When Laurie Schlemm and other Friends of Caledon State Park members set out to save a pristine 455-acre tract across the road from the existing park, they knew there would be ups and downs.
After all, cobbling together a mix of grants, private donations and hoped-for state funding to raise Jarrell Properties’ asking price of $6.6 million for the Lake Caledon property is easier said than done.
But when Schlemm and other organizers held an update session and tour of the property on a sunny but breezy day earlier this week, they were as hopeful as ever.
Before a hike down to the pristine 47-acre lake, Schlemm acknowledged that a grant the county submitted to the Land & Water Conservation Fund for half the money was turned down, largely because the group hadn’t yet come up with the $3.3 million match.
Schlemm also noted private fundraising hasn’t been all that successful to date, largely because many would-be donors seem to be waiting to see if the effort is going to achieve critical mass.
But Schlemm, who lives adjacent to the property with her husband, Rod, said there are positive things happening, as well.
“I just got a call this week from a representative of the Trust for Public Land, who said they are interested in talking to the Jarrell Companies about exploring a contract that would hold the title until all the monies can be gathered to purchase the property,” said Schlemm prior to a briefing for a couple dozen supporters, as well as county and state park officials. “And I’ve talked to the folks at the Jarrell Companies and they are interested in seeing if something like that can be worked out.”
Beyond that, Schlemm said the group hopes state legislators might be able to secure some funding in this year’s General Assembly session toward the purchase of the property. Her hope is to avoid the land being developed, since the county has already approved the construction of hundreds of homes in a subdivision called Lake Caledon.
“And though we were denied this grant that would have allowed for King George County and Virginia State Parks to jointly use the property for recreation, we believe that once we come up with funds toward the match, that could be applied for again” and get a thumbs-up if the matching money is in hand, she said.
Schlemm said she thinks it’s a spot that could help put King George on the map.
“This is a place where people could come from near and far for all types of recreation,” she said. “The future for King George County is right here, for preserving nature, for preserving clean water and the appreciation of the great outdoors.”
She said the property has trails, fields, a thriving and healthy lake and topography that can instantly be used for hiking, cycling, concerts, recreational sports and more.
“And all the things that the state park can’t do across the road because it’s an eagle sanctuary—the building of cabins, campsites and perhaps even a conference center—could be done over here,” she said.
One enthusiastic attendee of the “Tour Lake Caledon” day was Rebecca Rubin, CEO and president of Marstel–Day, an environmental services company in Fredericksburg, who said she’s 100 percent behind the plan to save the property.
Rubin, who recently joined the board of the Nature Conservancy, noted that the tract “is part of the conservation mosaic in this region, where there’s a lot of habitat fragmentation going on. Pieces of land like this can fill in the missing link to that jigsaw puzzle, keeping habitat intact and avoiding species fragmentation. It all comes together here.”
Another interested and enthusiastic attendee was Joseph “Jeh” Hicks of Jarrell Properties, who said he and the company “absolutely hope this happens. We’re in full support of this conservation effort for this beautiful place.”
He said the company initially envisioned a business use for the tract, something that could still happen down the road.
But, he added, “We’re in a position where we try to make the best uses of land, and as far as a proper and good use for a property, this conservation effort is awfully close to the best you could do. This is a beautiful and pristine property with a healthy lake, teeming with life. Ducks are flying over, an eagle passed by a moment ago and it’s full of fish.”
Hicks noted that the park’s connection to the Dahlgren Heritage Trail is also important to the Jarrell Companies, which he said has been a backer of other trails in the region.
“We want to see this happen, for it to be turned over to Laurie and the Friends group,” he said. “This is a good cause.”
Neiman Young, King George’s county administrator, said the Board of Supervisors would make the decision whether to resubmit the grant application to the Land & Water Conservation Fund.
But he said there’s still a lot of interest and support for the tract to become conserved as part of Caledon, a place he has described as “a jewel in our community.”