Waynesboro’s Constitution Park now has a long-term plan for its future — turning the space into the South River Preserve, a 26-acre park focused on restoration, reforestation and natural resources.
The preliminary master plan for the South River Preserve was unveiled by the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation on July 15. The plan calls for maximized water quality treatment, improved habitats, more fishing and river access points, and increased tree canopy and pollinator meadow trails. All of the natural resources will be “woven into an active park setting.”
The South River Greenway, a popular 1.2-mile stretch along the South River from the Loth Springs Parking area on Arch Avenue to the Port Republic neighborhood, will remain in place.
The master plan calls for a series of changes, improvements and restorative projects that Parks and Rec Director Dwayne Jones said some of which could take years to fully develop.
“It took years to develop it as an industrial site, and it’s going to take years to flip it back to a more natural park-like setting,” said Jones. “Our hope is that the plan sets it up for the long-term vision of Waynesboro’s downtown. The greenway has been a huge hit, and I think this will really set Waynesboro up for the next 10 to 15 years of planning downtown.”
The process to develop the South River Preserve began in December 2019. The $2.4 million project is being funded through the DuPont-Waynesboro Natural Resources Damage Assessment and Restoration (NRDAR) Fund.
NRDAR funds can be used for a number of the restorative projects, but will not cover expenses like restrooms and park benches. Jones said amenities not covered by NRDAR will be paid for by the city, other funds or private donations, but with COVID-related budget cuts, it’s uncertain what exact amenities will be added or removed. The city hopes to have a full plan with an engineer’s estimate by the fall.
One of the biggest visual changes for the park space will be when the current Invista parking lot becomes green space. The lot, about 11 acres with about 6 acres of actual pavement, will become a bird habitat and improve stormwater quality.
“It’s a huge transformation of paved space to green space, and that has been one of the major goals of the project. It wasn’t paved in a day, and it’s not going to be transformed in a day. The reverse of that process will take 15, 20, maybe even 30 years to fully restore that site,” Jones said.
Other noticeable changes planned include a significant increase in river access points. Right now, Constitution Park has one dedicated access point. The plan calls for at least six to eight more access points along the South River’s edge.
Nature play areas also are in the long-term plan. Jones said nature play areas allow “ways to get creative” with logs, boulders and different things for kids to experience in nature “versus things that are plastic, steel and concrete.”
“We tried to design the plan in such a way that as a patron of the park, you can’t tell you’ve walked from a restorative area to a park area. It’s an integrated plan,” Jones said.
In addition, the plan marks dual-purpose event spaces for large gatherings like the Waynesboro’s Farmers Market.
“We wanted to be very thoughtful in the design process so that we wouldn’t go back and say ‘Oh, we need space for this or that.’ Having it laid out in the very early stages of the master plan gives us time to build it out over a series of years,” Jones said.
The master plan is available online at waynesboro.va.us under the Parks and Recreation tab. Public comments on the plan are being accepted until Aug. 7 through email at email@example.com.
After the public comment period, the next phase is engineering, Jones said. NRDAR plans will move forward with the hope of moving dirt in the fall or summer of 2021 with a project end date goal of December 2023.