Virginia Gov. Mark Warner and nearly all 140 members of the commonwealth’s General Assembly are urging voters to approve a $119 million Virginia Parks and Natural Areas bond referendum at the polls Nov. 5.
Passage of the $119 million bond referendum would provide $30 million to purchase three new parks and 10 natural areas; $6.5 million to purchase additional land near 11 existing parks and eight existing natural preserves; and $4.5 million to protect park land from severe shoreline erosion. The remaining $78 million would be for much-needed construction, improvement and repair projects such as cabins and campgrounds throughout Virginia’s 34 state parks.
Bond funds would be used for specific projects, not operating costs.
“This may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Joe Elton, state parks director. “There are simply no guarantees that this land will be made available in the future if we don’t get it now.”
The land for the new preserves, which protect Virginia’s rare and threatened species and habitat, as well as the new parks would be acquired from willing sellers — the commonwealth will not use eminent domain.
The new land would also help to meet the commitment of the Chesapeake 2000 agreementto permanently protect 20 percent of the Bay watershed as open space.
While state biologists have identified 1,450 critical areas in the commonwealth, only 36 have been designated Natural Area Preserves. Money from the bond would help protect additional natural areas.
Proponents of the referendum point out that in 2001, nearly 40 percent of park visitors came from out of state and contributed $144 million to the local economy. They noted that bond money would help to stimulate the commonwealth’s sluggish economy.