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First phase of long-awaited Biscuit Run Park to open this fall

This October, Albemarle County plans to unveil the first phase of what will ultimately become the largest park in the county.

It’s taken nearly two decades to get to this point, and it could be decades more before the entire 1,200-acre Biscuit Run Park is completed.

Construction on a 550-acre portion of the property began in March and, barring any unforeseen circumstances, that section — including 4.5 miles of trails, public restrooms, a trailhead with 75 parking spaces and an eastern park entrance from state Route 20 — will be open to the public this fall.

“Leading up to this point, there’s been a lot of hurdles we’ve had to cross,” Steven Hoffman, a project manager with the county, told The Daily Progress. “There have been multiple agencies and the land itself with the state, they’ve never done a project like this before that was this difficult.”

The difficulties stem from the project’s long, complicated history.

When private developers bought the land in 2006, they intended for most of it to be converted into a residential development. But the project became unviable when the Great Recession hit and the housing market crashed. Developers were able to recoup some of their money in 2009 by selling the land to the state for $9.8 million in cash and about $12.5 million in tax credits.

Virginia had planned to use the land for a state park, adopting an ambitious three-phase master plan in 2013 that would have cost roughly $42 million. But three years later, the General Assembly chose not to provide funding, leaving plans in limbo.

In 2018, Albemarle County made a deal with the state, leasing the land for 99 years at no cost. It adopted its own three-phase master plan in 2018, with development costs that could reach $34 million. The county tried to get $15 million in funding from the state, but its efforts fell short, leaving it to Albemarle to figure out how to construct the park on its own.

It wasn’t until this spring that construction began. The county hired local contractor Haley, Chisholm & Morris Inc. to complete Phase 1 at a cost of $3.6 million. The current budget proposal that the Board of Supervisors is considering would allocate an additional $9.2 million to the park over the next two fiscal years.

Members of the public should not enter the park as there are multiple unbridged waterways and active construction zones that could cause serious injury.

“I’m going to say this in every interview that we give, but we need the public to understand and be patient with us and realize that they need to avoid that area,” Tim Padalino, the county’s chief of parks planning, told The Daily Progress.

After more than a decade of complications, the very fact that construction is underway at all is a significant step.

“We have a deadline, we have a budget, we have a contractor that’s fully committed to getting us to the end of this project, and I really do not foresee any circumstances at this point in time to hold us up from getting to the end,” Hoffman said.

When the first 550 acres are opened this fall, trails will be available for hiking, biking, walking and jogging. While the state’s master plan included spaces for camping and equestrian use, those were cut out of the county plan.

With the county needing to find ways to either fund the park itself or petition the state for financial help, it could be years or even decades before all 1,200 acres are available to the public. But when that day comes, Biscuit Run will easily be the largest park property in Albemarle, nearly twice as big as the second largest, containing historic trails, basketball courts, a mountain biking course, grass playing fields, playgrounds, dog parks, gardens, waterways, boardwalks and bridges.

“Despite having a convenient location, this park contains extensive natural areas, natural heritage resources, and scenic landscapes that are generally uncommon so close to Charlottesville and Albemarle County’s Development Area,” reads a statement on the county website. “This long-anticipated park will help elevate our local quality of life, support public health and personal wellness, and contribute to our local economic vitality.”


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