Loudoun's first state park, slated for northwestern Loudoun, is included in the upcoming state budget, as is funding for a regional science center.
The Times-Mirror confirmed the budget updates with lawmakers and county officials over the weekend.
In an effort to transfer the state park property to the commonwealth, the process was delayed after language supporting the project was left off the Senate budget bill. Costs associated with the park were still included in the House of Delegates budget.
“I feel very gratified that it happened," Catoctin District Supervisor Geary Higgins (R) said after confirming the update with lawmakers. “I appreciate all the work that’s been done by our delegation to get that done working behind the scenes.”
The 281-acre property, worth $3.6 million, will be provided at no cost to the commonwealth and does not require initial capital or operational investments, officials stated. The parcel includes much of the infrastructure needed to support a park and is adjacent to the 600 acres already owned by the commonwealth, according to officials.
The property includes an environmental education center, roads, trails, well and septic systems and is wired for electricity. In addition, the land will have limited operational impacts due to a partnership with the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship, or BRCES.
BRCES also operates the commonwealth’s current park holding at no cost and is managing the 281-acre parcel on Loudoun’s behalf.
On Oct. 18, 2018, the board agreed to pay $2.9 million to acquire 280 acres of land from the Robert and Dee Leggett Foundation. The board’s action adds to nearly 600 acres for the park near Neersville in northwestern Loudoun, which was acquired from the Robert and Dee Leggett Foundation in 2014.
In a report from the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation to budget conferees, $14 million in costs were estimated to help support the state park when the commonwealth takes over the property. However as the report stated, "The development, establishment, and required approval of the State Park Master Plan has not been performed for this land banked property."
The area contains the BRCES on Harpers Ferry Road, borders the Appalachian Trail and includes historic farmsteads, deep woods and wildflower meadows.
“This is seven years of work for this to come together, so I’m very excited," Higgins said. “I think it’s going to be a great benefit not to just Loudoun, but to the state of Virginia. I’m excited to see it get inked and taken into the state.”
Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) said she’s “thrilled” about the state park being added to the budget.
Randall was also hopeful after speaking with lawmakers that funding will be available for the Northern Virginia Science Center.
“I think the science center is going to be a game changer for Loudoun County and the entire area,” Randall said.
In a letter directed to the General Assembly, the board encouraged budget conferees to include in the state budget $3 million in planning funds for the science center. The request was approved for $2.3 million.
The regional science center is expected to be located on Route 28 in the Dulles Area of Loudoun County on proffered land located in the Kincora development, according to officials.
The board said the project will expand access to STEM education to 600,000 children in the region. The science center is expected to be part of a statewide network of science centers with access to industry partners in northern Virginia and the District of Columbia.
This project represents a public-private partnership comprised of the Science Museum of Virginia, the Children’s Science Center, state and local governments and the Northern Virginia philanthropic community.
Loudoun County is expected to contribute $15 million to the project for exhibits and "hands-on" experiences.
County Administrator Tim Hemstreet was also directed to identify a proposal for funding the county’s share of the project, which is scheduled to be finalized in April 2019.
“Loudoun County believes this is not only a sound economic investment for the commonwealth, but is an investment in our children now and in the future,” the board’s letter stated. “We are committed to making this investment, and thank you for considering the importance of this project to the region.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that a budget amendment providing money specifically for personnel at the state park passed. That amendment was not approved by the General Assembly.