When you drop in on Johnny and Jo Finch at their Spotsylvania County home to talk about what’s new in state parks, you’d better have some time on your hands.
That’s because the pair with more than 15,000 volunteer hours between them always seem to have a hand in new park projects.
Indeed, when I visited their Lake Anna home on a recent afternoon, the president (Johnny) and secretary (Jo) of the Virginia Association for Parks had news to offer on several fronts.
The news includes:
Improvement and development of two Web sites–vaparks .org and virginiaoutdoors.com–designed to make it easier to support and use parks here and elsewhere.
The redesigned VAFP site (va parks.org) now tells users about proposed state park projects ranging from high-tech visitor center displays to “spray-grounds” designed to keep summer visitors cool.
Included with descriptions of the projects is a spot for direct donation to them.
The brand-new “Explore Virginia Outdoors” site is designed to be a place where folks can get what they need to enjoy the outdoors in parks here and elsewhere.
On the site, users can take a virtual hike, download detailed trail maps, find out about special events or learn where they could bike, swim or kayak.
They can even link to parks in other states and Canada for multi-state trips.
The two Web sites have had a soft launch so far, and are to be officially introduced by state dignitaries soon.
An effort to make new visitor center presentations dramatic and high-tech.
Johnny Finch said he, park officials and others have been working with a multimedia company developing a prototype exhibit at the state park at the Sailor’s Creek Civil War battlefield.
Using acrylic cutouts and holographic projections, the approach is to bring two soldiers to life–a Confederate soldier and a Union commander–with audio including the cries of the wounded and gunshots all around.
He said the VAFP is providing some of the funding, but needs grants and donations in order to extend the approach to exhibits at eight other parks.
Playground equipment that looks a lot like railroad engines and cars for nine state parks that have a significant railroad history.
Jo Finch, a longtime leader of the Friends of Lake Anna State Park, said volunteers and park officials have developed a prototype of the brightly colored equipment that’s designed for toddlers.
“We didn’t realize until we took our grandchild to play at the park that the equipment now at our state parks is designed for children from 5 to 12,” she said. “These train designs, which there’s no money for in state budgets, are for kids from 2 to 5 and are much needed.”
She noted that the cost of the equipment would be roughly $30,000 per park, and that Caledon Natural Area in King George County is one of the parks with a significant railroad history.
Finch noted that the Lake Anna Friends group has already secured some of the funding for the equipment there, but is seeking grants and donations to make the goal.
Johnny added, “This is another one of the projects you can donate to directly on the VAFP site. Did I mention that all contributions to these projects through our 501(c)(3) association are tax-deductible?”
A different sort of way to get wet in the summers at state parks.
Johnny Finch said a prototype is being considered at Belle Isle State Park on the Rappahannock River in Lancaster County.
Initial plans have said a spray-ground might have 12 to 14 above-ground towers and spray features that would allow youngsters to get wet in the hot Northern Neck summers without the dangers of drowning and the high costs of maintaining a pool.
Preliminary cost estimates are for about $250,000 for the water play area, with other costs added for a fence and parking area.
And yes, you guessed it, fans of this project–which could be extended to other state parks–can make donations directly through the VAFP site.
Since 1997, the VAFP has become the nonprofit umbrella organization for the respective citizen support groups (Friends groups) and individual volunteers supporting the 35 state parks and 59 state natural areas, and the 22 national parks, monuments and historic sites located in Virginia.
Johnny Finch noted that the VAFP site makes it easy to join the association, providing membership options that range from free to a $1,000-or-more platinum membership.