After decades of failed attempts, Fauquier County on Saturday began offering public access to the Rappahannock River.
State and local officials hope the new River Preserve near Waterloo, about seven miles west of Warrenton, begins a wave. Eventually, canoeists and kayakers would have a couple more public access points downstream.
From the new park, the next such point lies 20 miles downriver at Kelly’s Ford, where the state has a landing on the Culpeper County side, south of Remington.
In January 1985, Larry Miller started as Fauquier’s parks and recreation director, hoping to take advantage of the Rappahannock.
“Within the first year, I went to Fredericksburg and talked to them about some of the land they owned for river access,” Mr. Miller said after the new park’s dedication Saturday morning.
But, Fredericksburg officials refused to consider public access along the 32 miles of riverfront the city owns upstream from its water supply, recalled Mr. Miller, who will retire Aug. 1.
Without trespassing or securing landowner permission, getting to the Rappahannock in Fauquier had remained impossible for outdoor enthusiasts — until a recent gift.
> Video at bottom of story
Charles K. “Chuck” MacDonald, who lives in Madison County near Sperryville, approached county officials early last year with an incredible offer: 196.6 pristine acres with eight-tenths of a mile of river frontage — at no cost.
“I just think this is the natural use for the property,” Mr. MacDonald, a retired investments manager, said in brief remarks during Saturday’s dedication. “It’s so close to Warrenton . . . . I was stunned to learn there’s no public access” to the river.
He bought the property while “living outside of Leesburg and looking for a place . . . to go tubing and camping” with his family, Mr. MacDonald explained in an interview. “Then, I bought the place out at Sperryville, and I didn’t need it. I could just walk out my backdoor.”
During his childhood in Potomac, Md., his parents bought 50 acres in West Virginia, encouraging a lifelong passion for the outdoors.
Mr. MacDonald paid $2 million for the Fauquier property in 2007, according to county real estate records. The previous owner already had developed a couple miles of trails on the land. Mr. MacDonald briefly thought of building a house on the property, but that would have required the removal of mature trees — unacceptable to him.
So, he gave it away for public use. Already in place, a Virginia Outdoors Foundation conservation easement ensures the property’s preservation.
“With its hills, woods, open fields, wildlife, wonderful views and river frontage on the Rappahannock River, Riverside Preserve is a wonderful new addition to the Fauquier County parks system,” parks board Chairman Don Johnson said during the dedication, which drew about 60 people. “It is a unique venue for outdoor recreation and education and a place to enjoy nature and engage in a variety of outdoor recreational and educational activities.”
The new park changes things.
“Before this, the highest you could go up the Rappahannock from Fredericksburg (for public access) was Kelly’s Ford and that’s not even in Fauquier County,” Friends of the Rappahannock Programs Manager Bryan Hofmann told visitors at an information table. “Fauquier’s got one of the longest river frontages and had no public access.”
Wow! Such a fantastic gift to the citizens of Fauquier. Thank you to the MacDonald family! Thank you Fauquier County Parks and all the other groups that had a hand in making this happen. Thank you Fauquier Now! for publishing this great story! We visited the park with our daughter and hiked its trails last weekend... beautiful walk on the river bank then gentle climb to higher ground and hike through shady hardwood forest. We're looking forward to finally paddling the river from here this spring and summer!
fauquierflash · April 21, 2019 at 1:53 pm
Something seems backwards to me> First, many Thanks to Mr & Ms MacDonald for this generous donation that will be enjoyed for yrs to come.
NOW … Let's see, I can as a Fauquier resident drive into Crockett Park during the week for FREE but I need to pay $50 or $75 to enter the River Preserve during the week, but then on Weekends "anyone" can enter for FREE???