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Wayside Park, Pittsylvania County, VA 03-25-24 | News

Wayside Park, Pittsylvania County, VA

Submission by Beechgrove Design Landscape Architectu
by Trenda Carter Leavitt

Wayside Park, located in rural central Virginia, is a 50-acre public park featuring Sycamore Creek, mature forests, open fields, historic structures, and new modern park amenities. Built in 1935 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), this historic park has been reimagined for the twenty-first century with extensive park improvements and investment. The genius of the park today is the layering within one place of historic 1930s structures, beautiful natural areas, and dynamic new park features. The design objectives were to showcase the historic elements of the park, integrate new features into a functional arrangement, and provide access to natural areas without disturbing intact riparian and forest ecosystems.

Wayside Park and Pittsylvania Wayside were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1935 as a recreation area and rest stop for travelers, under the direction of the National Park Service and Virginia Department of Highways. The Civilian Conservation Corps was part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal to provide jobs during the Great Depression, constructing conservation projects in rural areas from 1933-1942. The National Park Service implemented the recreational demonstration area program with three primary focus areas. One focus area included "tracts of 20-50 acres along well traveled highways that may be used as picnic areas by the traveler or family groups seeking a day's outing."1 Wayside Park and Pittsylvania Wayside were part of this focus. Wayside Park was one of thirteen constructed in Virginia and South Carolina. Wayside Park features several CCC structures, still in use today, which reflect design principles advanced by the National Park Service, including a swinging bridge, a timber frame picnic shelter, stacked stone walls and tall chimney grills.

Pittsylvania Wayside was the largest of seven waysides built in Virginia by the CCC. It was divided into two recreation areas: one for picnics that included twenty-nine tables and seven fireplaces and the other a ballpark used by local residents. The waysides were a success: in 1952 Pittsylvania Wayside Park had 49,000 visitors. Many generations have fond memories of family reunions, company picnics, school field trips, baseball games, creek wading, baptisms, and walking in the park. When the park and wayside were constructed, adjacent Route 29 was a primary highway in the region. A larger four lane road bypassed the park and wayside in 1974. Today's Business carries little through traffic, however with recent park improvements, many visitors are again traveling this road to enjoy Wayside Park.

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Wayside Park underwent a dramatic revitalization beginning in 2019 with planning directed by the Pittsylvania County Virginia Parks and Recreation Department under the direction of Mark Moore (former director) and Justin Price (current director). Beechgrove Design Landscape Architecture was hired to provide research, master planning, construction details, locate trails, select site features, and design wayfinding signs. The master plan was developed to highlight and preserve existing historic features built by the CCC: timber frame picnic shelter, stacked stone walls, tall chimney grills and the impressive swinging bridge, which is the most unique and prominent feature of the park. The original tall chimney grills continue providing the experience of grilling outdoors. Existing trails were refurbished, and new trails located and built to expand visitors' access to diverse areas within the park. Select areas include a trail which follows Sycamore Creek and takes users past original stacked stone armoring walls built by the CCC. Another trail winds through a mature eastern deciduous forest and passes the former caretaker's cottage. A new paved walking loop was installed to provide access for strollers and wheelchairs. Wrapped by the forest is an expansive open space which features a new stage, pickleball courts, picnic shelters and a destination playground. Community engagement during construction included several Eagle Scout projects and a sculpture created by students in the local Career and Technical Center.

Pittsylvania Wayside, located adjacent to the highway, is linked to the larger park by a trail. The Pittsylvania Wayside was designed by Heath Landscaping, a local company. Their design utilizes stone walls to reference the creek and masonry work of the Civilian Conservation Corps. A LOVE sculpture is located in the Wayside, visible to motorists on Route 29, and a destination for photographs.

Extensive upgrades and investment have reimagined this park for the twenty-first century. Features added (beginning in 2020) include a handicap accessible playground, pickleball courts, picnic shelters, performance stage, new restrooms, and an extensive system of paved, gravel and natural trails. In 2023 the historic wood swinging bridge was replaced with a new bridge which has a higher weight capacity. The original stacked stone bridge abutment remains, continuing to provide structural support and illustrate beautiful craftsmanship. The park has provided eighty-eight years of open space and recreational opportunities for the community. With the addition of modern features, it will remain a place of recreation and engagement with nature for the next century.

Park improvements were made possible by donations from the Danville Regional Foundation, Virginia Department of Transportation, J.T. Minnie Maude Charitable Trust, Virginia Outdoors Foundation, Virginia Tourism, All Recreation of Virginia and Pittsylvania County.

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