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MOUTH OF WILSON - Grayson Highlands State Park has been recognized time after time for its beautiful scenery, and many people in Grayson County have special ties to the park. Now, thanks to a new fundraising initiative by Virginia State Parks, anyone can leave a permanent reminder of their relationship with the park.
In September, Virginia State Parks began offering those who love their state parks the opportunity to place a variety of monuments either in memory or in honor of loved ones in the Virginia state park of their choice. Friends of Grayson Highlands State Park President and neighbor of the park Rhonda Walls and her family jumped at the opportunity in September of 2012 and donated the first Memorial Gift in the state to the program: a bench in memory of her father.
Walls’ father, Dwight Richardson, was a farmer and proud World War II veteran who passed away in 1996. However, honoring her father and being the first in the state to make a bench donation are only a small part of why the bench donation was so special to Walls and her family.
Dwight Richardson’s father, Luther, acquired 200 acres of farmland in the 1930’s, located where the bench and the office at Grayson Highlands State Park stand today, and relocated his family from their farm on Little Helton Road to the new property. While his wife, seven sons and two daughters managed the farm with cattle, sheep, horses, hogs, corn, oats and hay, Luther also operated a store in the Rugby community.
Dwight Richardson’s wife, Wilma, was raised on a farm that joined the park, and the couple grew up together and married after Richardson returned from the war in 1946. They moved to Maryland for a short time before returning to Southwest Virginia in 1954.
Before the park was founded, Walls remembered that her father would “take people for tours” through his beautiful land that would eventually become Grayson Highlands State Park property. Walls said after the park purchased the land, her father was proud of the way the park staff cared for the area that used to be his home.
“He always said ‘I don’t want it to end up like Pigeon Forge,’” she said. “He wanted to preserve the natural beauty of the land for future generations. We’re very proud of the park and the way it’s been preserved.”
Grayson Highlands State Park hopes that more will participate in making similar contributions, whether it be in memory or in honor of a loved one or as a thoughtful way to celebrate a birthday, wedding, new baby, graduation or any other special occasion.
“This gives visitors an opportunity to add to the park infrastructure where visitors can rest and take in the beautiful views to regain that inner tonic to improve ‘mind, body and spirit,’ enjoying God’s Country in the highlands,” said Harvey Thompson, park manager.
While state parks are always happy to receive financial gifts, they are often asked for opportunities to provide some structure as part of the gift, and that is why the program was formed. The Virginia Association for Parks has since developed a list of memorial and honor gift items and is working with Virginia State Parks on developing additional options.
“[The program is] wonderful,” she said. “We filled out the application, sent it to the Friends of Virginia State Parks and requested it to be put in before the fall festival, and it was. It’s fixed so nice facing the Richardson home place. We’re just really pleased with how it turned out.”
Options for Memorial and Honor Gifts:
Bench - $1,000
Park staff will install a 6-foot bench made of recycled materials. A plaque will be mounted on the bench (up to 3 lines, 42 characters per line). Benches will have black legs and supports with a choice of color for the seat and backing to be determined by the Park Manager to maintain uniformity within the park.
Stone - $5,000
A large granite (or material appropriate to the location) stone will be etched with text (up to three lines, 42 characters per line).
Covered Picnic Table - $10,000
An accessible picnic table made of recycled materials with a covered shelter will be installed on a cement pad and include an accessible walkway. A plaque will be mounted on the table or structure (up to three lines, 42 characters per line).
Playground - $17,000
Park staff will install a playground featuring three spring toys and a four swing complex (or comparable equipment in price for the park). Timbers will create a border to hold mulch or other safety material base in the play area. A plaque will be included (up to three lines, 42 characters per line).
Picnic Shelter - $100,000
The Park will arrange construction of an 840 square foot picnic shelter with tables, including an accessible walkway. A plaque will be mounted on the picnic shelter (up to three lines with up to 42 characters per line). The group will receive a free use of the shelter once per year for 10 years (advance reservations must be made and all other park fees apply).
* Due to varied construction cost, this price could go up or down but is fairly close to 2012 standards in parks. Additional amenities for the shelter to include electricity, water faucet and bathrooms are available for an extra cost.
Anyone interested in making a Memorial Gift or any other donation to Grayson Highlands State Park or any other state park can contact the Virginia State Parks Reservation Center at (800) 933-7275.