A World Away
By Carla Christiano
Chances are you have never heard of Silver Lake Regional Park, near Haymarket, even though it made headlines for years. When nationwide home builder Toll Brothers began developing the land adjacent to this former campground and fishing spot in 2006, it proffered (offered to give) Silver Lake to Prince William County in exchange for rezoning that would allow it to build more homes in the Dominion Valley subdivision.
The deal was cut that year for 318 acres of property, and public debate abounded over how the 233-acre recreational park site it included should be used and who should manage it: the Prince William County Park Authority (now the Department of Parks and Recreation), the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority or the Bull Run Mountains Conservancy. Each submitted competing management proposals.
Putting disagreements aside, in September 2008 local community groups and Prince William County government workers came together for one day to clean up the park site, which had been dormant for two years since the county acquired it. The Virginia Recreation & Park Society awarded the restoration effort a 2009 “Best New Special Event Award – National Public Lands Day at Silver Lake.”
In the award application, county Parks & Recreation Public Relations Manager Dianne Cabbot wrote that 93 citizens and 13 park employees and board members participated in the cleanup, hauling away enough debris to fill eight 30-yard dumpsters as well as 34 large bags of bottles and containers. Cabbot wrote that the day’s most important accomplishment was “bringing together all facets of the controversy over this land for a singular common cause: to restore this public land back to its original pristine glory.”
The next month Bull Run Mountains Conservancy officially pulled its proposal to take control of the park, and shortly afterward the Prince William Board of County Supervisors decided to make the land a public park and voted for the Prince William County Park Authority to manage it. The county supervisors transferred the land in June 2009 to the park authority, and Silver Lake Regional Park opened four months later.
The Many Lives of Silver Lake
Although the 23-acre lake seems integral to the park’s landscape, there was a time when it didn’t exist. A 1937 aerial map shows only the Little Bull Run winding through farmland. Using additional maps, Bull Run Regional Library Virginiana Librarian Don Wilson estimated that the stream was dammed between 1952 and 1962 to create Silver Lake.
During that time, George and Mildred Gossom owned the property. The enterprising Gossoms, who also owned a store in Haymarket, purchased 220 acres for just $5 in 1944 and turned them into Silver Lake Campground 24 years later. The Gossoms owned the property until 1973, when they sold it to the Silver Lake Associates, a group of investors mostly from Prince William and Fairfax counties. Although part of the land was leased in 1978 to the Culpeper Stone Company, which established a quarry, the rest remained a campground until its closure in 1991.
According to a 1995 Potomac News article, Haymarket residents Doug and Terry Scott and their business partner Larry Jager planned to reopen the Silver Lake Campground in 1993 and even cleared brush and cleaned out buildings. However, the Silver Lake Associates entered into a contract with the Walt Disney Company, stalling the Scotts’ plans. Disney was slated to build a 3,006-acre history-centric theme park, which would have included the Silver Lake Campground.
Fierce local opposition derailed Disney’s plans in 1994, and the partners reopened the campground the next year, calling it Mountain View Campground. It offered campsites, a playground, a baseball field and even hayrides. Silver Lake Associates entered into an agreement in 2002 to sell the property to Toll Brothers, closing the campground in 2005 and finalizing the sale in 2006.
A World Away
Today, bordered by Ronald Wilson Reagan Middle School and the Rainbow Therapeutic Riding Center, Silver Lake has no campgrounds, sports fields, playgrounds or even paved roads. Instead, rolling meadows and pine forests surround the lake, fed by Little Bull Run and stocked with catfish, bluegill and largemouth bass. There is a picnic area with tables and grills, and cyclists, hikers and equestrians share the park’s four miles of trails. The Bull Run Mountains are visible to the west.
“Part of its charm is the fact that it doesn’t have soccer games going on. It’s passive recreation. You can go out there fishing. Maybe you can take your [non-motorized] boat out or maybe you can go hiking. … It’s a wonderful place to take your family for the day,” said Gainesville District Supervisor Pete Candland, whose district includes Silver Lake.
Despite its proximity to Dominion Valley and to several shopping centers, the park seems a world away. “It’s quiet. There aren’t a whole lot of people that come out here. We enjoy seeing the wildlife,” said Wendell Howell of Manassas Park. He and his family have seen beavers, ducks, turtles and Canada geese while fishing there. “We don’t care if we catch anything. It’s relaxing,” Howell said.
Although Silver Lake was intended as a “passive park” from its inception, the Department of Parks and Recreation began offering programs there last year, including seven week-long day summer camps. Each camp offers a different themed activity for children aged 6 to 14. Camp themes this year include animals, survival skills, outdoor cooking and “wacky crafts,” according to the summer camp catalog.
Silver Lake also offers “Science in the Park,” a hands-on program centered around the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) for school, home school and daycare groups from prekindergarten through seventh grade. Jane England, center manager for Silver Lake and three other county parks, hopes to eventually introduce adult programming and to organize a “Family Fun Day,” when families could explore the park’s beauty. “It’s an absolutely gorgeous park,” she said.
For more information about Silver Lake Regional Park, located at 16198 Silver Lake Road in Haymarket, visit www.pwcgov.org.
Carla Christiano is a native of Prince William, an admitted history geek and a technical writer for Unisys. She can be reached at [email protected] Christiano gives special thanks to the RELIC librarians at Bull Run Regional Library, in Manassas, who provided much of the information for this article. RELIC (the Ruth E. Lloyd Information Center) is a special collection devoted to genealogy and history in Prince William and Virginia.