by Madison White Franks and Robert Mason Jr.
Belle Isle State Park last week held grand opening events for a new Visitor Center exhibit. On Friday, the park staff hosted a reception for those who contributed to the exhibit and on Saturday doors opened to the public.
Addressing the gathering on Friday, Virginia State Parks director Craig Seaver outlined his concept of parks: resources plus experience equals moments and memories. Chief ranger for visitor experience Katie Shepard does a good job of making that happen here at Belle Isle State Park with this new exhibit, he said.
Park manager Marceia Holland earlier indicated Shepard is responsible for developing and creating the multiyear project.
The park staff has been working on the exhibit for three years, said Shepard on Saturday.
“The Visitor Center was built 10 years ago and when it was built there were no funds to fill the exhibit area. There was a proposed plan that was going to cost about $300,000 and it was a good plan but we felt that it didn’t represent the heritage of the Northern Neck,” she said.
The park staff was given the challenge to come up with an exhibit that they could do in-house to represent the park. They got together with community members, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) public communication office, their sign shop and their visitor service office and hashed out a plan, she said.
“I’m pretty happy with the results. I think it definitely represents the area a little bit better and I think it’s something that our visitors will enjoy,” she said.
“The exhibit tells the story of the people who have called the Northern Neck home for thousands of years and how they live with and on the water,” said Shepard.
The exhibit features a map of the Northern Neck, 12 informational panels related to the Northern Neck’s earliest inhabitants, Chesapeake Bay, oysters, commercial fishing, the steamboat era and the history of the Northern Neck.
There is also an interactive table related to wildlife found in the park, on adjacent creeks, the Rappahannock River, wetlands, warm season grass fields and upland forests.
Guests can dress up as a waterman and learn to tie a nautical knot. They also have an opportunity to learn about bay ecology, pesticides, native species and resource management.
A highlight of the exhibit is a recorded oral history program featuring accounts of family members who grew up on the park property…