If you build out the park, the explorers — and their money — will come.
That’s one of the driving principles behind a sweeping, new 20-year vision for Explore Park that the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors adopted Tuesday.
Explore Park has struggled over two decades to sustain vitality. It's hoped the park’s new blueprint will lead to success.
Supervisors hope the new master plan will be a springboard for park upgrades that not only draw in tourists but also amplify the region’s appeal for economic development projects.
“If you want to compete, you have to provide the amenities,” said Windsor Hills Supervisor Joe McNamara, alluding to recent Roanoke Valley coups like landing the site of Deschutes Brewery’s upcoming East Coast brewery.
The Oregon-based Deschutes cited the region’s love of the outdoors as one of the reasons it picked Roanoke for its 2019 project.
The Explore Park plan, developed over the past year, is less extravagant than some past proposals for the 1,100-acre park but still sets out an ambitious vision for a recreation hub that includes expanded trails, campgrounds and cabins, a restaurant, country store, zip line and event stage.
The plan will rely heavily on public-private partnerships, and projects will be driven by interest from private businesses and organizations willing to contribute to services.
Buzz about the master plan has already drawn several inquiries from groups interested in getting involved at the park, county officials said.
Now that the board has endorsed the plan, the county will put out a formal request for information from interested parties.
That request will likely be issued this fall, said parks director Doug Blount.
Leading up to this, the county already had been in talks with the Roanoke Disc Golf club about creating a disc golf course and with the local chapter of the International Mountain Biking Association about expanding the park’s trails.
Blount said the county will look to flesh out the details of those potential partnerships in the next few months.
“Until now, we were hesitant to go too far with developing any type of plan until we knew the board of supervisors was in support of it,” he said.
No immediate money has been attached to the master plan. In a presentation last month, Blount suggested the board consider planning to spend $10 million over the next 10 years on road improvements, utility work and other infrastructure upgrades.
But no formal budget proposal has been submitted yet. Supervisors stressed Monday that the plan is designed to be flexible and projects will have to compete with other priorities during the budget process.
The board is set to review its long-range capital improvement plan in November as part of its annual round of budget workshops.
During a public hearing Monday, representatives for Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge, the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce, Roanoke Disc Golf club and International Mountain Biking Association all spoke in support of the plan.
The future of Explore Park is seen as a major factor in the region’s tourism and economic growth, said Lee Wilhelm, chairman of Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge.
“Tourism is big business in Virginia’s Blue Ridge,” Wilhelm said. “ It’s also said that tourism is economic development’s first date. People need to know who we are, where we are and what we have to offer before they’ll make a decision to visit the area, much less make a decision to move a business here.”
The board voted 4-1 to adopt the master plan with Hollins Supervisor Al Bedrosian dissenting. Bedrosian expressed concerned about the future expense to the county.