Last month on December 13th, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, along with state and local officials, gathered in Franklin, Virginia to dedicate and celebrate the city’s new 203-acre park named Blackwater Park. One individual Youngkin highlighted in his dedication speech was a F.C. resident whose vision helped make this park a reality.
Jamie Craig is the manager of Beechtree Group LLC, a Falls Church-based entity which focuses on conservation, easements and transactions across the Commonwealth of Virginia and the state of North Carolina. Five years ago, Craig said he met with the mayor of Franklin, which is one of Craig’s consulting clients, to talk about the possible purchase of land near the Blackwater River to make it into a park.
After initially being denied the land by International Paper — an American pulp and paper company — Craig stated he went to his investors at Beechtree to suggest they buy the land to build the park to create both “tax equity” and “goodwill.”
“When life has been good to you, you have to give back,” Craig said. “And so that was the genesis of the park.”
After securing funding to buy the property by raising the money through an offering through his partnership, Craig said he managed the property, as well as the timber given to the making of the park. During this time, infrastructure was built for the park, including 800 feet of boardwalk, a couple of miles of walking trails, a pavilion, informational signs and more.
Along with the creation of the park, Craig also stated Franklin City was able to buy 200 acres, 60 acres of upland and 140 acres of “very sensitive” wetland ecology. This will allow the protection of federally endangered species in the wetlands, such as the Northern Long-eared Bat.
This isn’t the first time Craig has played a pivotal role in land conservation. In 2015, Craig was involved in the donation of an island known as “The Uppards,” a 175-acre land mass in the Chesapeake Bay, to Tangier, Va., a town in Accomack County.
As a scout leader for local Boy Scouts Troop 1996, Craig said he hopes he will be able to take his scouts to hike the trails located in the park, as well as teach them about forestry and nature preservation.
“[The park] satisfies all of the objectives that the locals were interested in seeing incorporated into a new park,” Craig said. “It also satisfies my personal objectives by creating a place where we could take my boy scout troop.”
From a local standpoint, Craig stated living in the City of Falls Church has made him realize how much “nice parkland” the city has, as well as the goal of “wanting to make sure that I leave my home [in] Virginia better than I found it.”
A second phase for the park is being worked on, according to Craig, which involves 100 acres next to Blackwater Park that will be made into a “primitive” campsite for local and visiting scouts to use and enjoy.
“If I can use my skills and expertise to create open space where people can go and enjoy themselves and learn about nature, be closer to God and be outside,” Craig said.