By Linda Cicoira — Accomack County’s $1 million Sawmill Park won a 2019 Virginia Association of Counties Achievement Award, which recognizes excellence in local government programs.
The award will be a first for the county. Nearly 100 success stories were submitted for recognition from across the state. There were 26 winners.
“This is the 17th year of the Achievement Awards, and we couldn’t be prouder of the innovative work done by our member counties,” VACo Executive Director Dean Lynch said. “I want to thank all who participated. It seems the judges selected winning programs that help unite communities – especially the young and seniors. This tells me that counties continue to put their residents first.”
A few months ago, VACo sent an email asking for submissions about the accomplishments of counties, said Accomack Administrator Mike Mason. The county staff thought the park would be ideal for commendation. A VACo representative is scheduled to present the award to the Accomack County Board of Supervisors in October.
The 35-acre Sawmill Park, which opened in June 2018, was constructed on the former site of an industrial-sized sawmill that operated for more than seven decades. It closed in 2007.
Transforming the derelict site for recreation was a huge task as industrial-sized machinery had to be broken down and removed, concrete slabs had to be pulverized, abandoned structures had to be demolished, and dozens of enormous piles of waste by-products had to be taken away, Mason said. In addition, the land had to be leveled for the baseball/softball field.
The park has dugouts and bleachers, a concession stand, a playground, picnic tables, a butterfly habitat, bathrooms, and solar panels that generate power to the park and county buildings that are nearby.
It is also handicap accessible. The 1,300-foot walking trail has educational signs in English and Spanish and notes native trees, shrubs, and grasses on the site. In the future, the county hopes to erect volleyball and tennis courts, a dog park, and a covered pavilion. Supervisor Paul Muhly wants to see horseshoe pits be installed.
The park has already hosted lunch and playdates, an annual Easter egg hunt, the Juneteenth festival, adult soccer, softball leagues, and family and community gatherings. And it encourages exercise.
Sawmill Park also has green initiatives. Once construction was complete, the excavated areas were converted into bio-retention ponds, shallow depressions designed to mimic forested ecosystems that are effective in pollutant removal, Mason said. This dual-use lessened the environmental impact of the project as the fill extracted from the ground for the ponds was later used as fill for the ballfield. All roads and parking lots are constructed out of permeable surfaces.
Sawmill came about after county officials sought to use more than 31 acres of unused federal property at Wallops Island for an aeronautical research park. The property was deemed recreational and had been a gift to Accomack. To use it for industry, Accomack had to find another recreational site.
The park is at 24387 Joynes Neck Road, near Accomac.