Prince William Forest Park
Administrative History
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The present size and shape of Prince William Forest Park is the result of an ongoing program of acquisition and improvement. Initial purchases were later supplemented to increase the size of the park, secure the watershed of the Quantico Creek, and meet the road needs of the park.

Until the transfer of the Land Program to the Resettlement Administration in 1935, the FERA directed all land acquisition for the RDA program. A substantial portion of the core of Prince William Forest Park was purchased with FERA funds between 1934 and 1936. Hence, transactions were handled by both the FERA and the Resettlement Administration depending upon the date of purchase.

First, the land was "optioned for sale." This meant the federal government told the property owners they were interested in purchasing their land and were requesting them to make the government an offer. Most options were held for six months. [212] Project staff members Charles Gerner and William R. Hall met with prospective sellers. They were bound by Land Program policy to accept offers of no more than ten dollars per acre. If option prices were higher, they negotiated with the seller, hoping to arrive at an acceptable price. If at the end of six months a price could not be agreed upon, there were two courses of action left open: drop the option or condemn the property and purchase it at a price set by the government. Surpluses in the Land Program budget did permit prices higher than ten dollars per acre for a few particularly valuable tracts. By January 1935 Charles Gerner, project manager of the Chopawamsic RDA, reported that he had acquired 7,520 acres in 87 generally contiguous tracts optioned from $12.00 to $30.79 per acre with a "remarkable cover of trees." [213] The average cost per acre was $13.33. [214] Total acreage contemplated for purchase was 15,000 acres. The land appraised at $200,000 after consideration was given to the value of improvements and timber. The 8,081.12 acres recommended for immediate purchase were appraised at $92,542.26. Land Program officials hoped to buy the land for $66,481.42 with an average option price of $8.23. [215] Discrepancies between Gerner's cost figures and those of the Land Program office are accounted for by the location of tracts within the park. Small interior tracts were valued much less than tracts bordering Routes 619, 626, 234 and 643. The later purchase of these less valuable tracts lowered the overall average cost per acre.

Payment did not follow immediately upon concluding the sale in most purchases. Records of land transactions went first to the U. S. attorney's office for the Eastern District in Norfolk, Virginia, for processing before payment could be made. [216] Land titles were sent to the Richmond office of the NPS. [217] Delays in the paperwork were not uncommon and some property owners waited more than a year to receive payment for their land.

From 1936-1939 project manager William R. Hall continued land purchases on both the Chopawamsic and Quantico Creeks. The first NPS manager, Ira B. Lykes, purchased land also. The goal of these initial land purchases was to acquire the watershed of both creeks and eliminate all inholdings or privately owned land encompassed by park land. The process was not always a simple one, requiring extraordinary effort at times. For instance, Mr. Clarence Williams died before the deed to his land was obtained. As a result, Ira Lykes found himself in the uncomfortable position of attending his funeral in order to "get the signatures of most of his heirs while they were assembled." [218] By 1941 Lykes estimated the total acreage of the park to be 14,446 acres owned by simple fee. However, "many 100's of acres of privately owned lands within the outer bounds of the area" eluded federal purchase. [219]

Obtaining these inholdings, mostly along the park's boundary, has been a management objective of each succeeding NPS superintendent. Priority has been given to tracts infringing upon the Quantico watershed or necessary for road construction. Land acquisition has been complicated by the unclear boundary markers designated in the original deeds. [220] This has led to some emergency acquisitions. For instance, when building the new entrance road in 1958 a short section of the park road was "accidentally built across the corner of two parcels of private property," that of Paul Johnson, et al., heirs of Peter Johnson, and Kyle Williams. Unlike the Johnsons, the granddaughter of Kyle Williams, Mrs. Ruby Williams Humphries, did not settle the account quietly. She was paid $500 for a parcel of land valued at no more than $200 to "prevent action against us for trespass." [221]

With the passage of Public Law 144, 83rd Congress (67 Stat. '84, July 23, 1953) the park was in a better position to acquire inholdings. The law authorized the exchange of park land for the purpose of consolidating Federal holdings. (See Appendix XIII, 1962 Report of Non-Federal Land in the Park, for details on individual tracts.) Two major exchanges took place as a result of this enabling legislation.

