You may have heard it’s the 100th anniversary of the National Parks System. What you may not know is that Virginia’s state parks are celebrating their own anniversary -- 80 years.
Virginia was the first state to open an entire system, 6 parks, in one day.
Virginia’s state parks were born from the Great Depression. The year was 1933 and President Franklin D. Roosevelt had just created the Civilian Conservation Corps, an agency that gave much-needed jobs to young men.
The CCC built bridges, planted trees, and created 800 state parks, including the six that would become Virginia’s system.
Jim Meisner, with Virginia’s Department of Conservation and Recreation, says they opened those parks in
“They also built Blue Ridge Parkway, Skyline Drive, the colonial parkway down in Williamsburg," says Meisner. "They helped to restore forests and farmland.”
Today, Virginia’s original 6 state parks have blossomed into a 36-park system. Wherever you are in Virginia, you’re no more than an hour from a state park. The park system hosted nearly 9 million visitors last year, and is on track to break that number this year.
“In many ways we have grown and changed, and in many ways we’re the same," says Meisner. "The family memories around a campfire or walking the trails or biking or canoeing, these things that people do when they go to a park are the exact same things that they did in 1936, it’s the exact same things they’re doing in a state park right now.”
The 80th anniversary celebrations continue all year. They include a new system to keep track of your visits and earn free stays, special geo-caching programs, and the dedication of a new park at Natural Bridge near Lexington.