Creating Public Parks at Werowocomoco and Machicomoco


Werowocomoco: A Powhatan Place of Power
Source: National Park Service

In 2014, the National Park Service added Werowocomoco to the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. The site was still private property, so identifying the site did not authorize public visitation.

The Federal agency then purchased the site in 2016, paying $7.1 million for 260 acres. The private landowners retained the right to stay for the rest of their lives there, and local officials acknowledged that opening the site for public visits would require several years of planning.

the first National Park Service maps of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail omitted the site of Werowocomoco (red X), since it was not open for public visits
the first National Park Service maps of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail omitted the site of Werowocomoco (red X), since it was not open for public visits
Source: National Park Service, Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail

The National Park Service planned archeological surveys and excavations before development of trails, parking, and buildings. Local officials understood the priority of research and that public visits would not start immediately, but were excited about the possible increase in tourism. They saw the potential of attracting visitors from all over the world:1

There's a lot of potential for the county in terms of both notoriety and tourism. For one thing, there's nothing like this in the world. It's not just a national park but we're talking about historical and cultural significance.

The Native American community had a different angle on the opening of Werowocomoco to public visits. Few Native American sites have been supported by the state for heritage tourism, in contrast to places associated with English colonization, the Revolutionary War, and the Civil War. For the very first families of Virginia, Werowocomoco is an opportunity to raise consciousness about the people who occupied Virginia for 15-20,000 years before three ships sailed up what the original residents called the Powhatan River in 1607:2

It's a tool for us to show the outside world that we're still here... We never went away, and we have this rich history that we're still connected to.

to minimize erosion and potential loss of archeological resources at Werowocomoco, the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences built a living shoreline in 2016

to minimize erosion and potential loss of archeological resources at Werowocomoco, the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences built a living shoreline in 2016
to minimize erosion and potential loss of archeological resources at Werowocomoco, the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences built a living shoreline in 2016
Source: Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences, Werowocomoco Living Shoreline Project Information Sheet

The Conservation Fund purchased the 643-acre Timberneck Farm, using funds for mitigation of the Surry-Skiffes Creek Transmission Line Project across the James River. Powhatan's Chimney, once thought to mark the location of Werowocomoco, was on the opposite side of Timberneck Creek. The 690-acre Catlett Islands unit of the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve was located just to the west of Timberneck Farm.

Timberneck Farm was adjacent to Catlett Islands and near Powhatan's Chimney
Timberneck Farm was adjacent to Catlett Islands and near Powhatan's Chimney
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

The Conservation Fund initiated the planning for the site, prior to transfer to the state in 2020 for use as Machicomoco State Park. The two most-recent state parks had required 13 years between acquisition and opening. The state used 2002 bond money to purchase 432 acres downstream from Timberneck Farm on the York River in Gloucester County to establish Middle Peninsula State Park, but the land stayed closed to the public. Machicomoco State Park, just downstream of the site of Middle Peninsula State Park, was able to open first.

The state had been outbid in its first effort to purchase Timberneck Farm, and developers planned to build 47 expensive houses. When that project was delayed due to economic reasons, the Conservation Fund stepped in. The Gloucester Board of Supervisors supported converting the private land into Machicomoco State Park. Moving private property into state ownership would bring and end to payment of real estate taxes to the county, but local officials anticipated more economic benefits from increased tourism than from the planned housing development.

The Conservation Fund transferred the property to the state in 2020. Virginia State Parks planned for Machicomoco State Park to serve as a "gateway" to Werowocomoco to provide public interpretation and recreational facilities for visitors. The director of the state parks system noted when Machicomoco State Park opened in 2021:3

...the primary thing that makes this park different is that it's the first park dedicated to telling the story of Virginia's native tribes.

Attracting visitors to the state park allowed the National Park Service to minimize disturbance of the historic site at Werowocomoco. "The Algonquian Landscape of Tsenacommacah" was chosen to be the overarching theme of the new state park, and in his dedication speech at the opening of the park Chickahominy Tribal Chief Stephen Adkins said:4

Never, in its existence, has the commonwealth designated a site so replete with rich native history as Machicomoco.

Machicomoco State Park is about 10 miles downstream from Werowocomoco
Machicomoco State Park is about 10 miles downstream from Werowocomoco
Source: Virginia State Parks, Middle Peninsula State Park: Timberneck Unit Information Session (June 6, 2018)

State and County Parks in Virginia

Werowocomoco

Links

Machicomoco State Park offered an impressive vista of the York River
Machicomoco State Park offered an impressive vista of the York River
Source: Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), Timberneck Farm Design Development (November 18, 2018)

References

1. "Obama eyes sacred Gloucester site as U.S. park unit," The Virginian-Pilot, May 27, 2014, http://hamptonroads.com/node/717655; "Powhatan village becoming national park," Daily Press, June 27, 2016, http://www.dailypress.com/news/gloucester-county/dp-nws-mid-werowocomoco-nps-purchase-20160627-story.html (last checked May 28, 2014)
2. "Unearthing a Lost City," National Parks Magazine, National Parks Conservation Association, Spring 2017, https://www.npca.org/articles/1491-unearthing-a-lost-city#sm.0001d6900cpwcf7jr5n215qntuwyh (last checked June 24, 2017)
3. "Virginia's next state park: a waterfront swath near the former home of Pocahontas," Daily Press, March 8, 2019, https://www.dailypress.com/virginia/dp-nws-gloucester-timberneck-farm-state-park-groundbreaking-20190307-story.html; "Sneak a Peek at Middle Peninsula State Park," Virginia State Parks, https://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/blog/sneak-a-peek-at-middle-peninsula-state-park-3341; "Land for new state park in Gloucester is transferred," Daily Press, October 10, 2020, https://www.dailypress.com/news/environment/dp-nw-gloucester-park-20201010-j2zr27kiorcnbmi5uulzie6fl4-story.html; "Timberneck Farm Design Development," Virginia State Parks, November 2018, https://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/document/timberneck-design-20181128.pdf; "Land acquired for Virginia's 40th state park," Richmond Times-Dispatch, December 23, 2020, https://richmond.com/news/state-and-regional/land-acquired-for-virginias-40th-state-park/article_fe7cf2ff-553f-5b7e-9cf7-7802ed2e3811.html; "New Virginia state park honors Native American tribes that lived on the land for centuries," Washington Post, July 10, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2021/07/10/virginia-machicomoco-state-park-native-american/ "Minutes," Board of Conservation and Recreation, June 24, 2021, p.2, https://townhall.virginia.gov/l/GetFile.cfm?File=meeting\20\32409\Minutes_DCR_32409_v2.pdf (last checked July 13, 2021)
4. "Gov. Ralph Northam, Native American tribes celebrate Machicomoco State Park grand opening, dedicated to native history and culture," Daily Press, April 16, 2021, https://www.dailypress.com/tidewater-review/va-tr-machimoco-park-opening-0416-20210416-cg65wuzp3be7jclgb4yljuahqq-story.html (last checked July 13, 2021)


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