing best practices to reduce harmful effects to the river. (When you go, make sure you see the birdfeeders made from recycled milk jugs.) I grabbed the park’s program guide and was impressed by the breadth of activities, Monday through Sunday, that the park offers, including fishing, birding, kayaking, yoga, crafts, fossil hikes and much more!
The rangers at the visitor center directed me to follow the Beach Trail to arrive at the campsite construction area. There I found thirteen participants in the all-female crew of the Youth Conservation Corps who were happy to show off their work and share their experience. These young women, ages 16 to 18, were stationed at Westmoreland for three weeks to contribute to park maintenance, work on special projects like the campsites, and participate in recreational and educational activities. Under the supervision of park staff, the YCC crew performed most aspects of the campsite construction: clearing the ground, building the site foundation, and setting fences, fire pits, and picnic tables.
The YCC crew and park staff will dedicate these campsites to the Civilian Conservation Corps whose work in the 1930s is visible throughout the park. When you come for a visit, be sure to notice the beautiful water fountain at the park entrance, and the overnight cabins built by the CCC. This paddle-in campsite project at Westmoreland builds upon last year’s similar work completed at Caledon State Park. Responding to a frequent request from paddlers for pull-over stops and overnight camping, these two locations may form the basis of a Potomac River paddle-in camping network.
I was impressed with their hard work, and impressed by the location for the campsites! Kayakers can paddle straight in from the Potomac waters into their cozy camping heaven. During our conversations, a young bald eagle watched us from a tree. I couldn’t help but imagine the day I will camp here, and watch the birds from my tent, perhaps an eagle or two.
As I headed back to the car, I saw groups of families enjoying the water, fishing and grilling. In the background I heard the familiar voice of Puerto Rican singer Hector Lavoe, and the salsa music he loved. I hesitated for a moment. Sometimes it seems funny to find Latinos like me in places that might feel remote for our people. But parks are for everyone! I left Westmoreland State Park singing along with Hector Lavoe, happy about new camping opportunities for people, and looking forward to a return visit.