By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: December 17, 2018 | 12:30 p.m.
PRINCE GEORGE – After several months spent hashing out the details of an agreement, a new adventure park in Scott Park is one step closer to reality after supervisors unanimously approved the facility’s proposal to lease county-owned land to operate their tree and outdoor-based experience.
Through their approval, Tree Time Adventures, operated by Virginia business owner John Bogue, and the county will enter into a lease agreement where the park will be allowed to use and develop on 100-plus acres of Scott Park property that has been determined to be unsuitable for ball fields to place their experience.
That experience would feature a “tree-top adventure,” which Bogue explained in past discussions consists of an adventure that would include an obstacle course that moves within the trees, along with a variety of other activities, such as tightropes, jungle bridges, crab walks, “Tarzan ropes,” and zip lines.
While the tree-top adventure would be geared more toward teens and adults, Tree Time would also see an experience for younger patrons through their “Junior Adventure.” In that, Bogue said it would be similar to the tree-top experience but would be closer to the ground and less challenging.
The final element of Tree Time would be ground-based as the outdoor park would utilize the earth and soil around the trees to create a number of ground courses. Those courses would be, according to Bogue, military-style fitness trails that would be prime opportunities for special events, such as family fun runs, charity runs, and other outdoor events.
While Bogue noted the aerial, tree-based experience will be confined to a roughly 30-acre area, this agreement will allow Tree Time Adventures to develop beyond the footprint of their attraction to create various trails and experiences that all residents can take part in without having to pay admission to Tree Time Adventures.
According to a copy of the lease, along with the paid admission Tree Time Adventures area, the remaining acreage would feature “nature and fitness trails (free admission), disc golf (free admission/disc rental or sale by [Tree Time Adventures],” and “other business ventures that align with the outdoor environment.” The agreement also states those trails and disc golf options are to remain “admission free except when special events and/or tournament play has been scheduled.”
For some residents who spoke during a July 2018 public hearing on the first version of the agreement between Tree Time Adventures and the county, this language could serve to address their concerns as some spoke to the lack of walking and biking trail options in the county that are free, noting they have to travel beyond the county’s borders to Chesterfield and other locales to get those experiences.
The agreement further states, “Reasonable public use of the 100 acres outside of the initial TTA 30-acre project being developed shall be allowed so as long as such use does not conflict with business activities.”
As part of the agreement, the county will receive a percentage of gross receipts from the facility and Tree Time Adventures will be required to build an outbuilding, access road and parking lot that will serve the facility, along with a number of other terms prescribed in their agreement.
While the agreement has been approved, there is still work to be done, with Bogue and his company now having to develop a site plan, which will have to be evaluated by the county planning commission and the board of supervisors before work can begin.
For Bogue, the approval of the lease agreement is another step completed in their quest to expand outdoor recreation in the region.
“We are extremely excited, but we still have a lot of red tape to go through,” he said in an interview. “We are certainly interested in being the best possible neighbor. We want to bring good, wholesome activities to the county, but there is still quite a lot ahead of us still.”
The park’s neighbors will include the Branchester Lakes community, who spoke at several meetings, including the public hearing where supervisors approved the lease agreement, to voice their concerns about having the park so close to their community.
During their remarks across different meetings, residents cited concerns about safety, the potential noise impacts, the park’s hours, the effect the park would have on property values and the risk of undesirable individuals, such as “pedophiles” roaming through their community following the park and trail development.
In response, adjustments have been made to the site, such as increasing the buffer of the aerial experiences to 300 feet from the end of residential property lines and researching the possibility of running the attraction parallel to the community.
He added, despite the language of the agreement saying they would be allowed to operate from dawn until dusk daily, the park will likely open late morning and close in the evening depending on the season as it does get darker sooner in the fall months.
“I think that the neighbors will be really pleased with it once it gets up and going,” Bogue said. “It’s not a rowdy activity. Most people are very focused. I know it was mentioned about concerns about pedophiles and things like that, but I wouldn’t anticipate the neighborhood would be under any greater target with or without the park.”
“This is an activity that children and adults do,” he continued, “But it is also something that children do only under the supervision of adults. We are excited and we are going to make the county proud.”
While Bogue may be able to operate the facility on the leased property, they will not have unrestricted access to the site. During the discussions leading up to the eventual approval of the lease, County Attorney Steven Micas explained the agreement allows for reasonable access to the leased property as determined by the county, noting that giving Bogue and his company unrestricted access to the property creates legal issues in the areas of liability and access.
“Allowing 24-hour access to a public park creates a concern for us,” Micas said during a work session. “I am not aware of a situation where any locality has granted unlimited 24-7 access to a public park. It’s unheard of.”
Though Bogue said this language doesn’t create too many issues for them, he did say it was unusual in his opinion.
“It’s not a huge concern, but I will say it is highly unusual to lease a property and have restricted access when you have legal possession of it, so that was my primary concern.”
During a work session prior to the lease’s adoption, Bogue expressed concern that the access language could be used against the park should local leaders, particularly new members in the future, want to “shut down Tree Time,” suggesting they could use the language in the agreement to lock the gates and end their operations.
“I think the leaders here are definitely a forward-thinking group of individuals and I don’t anticipate any speed bumps here,” Bogue said.
In regards to the next steps, Bogue said he will be developing a website for the park, which he said he will encourage the county to share a link to, where the community can get updates on the park to help keep people informed and allow feedback and recommendations.
“This park is designed to service the community,” he said. “We want to hear from the community,” adding that this park could have regional and statewide appeal.
“In this industry, it is not uncommon for people to travel 80 to 100 miles to experience different parks,” he said. “Our approach is a bit different than other tree-top adventure parks. Where others typically only offer that experience, we want to incorporate more thing than that. We like the idea of having [Spartan Run]-type events, perhaps putting in some outdoor exercise equipment, and we have some other ideas for stuff that is not pay-for-play, such as disc golf.”
He adds that he and his team are working closely with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to be able to develop the site while not impacting the natural resources of the area and will have a team of arborists visit the site soon to evaluate the trees and determine the overall footprint of the tree-based attractions.
The company has one year to get up and running, which includes building the access road, parking lot, and outbuilding.