GLOUCESTER – After opening a little more than a year ago on April 16, 2021, Machicomoco State Park in Gloucester, one of the newest state parks, drew an estimated 92,000 visitors between then and Dec. 31, 2021. That averages out to more than 350 guests a day, which park manager Terry Sims recently called a great success.
“It was fabulous. We couldn’t expect more out of the community and the sponsors of the community,” he said. “They’re excited for us being here, where they can come and just enjoy the outdoors in a safe environment.”
Despite a grand opening ceremony and a ribbon cutting for Machicomoco in spring 2021 that was attended by the governor and other state and local dignitaries, the park remained somewhat of a secret.
“People told us they just saw the brown signs and followed them to the park,” Sims said. “But it’s growing, and the word is getting out and we’re becoming a little bit more noticeable and popular.”
The park is in the lower portion of Gloucester County at the end of Timberneck Farm Road off Providence Road in Hayes. It sits on the York River, consists of 645 acres, and is Virginia’s first state park celebrating and honoring the Native tribes of Virginia. Its name is the Algonquin phrase for “special meeting place.”
Machicomoco State Park features much of what you would expect at a state park: sites for RV camping, tent camping, and three yurts; a car-top boat launch, picnic shelters, a fishing dock, hiking trails, and a small amphitheater. One of the hiking trails is a 3.3-mile paved path that circles the main road. Of course, there are also ranger programs and interpretive walks.
The park is open daily from 8am to dusk, while the camping season currently runs from the first weekend in March until the first weekend in December. However, Sims said they are looking into the possibility of keeping the campground open year-round.
One of the things Sims is most proud of is the park’s budding relationships with its guests and the community. One of the biggest improvements at the park has been the addition of covered benches along the paved walking path, which was suggested by guests and built by two local rotary clubs.
“Whenever you walk this big loop trail, there’s not a whole lot of shade, and it gets pretty hot during the summer,” Sims said.
The Gloucester and Mathews rotary clubs joined forces and built four benches that provide cover from the heat.
“That was great,” Sims said.
Another suggestion from campers resulted in the planting of more than two dozen trees. Since the property is on a lot of old farmland, there aren’t a lot of mature trees in the campground, which means another area with little shade. Park guests pointed that out.
“In the fall, we purchased and planted 29 shade trees,” Sims said. “It’s going to take several years to fully provide enough shade, but they were strategically placed in campgrounds.”
As with almost all of the 41 Virginia state parks, there are programs and events almost every month. Among those at Machicomoco are hikes to learn about owls and other birds and the flowers and trees in the park as well as other educational programs.
To help publicize Machicomoco, the park is holding an event called “Brews and Brine” on June 14 from 5pm to 8pm. The family event will showcase outdoor artists using their canvases to interpret the park settings. Food, including oysters, and beer will be available.
Some other annual celebrations are Earth Day (April 22) and National Indigenous Peoples’ Day (October date to be determined).
“We had pretty good success with it last year,” Sims said of the latter. “More than 120 people showed up, so we’re expecting to build upon that.”
One of the park’s major attractions is its open-air interpretive pavilion, which resembles an Indian longhouse. Leading up to the pavilion is a paved walkway featuring a timeline of significant events in the lives of the area’s Native American people.
There also is an historic building, the Timberneck House, which dates to 1800. It is being restored by the Fairfield Foundation and the state. When finished, it will house exhibits on the first floor and space upstairs for overnight guests. The foundation is hoping to finish most of the renovations by 2024.
This year, there have already been more than 30,000 visitors to the park, said Sims. If that continues, park attendance will top last year’s.
Still, Sims and his staff continue work on promoting the park. He anticipates kicking off a “Friends of Machicomoco” membership drive later in the year. He wants to do more community outreach, especially in schools.
“We’re a work-in-progress,” he said. “Every day, we try to be creative and try to think of new things to bring new visitors out and also bring old visitors back in order to give them something new to experience.”
As first years go, it went very well.
“I would say it’s been a success,” Sims said.