Friday, July 15, 2011

Riven Rock Park – From a Public Works Project to a Recreation Area

In the Dry River watershed between Route 33 and under the Riven Rock Mountain in the George Washington National Forest about 14 miles from the City is the 27.5 acre Riven Rock Park.  At the turn of the 20th century the City purchased three thousand acres, including these, between Rawley Springs and Skidmore Fork to protect the watershed that provides tap water to Harrisonburg.  The City also secured the right-away between Rawley Springs and Harrisonburg to lay a gravity carrying ten-inch cast-iron water pipe.

Ownership of the watershed including the park land can be traced back to the late 1700s and included ownership by the New Rawley Springs Company.  In 1883 this entity sold 237 acres of its non-resort land to Mssrs. Silbert, Sprinkel, and Lowenbach.  The City of Harrisonburg purchased in 1897 more than fourteen acres of the 237 acres, the parcel then owned by John Joseph and Charles Sprinkel.   Three years later, the City purchased from A.M. Neuman 80 acres adjacent to the Joseph and Sprinkel purchase from which 14 acres became part of the Park. 

The Dry River often lived up to its name and endangered a constant water supply to the City.  The City Council sought ways to overcome this problem. In October 1930 it engaged a geologist to advise on the feasibility of constructing an impounding reservoir near Rawley Springs.  The ensuing exploration revealed the existence of large subterranean stream beds below the river’s surface that could be dammed to improve the water supply.  Unable to get federal WPA construction funds, the City turned to local banks to underwrite the project.  The locally-financed project provided needed employment opportunities in the area during the Great Depression.  The dam construction project also required building an office, tool sheds, a blacksmith shop, and cement making sheds at the site. 

At this cleared site, the Civilian Conservation Corps program set-up a camp in 1942.  During the two years it operated the Corps offered camping and military discipline to young boys between the ages of 7 and 14.  Among the 100 or so who participated in this experience several would become local and national leaders.  Some sources suggest the swinging bridge was one of the Corps projects.  After the Corps left, the site fell into disrepair.

In 1947, the City Council donated $1,000 to turn the site into a City park.  The Daily News Record, August 22, 1978, described the making of the park

Dick Keane [a recent veteran]…spent the summer clearing out brush, building picnic tables and outhouses, and supervising a crew of students….His crew built 18
oak picnic tables, moved an enormous old stove from the Masonic Temple downtown to the pavilion and added a gate to the swinging bridge…They gave me an old police car….we used it to haul rocks out of the river for fireplaces and chimneys ….He estimated the summer’s expense, including labor, at about $800.

Fifteen years later, in 1962, vandalism closed the Park.

For a third time, in 1978, the Young Adult Conservation Corps, a Federal program, assisted in the restoration of the Park.  The park reopened on August 1, 1978 with the cabin refurbished as an information, nature and arts and crafts center, but authorities closed the swinging bridge for safety reasons and to prevent public to the dam site.  The cleanup revealed what was believed to be the tallest sassafras tree in the state.
To maintain the Dry River watershed, the City awards small contracts to private logging operators.  In 1992, residents living near the Park protested the removal of about 300 trees.  The City defended the tree cutting as a way to keep the Park safe, to maintain the forest, and to protect the water supply.  The project provided lumber for other City Park projects and as well as earned some revenue for the City.  The City’s Public Works Department continues to permit limited harvesting of timber in the 1450 acres in the Rawley Springs to Skidmore Fork watershed.  The funds earned are used to maintain the property and currently to study the feasibility of adding recreation uses.

Today Riven Rock Park is opened from May 15 to October 31. There are four shelter sites, walking trails, and space for volleyball and a horseshoe pit.  The Park serves as a teaching laboratory for students to learn about soils, wildlife, aquatics, and forestry.  Vandalism and annoyances to nearby residents that plagued the Park in the past have been minimized by adding police patrols and by renting the cabin to city police officers. 

Deed Books: 22:311; 57:181ff; 63:471
Daily News Record: 10/8/30; 8/22/78; 5/19/83; 3/5/92; 11/7/92; 8/15/94; 8/22/94; 5/24/02;
Interviews: David S. Wigginton, Asst. Director, Harrisonburg Parks & Recreation
                     Ande Banks, Director of Special Projects, City of Harrisonburg.

1 comment:

  1. Great article. Very informative. Lots that I did not know about the park.