Blackwater Park project wins Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award

Blackwater Park project wins Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award
Pictured from left, Travis Voyles, Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources; Franklin Mayor Frank Rabil; VOF Senior Conservation Specialist Estie Thomas; Beechtree Group Manager Jamie Craig; Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation Director Matt Wells; and Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Director Michael Rolband.

A new city park in Franklin created with help from the Virginia Outdoors Foundation received a gold Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award at the Environment Virginia Symposium on March 28.

Blackwater Park is a 200-acre park in Franklin that opened in late 2022. The park is the result of a partnership between Beechtree Group LLC, the City of Franklin, and the Virginia Outdoors Foundation—each of which played a vital part in making the park possible. Blackwater Park was acquired, funded, and constructed by Beechtree Group and the Virginia Outdoors Foundation before being transferred to the City of Franklin. Beechtree led the effort by finding acquisition funds and holding the property for four and a half years while securing federal, state, and private grants.

Beechtree arranged for the installation of an 800-foot boardwalk, two miles of trails, and the construction of parking, roads, a pavilion, and kiosk. Signage and interpretive materials were also designed and installed by Beechtree. A trail constructed through Turkey Island was designed to serve both people and wildlife. The low-impact and ADA-compliant trail gives park visitors the opportunity to observe wildlife and learn from the educational signage. The trail can be closed during nesting season, if necessary, to reduce impacts on the turkey flock. An easement on park land along the river and the adjacent forested wetlands prohibits harvesting. This ensures a wooded buffer of 500 to 1,000 feet along the Blackwater River. The park serves as a flood storage area for the city, helps to protect a vulnerable part of the town, and provides habitat for two threatened species.

Ribbon-cutting at Blackwater Park, December 2022
Governor Glenn Youngkin joined officials from the city and VOF, as well as local partners and project supporters, for a ribbon-cutting event at Blackwater Park in December 2022.

The project supports the Virginia Outdoors Plan by adding trails, natural area access, and outdoor space. The park has been designed to enable groups from elementary school age children to veteran outdoors people to spend time hiking, observing, and learning about the unique ecological resources that exist on the State Scenic Blackwater River.

“The creation of Blackwater Park is a tremendous community asset that will be enjoyed by our citizens and the surrounding Hampton Roads region for years to come,” said Franklin Mayor Frank Rabil. “We invite everyone, whether they live minutes or hours away, to come visit and experience the unique trails and boardwalk at Blackwater Park.”

“My partners and I are thrilled that we were able to make this gift to the City of Franklin,” added Jamie Craig of Beechtree Group.

VOF’s Estie Thomas, who managed the grant application and easement processes, noted, “This project protects some of the region’s most important nature resources, from bald cypress habitat to the scenic Blackwater River—all of which will be enjoyed by the public for generations to come.”

The annual Governor’s Environmental Excellence Awards recognize the significant contributions of environmental and conservation leaders in five categories: sustainability, environmental project, greening of government, land conservation, and implementation of the Virginia Outdoors Plan. They are given to businesses and industrial facilities, not-for-profit organizations, and government agencies.

For a complete list of 2023 winners, click here.

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