A ribbon cutting more than 10 years in the making was held at the base of Old Rag last week.
After years of planning and negotiations, the park service celebrated the opening of a new parking lot at Old Rag Mountain. The lot offers improved access to the Old Rag area hiking trails and allows visitors to remain in the park without having to hike along Rt. 600 to get to the trails. Previously, visitors would park in a leased lot further down the road and then have to trek to the trails. The situation caused safety issues as well as issues with those who live in the area since the lot was limited to 250 vechiles and often cars would line the roadway making travel difficult. Earlier this spring, the road was shut down to non-local traffic due to the number of visitors flocking to the trails just prior to the park’s COVID-19 closure. The new lot solves those issues as well as guarantees access into perpetuity.
According to former Shenandoah National Park Superintendent and current National Park Service Associate Director for Visitor and Resource Protection Jennifer Flynn, the lot was one of the first things she learned about when she arrived at the park in 2009. She said at the time, she thought getting the lot built couldn’t be that difficult, but 10 years later when she left, it still wasn’t quite finished.
The project was started in 2001 when Madison resident Thelda Kestenbaum sold a piece of land to the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) to be used to create the parking lot and visitor station. The park itself is barred from purchasing land to expand its footprint, so the club purchased the property and later sold it to the Shenandoah National Park Trust which donated it to the park. Doing so allowed entrance fee dollars to be used for the cost of the $1.3 million project which underwent an approximately seven year period of public input and five superintendents before its completion in June.
“The fact we have this lot on this site is a testament to the persistence of a private-public partnership,” Flynn said. “I’m glad we were able to find a way to get this done. It’s a great hard won accomplishment and secures public access to the park.”
New trails were constructed to connect the parking lots. The leased lot will continue to be used as an overflow lot with the new lot serving as the primary parking area. A trailhead for the Ridge Trail is now located in the new parking lot and the PATC constructed the Old Rag Access Trail to connect the two lots. In addition, a portion of the Ridge Trail has been renamed the Ridge Access Trail and provides access to the Ridge Trail from the Weakley Hollow Fire Road.
In addition to the lot itself, a new fee station building has been constructed for visitor check-in. When closed, visitors will pay entrance fees at a self-service pay station. A vault toilet is located next to the fee station and an emergency phone is available outside the fee station building.
Flynn thanked the PATC and the Shenandoah National Park Trust for their contributions that made the new trail access and parking area possible.
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