Prince William Forest Park
Administrative History
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From 1951 to the present Prince William Forest Park has grown in response to the changing recreational needs of the greater Washington, D. C., metropolitan area. Its primary mission of providing group camping facilities to character building organizations has broadened to include an equal emphasis on the provision of day-use facilities.

Efforts to draw visitors into the park began with the Mission 66 program. Mission 66 was a ten-year development plan ending in 1966 designed to provide "urgently needed facilities to meet the needs of ever-increasing numbers of visitors to all the national parks." [235] Prior to the onset of the Mission 66 development program the only picnic ground in the park was the Pine Grove Picnic Ground built by Ira Lykes in 1951. However, up until 1959 casual use of the park was discouraged by signs which read "'Federal Reservation'. Closed except to persons holding camping permits." [236] Recent memory of the closure of the park by the OSS from 1942 to 1945 led many area residents to disregard the picnic ground in Prince William Forest Park believing "it must be reserved for federal workers." [237]

The mastermind of Prince William Forest Park's Mission 66 program, Superintendent Davenport, was determined to dispel the forbidding image of the park and open doors to increased visitation. He hoped to capitalize on Prince William Forest Park's value as the only important natural wilderness area in the densely populated Washington metropolitan area. Under his stewardship emphasis was shifted away from organized camping for "character building organizations" toward the construction of facilities for tent camping, hiking, motoring, picnicking, fishing, canoeing, swimming, and horseback riding. [238]

Davenport's plans brought virtually all of the current day-use and weekend facilities extant today into existence. (See Appendix Fourteen for details.) He supervised construction of the Telegraph Road Picnic Ground, the Turkey Run and Oak Ridge campgrounds, the Nature Center, and a scenic drive looping through the park.

Each superintendent has his own special interest and horseback riding was Davenport's. He believed horseback riding would "prove to be the most popular activity to be promoted in the park." [239] However, a horseback riding concession was never approved. The risk of erosion on trails utilized by horses was deemed too great to allow this activity in the park. [240]

Of all his accomplishments, Davenport believed the scenic drive was the major attraction in the park as it allowed visitors to "penetrate far back into beautiful wilderness surroundings." [241] More recent visitors have likened it to a miniature Skyline Drive. [242] Connected to the new entrance road off Route 619, the eleven miles of scenic drive loop through the park providing access to the Nature Center, administrative headquarters, picnic grounds, the Oak Ridge and Turkey Run camp grounds, and many of the trails into the back country. [243]

Subsequent park superintendents have not always valued the circuitous scenic drive. A 1971 plan, favored by NPS director Hartzog, allowed one lane to be utilized by bicycle traffic while the other was utilized by one-way motor traffic. [244] Current administrators do not feel driving constitutes an appropriate recreational use of the park. Indeed, there is renewed interest in the 1971 plan promoting cycling in the park.

All of the new facilities constructed by Davenport did not come about without some struggle. A clash occurred between Superintendent Davenport and the NPS planning staff over the site selection for the Oak Ridge campground. The NPS planning staff did not concur with Davenport's site recommendation. Like Lykes, Davenport identified himself closely with the park and did not take kindly to interference with his creative efforts. Although Davenport acquiesced to higher authorities he continued to insist the Oak Ridge site chosen by the NPS staff was

  • too close to Cabin Camps 2 and 5 thereby luring campers onto the eleven-acre lake reserved for organized summer camps,

  • inadequately covered by forest,

  • the hottest place in the park during the camping season,

  • impaired by the cemetery along side the entrance road, which was "very objectionable" even if screened off, and

  • impaired by the noise from the Marine Corps firing range west of Route 619 and adjacent to the site, which could be heard "at all hours day and night." [245]

After retirement Davenport played down these differences though the matter was never forgotten. [246]

Concurrent with the growth of the day-use of Prince William Forest Park has been an increase in the demands placed on the organized camping facilities. The Salvation Army and Family and Child Services of Washington, D. C. are two organizations which have made extensive use of the cabin camps since their construction. As their needs grew, these organizations pressured the park to expand the cabin camps. The result was two major additions to the cabin camps constructed through a combination of NPS funds and private resources.

The Salvation Army utilized Cabin Camp 5 continually from its construction in 1939 until 1968. As their program needs grew, H. Holmes Vogel, chairman of the board of directors of the Salvation Army, sought to expand the capacity of Cabin Camp 5. [247] To further the cause the Salvation Army was willing to donate up to $23,000 of the $63,000 required. Five cabins, each holding four campers, were to be enlarged along with the mess hall. [248] Government funds were appropriated for the remaining costs and work proceeded from January 1956 through January 1958. Old CCC buildings were used for some of the overhead framing and exterior walls to help match the architectural style. [249]

From the outset National Capital Parks Superintendent Kelly advised Mr. Vogel that the sizable donation of the Salvation Army "must be made with the understanding that the improvements are for the general benefit of the government and the public and do not entitle the donors to priority treatment." [250] Mindful of this stipulation, Salvation Army officials still considered their investment in Camp 5 a worthy one when compared to the vast benefits they had received through the maintenance-free use of Camp 5 for the past 21 years. [251]

Over time, however, scheduling conflicts did arise. The improvements made by the Salvation Army to Camp 5 increased its value to other groups competing with, the Salvation Army for its use. Short-term programs were most dramatically affected. On more than one occasion the Salvation Army staff were forced to completely assemble and dismantle their camp over one weekend in order to accommodate another group wishing to use Cabin Camp 5 the following week.

