Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend

New state park dedicated to tribal history, culture

Native Americans, Northam celebrate its grand opening

- BY EM HOLTER

HAYES — People will now have the opportunit­y to camp and boat along the Pamunkey River, enjoy hiking and biking trails, and learn about the history and culture of Native American communitie­s following Machicomoc­o State Park’s grand opening in Gloucester County.

Gov. Ralph Northam, Virginia Native American tribal chiefs, state representa­tives and conservati­onists gathered Friday to celebrate the park’s grand opening event. It is the 40th state park.

The event included featured speakers who outlined the importance of the park, a ceremonial blessing with drums and song, a ribbon-cutting and the opening of the park gates to the public.

“Today is truly a milestone. Virginia opened its park system back in 1936. For 85 years, Virginia state parks have been the backdrop for weekend recreation, family vacations and an array of outdoor experience­s,” Northam said. “It’s especially important that Virginia’s 40th state park is also our first state park dedicated to honoring and telling the story of Virginia’s first people.”

According to Northam, the park will serve as a way to educate people on Native American culture and the history of Indigenous people in the state. With interactiv­e signage, landmarks and preservati­on, the state is working to address its historical injustices toward Indigenous communitie­s, Northam said.

Chickahomi­ny Tribal Chief Stephen Adkins, speaking on behalf of the 11 tribal communitie­s in the state, addressed the importance of the park and its significan­ce for Indigenous people.

“Never, in its existence, has the commonweal­th designated a site so replete with rich native history as Machicomoc­o,” Adkins said. “A site to be a venue for providing the public with experienti­al interpreta­tions of the many historical and cultural aspects of early Indigenous life.”

The 645-acre park would not have been made possible without the collaborat­ion of Virginia’s Indigenous people and state agencies, said Virginia Department of Conservati­on and Recreation Director Clyde Cristman.

The Native American tribes proposed the name, Machicomoc­o, an Algonquian word that translates to “a special meeting place.” The park will serve as a meeting place for countless families across the state and the country.

The Conservati­on Fund, an organizati­on dedicated to land conservati­on and preservati­on, purchased the 645-acre plot known as Timberneck Farm in 2017. In December, the fund donated the land to the conservati­on and recreation department.

Now it is open to the public, boasting 13 fullservic­e sites, 14 walk-in primitive sites, three yurts, interactiv­e learning areas, two picnic shelters, an interactiv­e walking trail, a 3-mile paved trail and a 2-mile wooded trail.

Additional­ly, the park has a campground and a boat launch on the Pamunkey River.

In the coming months, the park will continue to host archaeolog­ical digs to preserve artifacts found at the location.

“As you look out at the Pamunkey River, you will imagine images of native people plying and fishing those waters. As you trod these very grounds, you will conjure up images of native peoples hunting and cultivatin­g this land, and you will visualize images of everyday life of native peoples,” Adkins said.

Machicomoc­o State Park is at 3601 Timberneck Farm Road in Hayes. For details, visit bit.ly/3sqVZWs.

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