When Laurie and Rod Schlemm were married decades ago, they received a gift of land that had been in his family for seven generations, off Caledon Road in King George County.
The couple has loved living there, both because Caledon State Park is right across the road and because a 455-acre tract surrounding them—slated to become a subdivision called Lake Caledon—has remained undeveloped, in its pristine, natural state.
But because that land, owned by Jarrell Properties, is still slated for eventual development, and because the tract’s 47-acre lake, fields and woodlands would make a perfect addition to Caledon, an effort is being mounted to buy the property and give it to the state.
It’s no surprise that Laurie Schlemm is the leader of the effort. Her long involvement as a past president and current board member on the Friends of Caledon State Park has also made her understand how such an addition could open up extensive new uses at the park.
Schlemm met with me to explain the grassroots campaign to buy the property, which the property owners supoport.
To start with, she said, King George County has applied for a grant through the Land & Water Conservation Fund that, if awarded, would give the campaign to purchase Lake Caledon half of the $6.6 million purchase price needed to acquire the 455 acres.
“Because the grant calls for a 50/50 match, we would need to raise the other $3.3 million required,” said Schlemm, who added that the Friends of Caledon group has gotten indications from state Sen. Richard Stuart and other local legislators that they would be amenable to pursuing some state or federal funding to help cut into that $3.3 million needed.
From the King George Board of Supervisors to the county’s administrator to state parks officials, there’s broad support for the plan to have the acreage purchased and added to the park, even though county officials say that doesn’t extend to King George putting county funds into the mix.
“If we’re able to accomplish this, it would been be a fantastic addition to Caledon State Park, which is a wonderful asset for the community,” said Ruby Brabo, a county supervisor. “We have very limited water access in the county. And while this wouldn’t be river access, there is a large lake in this property that could provide water recreation there.”
Brabo said that while the King George Board of Supervisors never took a formal vote on supporting the effort or applying for the grant, its members came to a consensus that they would back this grassroots effort to add to the park.
Neiman Young, King George’s county administrator, said the county has indeed submitted the application for the grant, and added that “The county is in support of this effort at Caledon, a jewel in our community.”
Likewise, officials who oversee the state park system support the idea.
Clyde Cristman, the director of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, said “this would be an incredible addition to Caledon State Park.”
Schlemm, joined by other members of the Friends of Caledon State Park, is working to set up a fundraising campaign and tours of the property, in hopes of get donations to help get to the $3.3 million match.
One thing that appeals to the Caledon friends group is the opportunity the Lake Caledon property represents.
Caledon Park manager Nina Cox, who by agency guidelines is staying out of the effort to acquire the property, helped explain why land on the other side of Caledon Road would change what the park can do.
“Caledon was operated as a natural area for close to 30 years,” she said, pointing out the park’s resource management and visitor experience plans call for it to be managed similarly to a natural area.
The 2,579-acres park, which sits along the Potomac River, allows trails and hiking but has eschewed things like cabins or campgrounds because they could affect the land that is a bald eagle sanctuary, with critical roosting and foresting areas.
In a written statement about the effort to purchase and transfer the property to the state, Schlemm said that the only way Caledon State Park can diversify is to increase its boundaries.
“Everything the park cannot do today, we can change tomorrow by annexing the land across the street,” she said, noting that Lake Caledon and its creek can offer fishing, kayaking, and aquatic education.
“The hills and trails can offer cabins, biking, hiking and horseback riding,” she said. “The fields can offer sporting events, outdoor concerts and a conference center. The trails already there can be used for hiking, biking and horseback riding immediately.”
Schlemm, who said the property where she and her husband live would be an inholding if the tract is added to the park, noted that new park uses wouldn’t interfere or weigh on county utilities, something also noted by Brabo in giving her solid support to the add-to-the-park effort.
“Caledon Road was never meant to handle that sort of subdivision traffic,” she said. “More homes require more infrastructure and more county services. The real estate taxes collected on those homes wouldn’t cover those costs.”
Schlemm said the best thing about the transfer of the property, which would require General Assembly approval, is that it contains some pristine and beautiful spots.
“There are some high spots that would be perfect to put in cabins that could look down on Peppermill Creek,” she said, noting that cabins there wouldn’t interfere with the eagles who tend to cluster along the river. “We see it as a win-win, both for the park and for King George County.”
James Jarrell IV said that Jarrell Properties, which bought the spot already approved for a subdivision just before the last recession, has been working with Schlemm and definitely supports selling the property to the Friends group.
“It’s land that has just been sitting there, being farmed and hunted, with King George not quite ready” for its development," he said. “Mrs. Schlemm reached out and we’re happy to do anything we can to help.”
Rob Hedelt: 540/374-5415