Werowocomoco park moves ahead

by Quinton Sheppard - Posted on Dec 05, 2018 - 02:08 PM

The National Park at Werowocomoco and The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail are one step closer to being opened to the public.

This is according to a presentation given to the Gloucester County Board of Supervisors Tuesday night from Kym Hall, superintendent of Colonial National Historical Park. However, no opening date was announced.

According to Hall, the National Park Service has re-initiated the planning process for the park that will celebrate the internationally significant cultural and historical site on the York River where Chief Powhatan lived and subsequently met on several occasions with Captain John Smith. “This is one of the most significant places on the eastern seaboard when it comes to tribal history,” Hall said.

Beginning in January, Hall said face-to-face meetings will begin with tribal representatives, local officials and other stakeholders to help brainstorm an overall vision for the amenities the park will include. She said the face to face sessions will be day-long to come up with ways for people to best enjoy themselves, while best honoring the history of the property.

“We oversee 417 units around the country,” Hall said, “and we’ve made some blatant mistakes opening the gates too quickly.” With Werowocomoco, she said the NPS is going to try to avoid any mistakes and ensure a positive experience for all who visit the park in the future.

Hall said the NPS has contracted local archaeologists with The Fairfield Foundation to continue the work that has been done to date on the site to fill any data gaps and to provide guidance on any future investigative opportunities there.

“It’s a sacred site and there are a number of burial sites still out there,” Hall said. “So we want to be thoughtful and careful.”

She added that the foundation has “done an excellent job” working on the site in the past and will continue to do so in the future. Next steps for them include providing an archaeological overview of Werowocomoco for the NPS and providing its recommendations on site development moving forward.

Hall added that NPS produced a film on Werowocomoco about a year ago that received 35,000 views on its website in just a couple days’ time. It was shown in schools statewide and was presented at a film festival in Richmond. “The film received major interest about the site, Gloucester County and the history in the area,” she said.

“The film was well, well done and I can see why its reception was so impressive,” Abingdon district supervisor Robert “JJ” Orth said.

Hall added that tribal stories seem to be what people want to know, including current tribal members. The park service is planning another film on Werowocomoco in the coming year.

Finally, Hall said NPS has enjoyed a very positive working relationship with county staff over the recent months as it has partnered with the Gloucester Visitor Center to provide exhibits on Werowocomoco and tribal history. She also has been in talks with the state on the park planned at Timberneck.

The arrangement could include possible transportation options to take visitors from site to site. “They seem very interested to partner with us for a very robust visitor experience,” Hall said.

Other matters

In other news, the Gloucester Board of Supervisors did not act on a request from the Fairfield Foundation for a real estate tax exemption for properties it owns on Cedar Bush and Hickory Fork roads. 

During a public hearing on the matter, several members of the public expressed concern over more private land being taken off the tax rolls, which could cause the real estate tax to increase on a majority of other taxpayers. However, members of The Fairfield Foundation urged supervisors to consider tax exemption for these properties because of the educational opportunities the foundation provides for local students on its sites.

Following a second public hearing, the board unanimously authorized the conveyance of a manufactured home in the York District, currently owned by the county, to the heirs of the property owner where the home sits.

The manufactured home was purchased under the Community Development Block Grant project to replace the late owner’s home that was destroyed by Hurricane Isabel in 2003.

The board also unanimously accepted the report of the county’s independent auditor for fiscal year 2018 and approved an additional appropriation of fiscal year 2019 funding for the replacement of playground equipment at Achilles Elementary School.