As their program needs continued to grow, the Salvation Army officials decided to construct their own camping facility in Richardsville, Virginia. [252] The Salvation Army utilized Cabin Camp 5 for the last time in the summer of 1968. Though 17 years have elapsed since the Salvation Army worked with the staff at Prince William Forest Park, Major Joseph Bennett, then Captain Bennett, still recalls his "tremendous relationship" with Prince William Forest Park staff. [253]

Like the Salvation Army, the Summer Outing Committee of Family and Child Services of Washington, D. C., has been the principal user of Camps 1 and 4. The Bowman pool serving Camps 1 and 4 was built to insure their young campers access to water recreation. The lake serving Camps 1 and 4 had been experiencing troublesome siltation problems limiting its use for swimming. Utilizing an open area once used by CCC Camp SP-26, Family and Child Services obtained a donation from Ms. Lilli J. Bowman of Washington, D. C., to build an in-ground pool. Dedicated on June 24, 1956, the Bowman pool continues to serve campers today. [254]

Current Goals

Stewardship of the varied visitor facilities at Prince William Forest Park and planning new programs for the future constitute a major challenge for the current park administration.

Of primary importance in the planning process are the five cabin camps. The annual budget for the maintenance and preservation of the cabin camps is currently $11 million. Of that amount approximately $890,000 is spent on preventive maintenance and an additional $200,000 on cyclic maintenance such as major repairs and rehabilitation. High costs are associated with maintaining the cabin camps given their historic base as a CCC-built facility, requiring replacement in kind as the buildings age. These costs are not being offset by visitor use of the camps. Jim Fugate, facilities manager of Prince William Forest Park, guessed the cabin camps were in use at best 60 days out of the year.

The full utilization of these expensive and historic buildings has been the focus of an ongoing review by park staff. Several suggestions have emerged of note:

  • Set aside one cabin camp for use by the general public for short-term camping,

  • Allow a "ma and pa type operation" to manage and maintain the remaining cabin camps on a concession basis for nine months of the year,

  • Construct improved shower facilities in the cabin camp areas to provide pay-showers for the visiting public,

  • Set aside only one cabin camp to be maintained as an historic site, and allow the other cabin camps to be modernized and remodeled to meet current public health standards,

  • Improve the education program for the cabin camps to improve awareness of the natural environment while at the same time ending the cabin camps' exclusive access to waterfront areas in the park.

Any implementation of these suggestions awaits the budgetary process and increased public awareness of the potential uses of the cabin camps. Many officials on the park staff feel the park has been undersold to the public. Community involvement and support of park activities can go far to make needed funds available.

The funding issue is directly related to the park's second major goal: upgrading visitor services. All too often, it is feared, visitors enter and leave the park without ever seeing a park ranger. Access to the cabin camps is restricted to organized camping groups. The nature center is only open to the general public on weekends. Without a visitor center, park patrons must seek information about the park at either the park headquarters or the nature center, neither of which is located along the main entrance to the park. Hence, the average visitor leaves the park unaware of its six lakes, five cabin camps, and extensive trail system and possibly unenlightened about its unique natural environment.

Solutions to the park's public relations shortfall vary. In 1969 the park was briefly shifted out of the National Capital Parks system into the Southeast Region of the National Park Service, headquartered in Richmond. This move was intended to give the park a national image. However, the park staff does not feel this goal has been fully realized. The name of the park is viewed as a major impediment. Prince William Forest Park took its name from Prince William County leading the general public to believe it is a county park and not a national park. Current park administrators would welcome a return to the area's original name, Chopawamsic, to eliminate this confusion. Concomitant with a name change the park staff would welcome more exposure in national brochures emphasizing the park's unique natural resources. Given its proximity to Washington, D. C., the park is well positioned to serve as both host to visitors to the nation's capital and guide to the goals and objectives of the National Park Service placing special emphasis on its mission of preservation and protection. As a natural area built on reclaimed land and now bordering a densely populated urban area, it is uniquely situated to serve this function.

The framework upon which all desired changes must be built is the park's staff. Morale, though generally good, could be enhanced by reemphasizing the park's mission. All too frequently staff members in contact with the visiting public lose their focus and begin to perceive themselves as managing a regional park. A sense of mission needs to be rekindled in which all see their role as emissaries of the National Park Service providing vital environmental education and preservation functions.


Prince William Forest Park was first built by an idealistic administration hoping, in part, to take scarred rural land and beleaguered urban children and reclaim them both. In an age of toxic waste, nuclear proliferation, dying inner cities, and bedroom communities its original mission is still viable, perhaps indispensible.

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Last Updated: 31-Jul-2003