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Inspired by the legendary princess, the Pocahontas State Park has an important impact on the personal life of Virginians.

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Pocahontas State Park Is The Most Visited In Virginia  

With A Name Inspired By The Legendary Princess, The Recreation Area Positively Impacts The Lives Of Those Who Enter 

Park Ranger Shows Children Native Turtle At Pocahontas State Park [Photo Credit: Virginia State Parks]

“Parks like this were brought about by the New Deal to end the Great Depression with the Civilian Conservation Corps,” explains Joshua Ellington, park manager for Pocahontas State Park in Virginia. Pocahontas State Park is the biggest state park in Virginia and the most visited. “We’ve had 1.4 million people visit last year,” explains Ellington. It has a little under 8,000 acres and there are hiking trails, recreational lakes, camping, and mountain biking. They sometimes have up to six weddings a weekend and have multiple groups, like Boy Scouts, use their park.

Ellington has worked in the parks for about 20 years. He started cutting grass at a state park in Halifax, Virginia, and then moved up the ranks for 15 years. He jumped at the opportunity to work at Pocahontas and doesn’t anticipate leaving anytime soon. “We are residents for life,” explains Ellington, “We moved to Chesterfield and we love it.” He explains that the area provides the benefits of country living, as he has “the mountain bike trail right outside my front door,” but also is 3 or 4 miles to get anywhere he wants because it's just outside Richmond. “I grew up in the country and you get that feeling here,” Ellington explains.

As mentioned, the park itself was started by the Civilian Conservation Corps, for which Pocahontas State Park has a museum for with artifacts and stories from that era. The Civilian Conservation Corps would work on a variety of recreational projects in order to improve American and get out of the depression. “Young men would come out and work on a variety of projects and created the first six state parks in Virginia,” explains Ellington. The men built two dams, Swift Creek Dam and Beaver Lake Dam, that formed the lakes that are in the park.

Lilypads Float Over Swift Creek Inside Pocahontas State Park [Photo Credit: Virginia State Parks]
Cyclist Enjoys Trail At The State Park [Photo Credit: Virginia State Parks]

Pocahontas was not originally a state park, in fact it wasn’t even called Pocahontas. It was called Swift Creek Recreational Demonstration Area and was owned by the National Park Service. During World War 2, the area was used for soldier training and after the war, the National Park Service donated the area to Virginia. “Though the name was inspired by the legendary princess,” Ellington says, “it was actually brought about by a local high school.” Thomas Dale High School had a contest to name the newly formed state park and a student came up with Pocahontas and it was well-received.

“If you wonder where we are,” chuckles Ellington, “you find Richmond on a map and then find the big green spot.” Being so close to the city, the park is used for a lot of different things and a lot of different people use it. So many moving parts is both a challenge and an opportunity, according to Ellington. “As with anything, the resources to keep things in complete order are just not there so we need to prioritize,” Ellington says, “so I balance those resources to provide services and natural upkeep, as well as renovate our 100 yr. old buildings that are spread throughout the park for all to see.” He mentions that a lot of the groups that use the park can have contentious relationships if not properly guided. “Usually mountain bikers and equestrians do not get along, especially if they are using the same trails,” explains Ellington, “so we create friendships between the user groups.” Ellington and his team value communication and he listens to different groups and their needs. Although he can’t fulfill all of them, he tries to make sure everyone is heard and tries to accommodate as much as possible, as he knows the park is for them. “We also have a huge volunteer base,” Ellington says, “we logged over 20,000 volunteer hours last year and our volunteers raise about $50,000 a year for the park.” All these moving parts Ellington can view as a challenge, but he chooses to see them as opportunities. “It’s really rewarding to see people coming together and sharing our park.”

The Park's Waterfall [Photo Credit: Virginia State Parks]
Bridge at Pocohantas State Park in Chesterfield, VA [Photo Credit: Virginia State Parks]
Kids Camping And Hearing A Tale [Photo Credit: Virginia State Parks]

Someone who has worked in parks for so long surely has some thoughts on the importance of parks in our environment. Not only from an environmental perspective, but as a necessity in daily life, especially in an urban setting. “Where I grew up, people would say, ‘I’m going for a walk’ and they meant around their farm of 50-100 acres,” Ellington explains, “Here they mean they are coming to Pocahontas.” As someone who has experience with the stress of a management position, he can see first hand how helpful a park can be to the working people. “It can make such an impact on your personal life and that’s why our facilities are important,” he explains, “It’s a true sanctuary in this ever growing and ever changing world.”

Beyond work, nature has a way of healing people's personal lives, something Ellington finds really rewarding to provide. “I’ve had people come up to me and say ‘I lost 100 pounds in 18 months walking your trails’ or ‘We were on the verge of divorce and we renewed our vows while going on a camping trip in your park,’” he says. He personally knows the benefit, too. “I have a 15-year-old son and we can get into it sometimes,” Ellington says, “but just the other day we went mountain biking and he was laughing and yelling and I was laughing and yelling and it was just great.”


Andrew Malo

A graduate of Northeastern Illinois University in Education, Andrew has taught for the past decade in Chicago, New Mexico, and Japan.  He  enjoys tinkering with trucks and motorcycles, woodworking, reading and computer programming.  

Pocahontas State Park

Make Sure To Stay At:

Pocahontas State Park, located 20 miles from Richmond. It offers boating, picnicking, camping, camping cabins, 64-plus miles of trails, and nature and history programs. Three lakes offer plenty of fishing. Boat rentals available seasonally by Swift Creek Lake.


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