Widewater State Park

Widewater State Park in Stafford County would lack the funds to open if the state Senate’s bond package is signed into law.

But Del. Mark Dudenhefer, R–Stafford, said he hopes the House of Delegates will include $13 million in its bond issue to partially develop the 1,100-acre park along the Potomac River. That’s the amount he requested for the project.

“I’ve been given kind of the wink, so to speak, on that so I’m hoping Speaker [Bill] Howell helped me,” Dudenhefer said Thursday.

The House and Senate will have to reconcile any differences between their bond packages.

Dudenhefer added that his $13 million request, along with $7.5 million that has already been allocated for the park, is enough to complete two of Widewater’s three construction phases. Those phases call for trails, road improvements, boat launches, a fishing pier, restrooms, picnic shelters and a welcome center.

Cabins and other amenities would be built during the third and final phase at an estimated cost of $21.8 million.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe recommended borrowing about $43 million to fully develop the park—part of a $2.4 billion bond package he announced in December. Sen. Scott Surovell, a Northern Virginia Democrat whose district includes parts of Stafford, said he was disappointed by the Senate’s 34–3 vote this week to pass a bond package without funding for Widewater.

“We have a large piece of land over there that the taxpayers can’t enjoy because it’s in need of improvements,” said Surovell, who was among the three no votes. The state purchased the property in 2006.

Dudenhefer noted that nearby Leesylvania State Park in Prince William County has had to turn away visitors in the summer because of overcrowding. He called developing Widewater a “logical next step that we should aggressively pursue.”

“Stafford has nine miles of coastline on the Potomac River and zero public access,” he said.

Howell, R–Stafford, said he didn’t think it was a “wise use of money” to fully develop the park as the governor recommended, but said he thought the initial construction phases were “doable.”

The House on Sunday will present what Howell spokesman Matt Moran called a “conservative responsible budget” that includes a $1.5 billion bond package, which is nearly 40 percent less than McAuliffe’s proposal.

“The wisdom of the House’s conservative and cautious approach to state budgeting has been proven time and time again,” Howell said in a press release.

Johnny Finch, president of the Virginia Association for Parks, wrote in a letter to the General Assembly that the $140 million for parks in McAuliffe’s proposed bond package was a “fraction” of total funding needs. The state’s parks had 8.9 million visitors in 2014, he wrote, generating millions of dollars for local economies.

“The State Park System has proven to be one of the best economic investments Virginia has ever made,” Finch wrote in a letter dated Feb. 13.

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​Jeff Branscome: 540.374-5402 

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