UVA Graduate Students Researching Future Highland County State Park


Is a state park in Highland County’s future? A group of Urban + Environmental Planning graduate students at the University of Virginia are researching the possibility. One such student, Elizabeth Nowak, has more.

Ms. Nowak says, “So I am one of five other second year graduate students. We are all in our final semester of our master’s program here at UVA. There is Zack Waldmeier, Elizabeth Munyan, Kun Dong, and Boning Dong, and we got involved with this project in Highland as part of our final capstone project.”

The students heard about Highland County’s proposal from an informal local group of interested community members called Friends of Highland County State Park. Ms. Nowak explains, “So our project is kind of what The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation calls the pre-planning phase. There currently is no state park in Highland County, so what Friends of Highland County State Park were looking at is saying, ‘We don’t have the same kind of access to public parks and state parks as other places in the state, and Highland County is so beautiful and has really great topography, so a lot of hiking opportunities. Why don’t we have a park here?’ We are helping to look and see if it’s possible to do that in the county, so that’s kind of looking at mapping, programming opportunities, if there are any sites that might lend themselves to being a park, so we’re looking at the potential for a park rather than designing a specific park in the county.”

To gather information, surveys are being conducted, and public input is needed. Ms. Nowak says, “We do have a survey that’s live right now for residents of Highland County to let us know what they look for in a state park, if they use state parks, how they might feel about a state park in the county itself. This survey is a companion to one that we gave in person at the Maple Fest back in March, where we talked with a lot of folks who were visiting Highland County, and these surveys are really going to help us get an idea of what the needs are amongst residents and what people want, and that’s really gonna help guide what we ultimately recommend for those next steps.”

Surveys can also be completed in person at The Highland Center or the Highland County Public Library. Ms. Nowak concludes by explaining why state parks are important. “State parks are really great opportunities to connect with nature,” she says. “Studies have shown just how much that kind of access and use can relate to health, overall health, for communities, but it’s also a really great opportunity for economic development. Bringing people in to the community to visit a park translates to dollars spent in restaurants and souvenir shops and all other kinds of things, and just getting to share your community with others really kind of connects people, so for us, those are the kinds of things that we think are important about this, and in making these next steps for either pursing a state park or other type of outdoor recreation opportunity in the county, we think that this could have a really positive economic impact, as well as a social impact.”

The final goal is to leave interested parties with the next steps to move ahead. The survey will close on Friday, April 20, 2018 at 5:00 p.m. A presentation with results will be open to the public on Saturday, May 5, 2018 at 1:00 p.m. at CitySpace on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville. Results will also be presented at The Highland Center on Sunday, May 6, 2018 at 1:00 p.m. A link to the live online survey will be available at the posting of this story on www.alleghenymountainradio.org. There will be another link there to the University of Virginia’s Urban + Environmental Planning website for more information and to view the final posted results in May.

Survey link (closes on April 20, 2018 at 5:00 p.m.):  http://www.surveymonkey.com/r/highland_csp

Urban + Environmental Planning website, which is planned to include final posted results in May, 2018:  http://www.arch.virginia.edu/programs/urban-environmental-planning

Story By

Chris Swecker

is the Assistant Station Coordinator and a News Reporter for WVLS. He has roots in Highland County going back several generations, and he grew up in Monterey. Since graduating from James Madison University with a bachelor’s degree in Media Arts and Design, he has pursued his career at a news station and advertising agency in Virginia, on Microsoft’s campus in the state of Washington, and in both states as sole owner and employee of a video production company. He enjoys exploring life with his wife, Jessa Fowler, traveling, hiking, hunting, gardening, and trying new foods, all while discovering more about what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. He feels blessed to be a small part of this talented AMR team to help give back to the community that has provided him with so much.

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