There was not much to celebrate in 1936. America was in the midst of the Great Depression, unemployment topped 20% and Europe was beginning the slow march towards World War II. For Virginians, one of the few bright spots was the opening of the Virginia State Parks System, which celebrates its 75th birthday this year.
The idea for the Virginia State Parks System was planted in 1933 when William E. Carson, chair of the Virginia State Commission on Conservation and Development, suggested to President Franklin D. Roosevelt that the recently formed Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) could be capable of creating such a system. FDR agreed and just three years later, on June 13th 1936, Virginia became the first state in the nation to open an entire park system—six parks in total—in one day. The Virginia State Parks System protects and promotes Virginia's natural resources and has expanded to include 35 parks, placing at least one public park within an hour's drive of any location in the state.
June marked the 75th birthday of the Virginia State Parks System, but the celebrations continue throughout the year. The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation has compiled a 75 Things To See and Do in Virginia State Parks checklist to commemorate the anniversary, highlighting activities and places of interest. Suggestions range from the simple: "Inhale the smell of freshly fallen rain," to the very specific: "Admire the workmanship of the unique 'double dam' at Douthat State Park." More adventurous souls can meet challenges like "Tube the James River at James River State Park" and "Explore a different world on night hikes led by park rangers." But if you're more about appetite than activities then that's covered too, with State Park culinary suggestions like "Make and sample apple butter at Douthat State Park’s Apple Day Festival."
"The idea behind the 75 things to do in a Virginia State Park was to show the tremendous variety of offerings in our 35 award-winning state parks," says Gary Waugh, Public Relations Manager for the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. "There is something that will appeal to every age, every member of the family. We doubt there will be many who try and take on all 75, but we hope that people will take the opportunity to enjoy as many as they can. That's why we've included a blank box by each of the 75 so people can check them off as they experience them."
You can print out the checklist as a PDF from VirginiaStateParks.gov, or if you're visiting any state park or regional tourism center you can pick up a 2011 State Parks Guide and find the 75 Things to see and do right there on the back cover.