Douthat State Park
Backstory and Context
Virginia witnessed the creation of its first national park when the Shenandoah National Park opened to visitors in 1924. Shenandoah became so successful and welcomed so many visitors that Virginia passed legislation for the creation of its own state park system two years later. The legislation allowed for the creation of the Virginia State Commission on Conservation and Development to oversee the development of the state park system. William E. Carson served as the commission’s first chairman. Carson proposed that the first state park to be located on Virginia’s coast to honor Virginia’s diverse geology and serve as a companion to the Shenandoah National Park. In 1930, the commission hired the British landscape architect Bob E. Burson to assist in the development of the Virginia State Parks system.
After conducting tedious research and many site visits over a period of two years, in 1932 Burson proposed the creation of six parks to serve as the core of the fledgling Virginia State Parks system. Each of the six parks would represent the four largest regions of the state: Seashore State Park (now known as First Landing) and Westmoreland State Park in the Tidewater region, Staunton River State Park and Fairy Stone State Park in the Piedmont region, Hungry Mother State Park in the Valley of Virginia, and Douthat State Park in the Mountain and Valley Region. With the help of Burson, the Commission realized that the state park system should promote tourism in Virginia in addition to providing recreational opportunities for residents.
As part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program during the Great Depression, funding and labor opportunities for public infrastructure became available to state governments. With guidance from the National Park Service, many states, including Virginia, took advantage of this opportunity and began construction on their own state parks. From the guidance of Bob Burson, the Virginia State Commission on Conservation and Development chose a site in Allegheny and Bath Counties to represent the Mountain and Valley region for Virginia’s burgeoning state park system. The area chosen for Douthat State Park was originally part of a 105,000-acre parcel of land granted to Robert Douthat by the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1795. Changing hands various times throughout the 19th-century, the tract of land wound up in possession of a group of Virginia businessmen known as the Douthat Land Company. During the early-1930s, the Douthat Land Company donated 1,920 acres to the Virginia Commission on Conservation and Development for the creation of a state park. The remaining 2,625 acres of the park were acquired from neighboring properties during the second half of 1933. In the end 4,545 acres were acquired and the park named Douthat State Park in honor of the Douthat Land Company for the generous donation.
By July 1933, 600 men from Virginia and Pennsylvania in Civilian Conservation Corps companies 1386, 1373, and 1374 arrived on site to begin constructing Douthat State Park. Each CCC camp became responsible for specific construction duties on the park: Camp 1386 constructed the trails, plant nursery for landscaping, and other general forestry work, Camp 1373 constructed the park’s dam, and Camp 1374 was responsible for all other construction needs such as cabins, shelters, and maintenance roads. Douthat State Park officially opened to public on June 15, 1936 to a crowd of a few thousand visitors. Despite it being opened in 1936, the park was not completed until 1942 when the CCC was officially dissolved by Congress. At its completion, Douthat State Park offered 25 cabins, a 50-acre lake with a sand beach access, picnic areas, hiking trails, camp sites, a restaurant, and an information center.
Like the other five state parks, the architecture of Douthat State Park is reflective of the mountainous region in which it is located. Boasting primitive and rustic architecture, Douthat State Park was designed to incorporate local materials to create a simplistic and secluded atmosphere. The majority of the park’s original structures and natural features remain intact and in use today, making it one of the most well-preserved parks of the original six. Over the course of its existence, some changes have been made to Douthat State Park, as it now offers 32 cabins with two being handicapped accessible. The sheer size of the park makes it the largest state park in the Virginia state parks system, which, by offering over 43 miles of trails and mountain biking trials, has made Douthat a leading mountain biking location on the East Coast. In addition to hiking and mountain biking, the park offers fishing, an amphitheater, concession stand, boat rentals, gift shop, guided hikes, and other nature programs. Douthat State Park was added to the Virginia Landmarks Register on June 17, 1986 and to the National Register of Historic Places on September 20, 1986.
Douthat State Park. Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. August 30, 2018. November 6, 2018. http://www.dcr.Virginia.gov/state-parks/douthat#general_information.
Lomasney, Jaimie. Douthat State Park is a "Mountain Biking Disneyland". Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. February 25, 2014. November 6, 2018. http://www.dcr.Virginia.gov/state-parks/blog/douthat-state-park-is-a-mountain-biking-disneyland-4869.