Of primary importance was an exchange benefiting the Telegraph Road Picnic Ground. Two acres of land infringing on the Telegraph Road Picnic Ground was purchased by condemnation from Mr. Dudley J. Martin and Mr. Leonard J. Lonas, Jr., and given to the park in exchange for land destined to be severed from the park by Interstate 95. [222]

The other major exchange involved the Prince William County School Board. In 1951 the Washington Reed Consolidated School for Negroes opened on Route 234. The former black school, the one-room Cabin Branch Elementary School, was then abandoned. [223] County school officials were interested in exchanging five acres desired as a buffer strip adjoining the new consolidated school on Route 234 for one-half to one acre of land containing the old Cabin Branch School. The land in the desired buffer strip was wooded, contained no park structures, and was not considered essential to future park development. [224] By contrast, the old school, valued at $8,000, was located within the park watershed in an area of future development. [225] Records on this transaction are scant; however, school board minutes indicate that negotiations on the land exchange were concluded in December of 1951. No actual deed for this property has been located in either the school board archives or the park records. As the school is no longer in evidence on the tract identified on park maps, it is fairly safe to conclude that the demolition of the structure took place as outlined in the agreement with the park discussed in the school board minutes.

Other major acquisitions served the needs of road construction. Again, Mr. Dudley J. Martin played a pivotal role. In 1941 Mr. Martin assisted in the acquisition of 20 acres of land belonging to the heirs of Joseph F. Wheat required to build the original park entrance road off of Route 1. The land was obtained by a "declaration of taking" as the heirs of Mr. Wheat were unwilling to sell. [226] Unlike a condemnation proceeding, a declaration of taking allows the Park Service immediate access to a disputed property. Owners are compensated later after completion of all legal transactions with monies held in escrow for that purpose. In the case of the Wheat estate money placed in an escrow account by Mr. Martin was used to compensate the truculent heirs based on the appraisal of a disinterested third party. [227] Unfortunately, work on the new road was delayed as a complication involving title to the Wheat property held up the appropriation of construction funds. Taxes had not been paid on the land between 1941 and 1943, the time elapsed between when the title was granted and when it was recorded. A clear title is required by federal law before any federal money can be allocated for improvements. Legal wrangles over who was responsible for payment were not cleared up until 1944. [228] Road construction began in 1950.

Later in 1955 a new entrance road was made necessary by the construction of Interstate 95, the path of which bisected the park's original entrance road off of Route 1. (See map in Illustration Nine.) As Route 95 was destined to become a major access road for North-South travelers through Prince William County, NPS officials sought to procure a new entrance with access to Route 95 as compensation for the loss of the original entrance to the park. Hence, NPS negotiators requested that the Virginia Department of Highways buy land between the existing boundary and Route 619 and construct a new entrance road to include a circle in front of the headquarters building with connecting roads to the main park road. [229] Virginia highway officials agreed to this plan as it was less expensive than building an overpass over the original entrance off Route 1. [230] However, park officials were disappointed that plans for the new entrance did not include "additional right-of-way at the connection with Route 619" believed necessary to "protect the principal park entrance from these adverse developments." [231] The adverse developments consisted of private homes adjacent to the entrance. Despite Park Service objections, the road was built in 1960 on the right-of-way established by the Virginia Highway Department. [232]

Illustration IX
(omitted from online edition)

Somewhat later, the park received an additional 8.6 acres of land between Route 95 and Forestburg Lane. Considered an additional buffer between the park and Route 95, this acreage almost eluded the park. According to Joseph Hebda, a former maintenance foreman in the park, around 1968 the 8.6 acres were slated to become a sand and gravel depot for the Virginia Department of Highways. Alarmed, he alerted the park superintendent. Fortuitously, the superintendent tracked down the responsible officials in the Virginia Highway Department and the NPS the very day the land was to be signed over to the Highway Department. A quick trip to Washington, D. C. brought the superintendent face to face with the Virginia Highway Department and NPS officials before the crucial signatures were in place. Abruptly, it was decided that Prince William Forest park had a more pressing claim upon the land and it was deeded to the park. [233]

Subsequently, ownership of the 8.6 acres bordering Route 95 has protected the park from adverse commercial development. However, current park administrators believe the land is no longer essential to park development plans. Rather, it is hoped the 8.6 acres can be disposed of profitably, allowing the park control over development, thereby safeguarding the park's resources. [234]

The high cost of land in Prince William County today makes future land acquisitions exceedingly difficult. As has been shown, those acquisitions purchased after 1940 meet specific project needs and were the result of outside financial assistance or exchange in all but one case, that of Mrs. Ruby Humphries. Consequently, the ongoing management objective of obtaining inholdings infringing on the park's boundary will elude acquisition unless a) Congress suddenly appropriates vast sums of money for this purpose, or b) current park administrators are able to negotiate suitable land exchanges or endowments to the park. Until Prince William Forest Park is able to acquire lands necessary to round out its borders to include all the land between Route 619 and 234 and Interstate 95, preservation of current holdings will continue to present a challenge to park administration.

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Last Updated: 31-Jul-2003