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Proposal made for snow-tubing facility at Idlewild
BY BILL FREEHLING
Fredericksburg resident Richard Harrison wants to start a chain of snow-tubing parks along the Interstate 95 corridor, and he'd like the first one to be in his hometown.
Harrison submitted a proposal to city officials earlier this year for a snow-tubing facility called Fogwatt Adventures off Gateway Boulevard about a third of a mile from the main entrance to the Idlewild subdivision in Fredericksburg. The proposal was rejected.
Harrison wanted to build the park on land the city owns at Idlewild. His plan called for a gravel parking lot with about 133 spaces on the east side of Gateway Boulevard near Idlewild's stone signs, with turn lanes added on Gateway Boulevard.
Customers could rent tubes, go up a "magic-carpet-ride" lift and sled down about 600 feet on one of 10 adjacent lanes. Snow-making equipment would be installed, and a retaining pond would be built. The business would be open only during the winter.
Harrison said most ski resorts offer snow tubing, which is popular because users don't need to buy any equipment and just about anyone can do it. It's essentially a convenient way to go sledding.
Harrison submitted the plan in response to a city request for proposals to renovate the historic Downman House it owns near the top of the north-facing hill that would serve as Fogwatt's slope.
The Gothic Revival mansion served as Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's headquarters during the Chancellorsville campaign in 1863, but was severely damaged in a 2003 fire. There is no roof, leaving the house to deteriorate. Steel supports now brace the brick walls.
Harrison's plan called for building a protective structure around the mansion at a cost of about $300,000 to preserve what remains for future renovation.
Harrison proposed purchasing 18.2 acres from the city for $1 and then investing about $2 million to create Fogwatt Adventures there. He estimates that the facility would generate about $1 million in tax revenue for the city during its first decade.
City officials, who continue to look for uses for its land at Idlewild, were concerned that the plan didn't include restoring the 1859 mansion. There were also concerns about the viability of the business amid the area's fairly warm winters, and that noise from the business would disturb Idlewild residents.
City Manager Beverly Cameron wrote Harrison a letter last month saying snow tubing at that location "would be inconsistent with the character of the Idlewild neighborhood and with the historic setting."
Harrison said the business would be open for about three months in the winter--12 hours every day in season--and create about 10 full-time-equivalent seasonal jobs. He said the park would probably create less noise at Idlewild than nearby I-95 traffic.
He said restoring the mansion would cost about $2 million, which he said is too much to make it a profitable endeavor.
Harrison believes the matter should have gone before City Council for public discussion rather than being handled by city staff. He said he continues to look for other locations for Fogwatt snow-tubing facilities in Stafford and Prince William counties.
The name of the business comes from a village in Scotland that Harrison recently visited.
Bill Freehling: 540/374-5405