Locust Shade Park: Balancing Nature and Recreation

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By Carla Christiano

PWLiving April 2016 LSP Boat House

At Locust Shade Park on the southeast edge of Prince William County, there is a constant hum of traffic from I-95 to the west and Route 1 to the east. Yet the noise doesn’t seem to bother the fishermen gathered around Lefty Hamilton pond angling for trout, nor an otter who is angling for the fishermen’s bait.

“I don’t want to catch one of those,” said Dan from Manassas Park, pointing to the otter. He sees the otter closing in on his line and finagles it away. He comes to the park near Quantico from Manassas Park because “they don’t have good fishing up that way.” He likes the park. “They’re friendly here. It would be a lot quieter if Route 1 weren’t there, but you can’t have everything,” he said. Although he has seen about 50 people fishing at the lake some days, most people don’t know about the park. “You have Quantico right there, and half the people there don’t know about it,” he said.

Locust Shade Park Manager Chad Tyrrell has heard that before. “One of the common responses we have from a first-time customer is ‘I’ve driven by here six thousand times and never knew that it was here,’” he said. Tyrrell, who has been park manager for almost two years, would like that to change. He uses Facebook and the Parks and Recreation Leisure magazine to promote park programs, and the nearby National Museum of the Marine Corps has also brought the park some exposure. Prince William County’s Community Centers and Park Manager Janet LaFleur confirmed an increase in park visitors as a result of the museum, but park officials don’t know the exact impact because the park does not track all visitors.

The Jean C. Smith Amphitheater can seat 500 and is an ideal place for outdoor entertainment.

The Jean C. Smith Amphitheater can seat 500 and is an ideal place for outdoor entertainment.

Although Locust Shade Park does not have a formal partnership with the Marine Corps, Brent Heavner, communications services division chief, said, “The land that is now Locust Shade Park was at one time Marine Corps Base Quantico. And likewise, land that the museum sits on was transferred to the county as part of Locust Shade Park and then given back to the Marine Corps Heritage foundation for the site. In a broad sense, the history of Locust Shade Park is a history of a partnership of the Marine Corps and Marine Corps base Quantico.” Created from a land transfer to the county from the Marine Corps in 1975, Locust Shade Park was one of the first parks established by the Park Authority (now Department of Parks and Recreation). Opened in 1982, the now 295-acre park was named after the Harrison family estate “Locust Shade” in recognition of the family’s public service in Northern Virginia. Harrison family members served as justices, county lieutenants, ambassadors, sheriffs, military officers and representatives to the House of Burgesses in colonial Virginia, according to “Locust Shade Park—A History.”

Undiscovered Amenities

Although known primarily for its forested setting, the park offers eight pavilions for parties and picnics, an 18-hole miniature golf course, a lighted golf driving range, three playgrounds, a newly renovated batting cage and the eight-acre man-made lake stocked with trout and catfish seasonally. Its 500-seat amphitheatre, which Tyrell called “a hidden gem,” will host approximately 12 environmental education and family-based events from May to mid-October.

Batting cages can be rented for team practice or just 2 tokens for 15 pitches.

Batting cages can be rented for team practice or just 2 tokens for 15 pitches.

Despite the park’s amenities, park officials still struggle to get even regular visitors to realize all the park has to offer. People come for a single reason, and then they leave. “They come to hit at the batting cage and play for 20 minutes, then they leave, and they don’t realize there’s another 290 acres behind that they have never even explored,” Tyrrell said. To help visitors discover more about county parks like Locust Shade, LaFleur said there is a new tool called Parks and Recreation Finder, which can help visitors navigate trails and find amenities in a park. “It’s a powerful tool even for someone who already uses our parks to learn about new and exciting things to do,” Heavner said.

Future Plans for the Park

As for the future, park officials have no major projects planned for Locust Shade. “We’ve done some stream mitigation there. Everything else would basically be cosmetic or based on safety or operation of the park,” LaFleur said. Nothing planned would change the character of the park. “Right now it is well-aligned to what the community seems to want out of that recreational space. We don’t have people banging on the door to build a new athletic facility there,” Heavner added.

To Heavner, Locust Shade Park exemplifies the county’s balanced portfolio of parks. “On the one hand, you might have fields or indoor pools that are very busy. On the other you have a property like Locust Shade that gives children the opportunity to learn in outdoor spaces or smack a golf ball or drop a fishing line in the lake. It’s that balance of recreational opportunities in Prince William County that is amazing, and Locust Shade is part of that balance,” he said.

Fishing at Locust Shade

Because Locust Shade is a participant in the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Urban Fishing Program, its eight-acre man-made lake is stocked with trout five times from Nov. 1 to April 30. Trout fishing is limited to just those months and requires a special trout license in addition to a Virginia fishing license. Locust Shade Park is the only Prince William County park to participate in the program. In the summer the department also stocks the lake with catfish, and the lake has bluegill and largemouth bass as well. Neither swimming nor personal watercraft are allowed in the lake.

Locust Shade Park 4701 Locust Shade Drive, Triangle, VA • 703-221-8579 pwcgov.org/government/dept/park/locustshade/ Pages/default.aspx

Parks and Recreation Finder gisweb.pwcgov.org/webapps/parksfinder/

No entrance fee There is a fee for the driving range, miniature golf, batting cage, seasonal mini camps and some amphitheatre events. Park pavilions can also be rented for a fee.

Carla Christiano (cchristiano@princewilliamliving.com) is a native of Prince William County, admitted history geek and a technical writer for Unisys.

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