Madison County has waited 80 years for its own entrance to Shenandoah National Park, and park officials told county administrators on July 29 that they would have to keep waiting. A proposal by the Madison County Board of Supervisors to upgrade Rapidan Road and establish a new entrance for motor vehicles was denied last week by Park Superintendent Jim Northup. In a letter to the Board of Supervisors on July 29, Northup said the proposed upgrades were “not appropriate, nor consistent with the significance and purpose of this park.”
Madison officials say the county gave up thousands of acres of land for the creation of the park, yet it’s the only bordering county still without local access for vehicles.
“We don’t want a big commercial entrance,” said County Administrator Ernie Hoch. “We want to have a way to bring a limited number of people up. We’re not talking about building a new road.”
But Northup said upgrading Rapidan Road to support nearly 30,000 cars a year, by the county’s estimate, would prove a major and costly undertaking. And the state would have to foot the bill.
More importantly, he said, the influx of traffic would jeopardize the solitude of the backcountry area.
Northup said he received letters over several months from residents who were opposed to the county’s proposal, but Hoch said he hasn’t encountered much public resistance.
“I suspect he’s been inundated by some of the environmental community, who had kind of a knee-jerk reaction, thinking that this is going to somehow have a negative environmental impact,” Hoch said. “That’s not our intent. We’re not looking to cut down any trees or build any new roads.”
If some groups aren’t on the county’s side, Hoch said history certainly is.
In 1929, President Herbert Hoover built a weekend retreat in Shenandoah on land that formerly belonged to Madison County residents. The county used its own funds to build what is now Rapidan Road to Hoover’s retreat. The President wrote a letter thanking Madison County and others for their kindness and suggesting that the road they built would serve as an entrance to the national park when it opened in the coming years. In Madison County, this became known as “Hoover’s Promise,” which was never fulfilled.
“Over the years, Madison has been somewhat underrepresented and never had much political power or position,” Hoch said. “The county has requested that this entrance be established and has time and time again been told ‘no’ for various reasons. It’s time to give Madison a chance to share in the beautiful park they helped to create.”
Albemarle County Supervisor Dennis Rooker said he understands Madison County’s desire to open a new entrance, and said the park entrance at nearby Skyline Drive is great for Albemarle residents and businesses alike.
“During the fall and spring, the drive up there is absolutely gorgeous,” he said. “From a tourist perspective, the closer your access is to the park, the more likely it is that tourists are going to stay in your community.”
Hoch said Madison County will continue to expand its relationship with Northup and the park by working with them on other initiatives. In the meantime, they’ll meet with state and federal leaders and keep pushing for an entrance—after all, 80 years hasn’t slowed them down.