By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: August 17, 2019 | 12:30 p.m.
PRINCE GEORGE – Less than a year after county leaders gave them the green light, the operators of the region’s newest outdoor attraction welcomed the community to lush forestry of Prince George County to celebrate the formal opening of Tree Time adventure park.
Last Friday, dozens of people joined Lesly and John Bogue, the owners and operators of Tree Time, under the cooling canopy of Scott Memorial Park just off Courthouse Road to herald the opening of the new 30-plus-acre tree-based adventure park and trails, one of Southside Virginia’s first elevated tree courses.
Sitting on over 100 acres of county-owned land that is being leased to Bogue, Tree Time showcases the rugged and diverse terrain of Scott Park’s undeveloped topography and its rich network of mature trees thanks to a series of bridges, Tarzan swings, and a zip line that guides visitors through the facility. Along with the tree-based experiences, which only make up roughly a third of the leased property, various trails move throughout Tree Time’s development, featuring paths of a quarter-mile, half-mile, with plans for a one-mile course already underway.
After Bogue’s initial proposal during the spring of last year, both the park’s ownership and the county worked together to craft an agreement that sees Prince George receiving a portion of the park’s revenue in exchange for the ability to lease over 100 acres of Scott Park that had been previously deemed unsuitable for the development of additional soccer fields.
While Bogue had planned to open Tree Time shortly after classes in the county wrapped for the year in June, the park’s soft opening was delayed until mid-last month, followed by last week’s special ceremonial ribbon cutting featuring members of the park’s staff, county officials, and Delegate Emily Brewer, who later geared up to journey the trees of Scott Park.
Walking around chatting visitors and those taking part in the tree experiences, Bogue was taken aback by seeing what had been a proposal in 2018 transform into a reality less than a year later.
“I couldn’t be happier,” he shared. “I’m extremely pleased with the community’s reaction. Business has been up and down but we seem to be filling our bookings a little bit quicker so I think word is getting out. I can’t wait to get started on the next phase. I just want to bring people as many reasons to come out and play.”
One of the comments made by the community during the park’s conceptualization was a desire to see free experiences accompany the paid tree-based adventures, a vision shared by Bogue and Tree Time, which led to the creation of the trail network, which, according to Bogue, seeks to hit the three miles by the spring of next year, along with other amenities like disc golf and other activities that can be enjoyed without charge.
When asked, he said they are actively working to provide those experiences for park goers.
“We met with a professional disc golf player yesterday, he was telling me there are really only two course designers in the world and, just so happens, one of those designers lives in Spotsylvania County,” Bogue detailed. “So, we are hoping to team up with him and hopefully lay out a course that is going to be inviting to the circuit.”
“We are also getting to start working on the sand volleyball areas and we are putting in a little birthday area so people know birthdays are more fun at Tree Time.”
Holding his key to the county, a token of support and recognition given to Bogue by Prince George County, he reflected on the journey to bringing Tree Time to the county, which actually began as a stop in Dinwiddie County that ended when both the county’s planning commission and board of supervisors declined the project, citing community concerns regarding the park’s proposed location in the winter of last year.
“It is exciting and I can’t thank the leadership out here enough for giving me the opportunity to come out here and do this,” he remarked. “And, of course, my vision is to continue to see this park grow. I already have my sights on some other things, too, so, once I get my wheels moving, it kinda has a snowball effect.”
During last week’s grand opening, visitors praised the park’s operators for investing in safety, opting to go with a continuous belay system that keeps those partaking in the tree-based experiences constantly connected to the cabling system in the park, which is a safer system that doesn’t require park goers to have to unhook and reconnect to various parks of the system as they move through the trees.
“We remove the potential for error there [with the] continuous belay,” Bogue explained, noting the continuous belay system is modeled after those seen in various European experiences. “You don’t have to think about it. There isn’t a question of, ‘Did I click in?’ You are clicked in, once you start our system, you are in it so, you can’t get out of it unless we take you out of it or you complete the course.”
A unique element of the park centers on two of the trails, Ashcraft Pass and Stoke Run, named in honor of County Administrator Percy Ashcraft and Deputy County Administrator Jeff Stoke. For Bogue, he said it was a way to say thank you to two county staff members he felt was instrumental in making Tree Time a reality.
“They are both humble men and I don’t think they like the idea of the trails being named after them, but it was important to me for me to pay my respect to them and my appreciation for their leadership,” he remarked, with both men remaining modest as their names adorn signage in the park.
“It is flattering to have our names here,” Ashcraft shared. “Jeff [Stoke] and I deal in economic development all the time and a lot of time, your efforts go unnoticed and we are [county] staff so they are supposed to but, when someone thinks enough of you for what you have done to put a sign up as part of your development is nice for me and my family and I was glad to have my son here to share that with me.”
Speaking to economic development and the county, Prince George continues to make gains across various areas of commercial and industrial development but, the county is also seeing success in their sports tourism efforts as the county continues to garner attention from various tournament organizers for outdoor sporting events. With assets like longtime recreation park Swader’s in the Puddledock Road corridor and now Tree Time in the Courthouse region, the county is continuing to raise its profile as a sports tourism destination.
“Sports tourism is certainly important to us,” Ashcraft detailed, noting the county hired a sports coordinator last week to help ramp up the county’s efforts to draw a number of different sports into Prince George. “We are a county that wants to have its community involved in an overall wellness program. We want adults and children to be active. We want them to walk, come play pickleball, and do anything that is athletic. Not everyone can go up into the trees and perform whatever the courses do but, everybody can come this far and walk if they chose to and that is as important as our sports tourism efforts because we want to be known as a community that when you come to live or visit here, you are active.”
Delegate Brewer and County Administrator Ashcraft bought touted the benefit Bogue’s new business in the county will have on the community as it can result in a further trickle down of dollars into the county as visitors stop at local gas stations, restaurants, and other businesses along the day during their time in Prince George.
“That is what visitors coming into your county provide,” he remarked. “You don’t have to put them through your schools and they aren’t using public safety unless there is an emergency but, you want people to come because it is fun to come here but, you have to have things for them to come here for. Our infrastructure up to this point hasn’t been strong but when you add the sports tourism component with baseball and softball, and adding a recreation facility like this, we expect more visitors to come into the county and when that happens, it’s a good thing.”
Martha Burton, leader of the Petersburg Area Regional Tourism organization, which leads tourism efforts across Southside Virginia, said she sees the new park as an asset that will benefit the entire region.
“This provides even greater diversity in the opportunities that are available to visitors who come here so, we talk about whatever it is that you love, you can find it here,” she detailed. “So, an outdoor adventure facility with fun family activities is something that plays right into and hopefully it will be a key as Prince George and other jurisdictions recruit sports tournaments. If you have time off and your kids aren’t playing, come here and do something! It gives us a broader variety of things to offer people.”
To learn more about Tree Time, visit their website at http://treetimeadventures.com, which houses information on pricing, discounts, employment opportunities, and inclement weather information.