The Regional Review

Volume I - No. 4

October, 1938


By R. C. Robinson,
Regional Recreational Planner.

During the past summer the Service launched a new experiment on the Swift Creek Recreational Demonstration Area near Richmond, Virginia. Through this experiment, an effort is being made to demonstrate the value of organization and leadership as a means of increasing participation in park activities, of expanding these activities to include new fields of recreational interest generally provided for in State parks and other similar types of naturalistic areas and of bringing about a more evenly distributed weekly use of the area's facilities.

The effort goes further in that it seeks to make the Swift Creek Area a community institution, serving in an intimate way the recreational needs and desires of people living within a day-outing radius. This has been done by allocating responsibility for the operation of both facilities and program to a council of representative citizens from Richmond, Petersburg, Hopewell and Chesterfield County. While the Council was organized by the Service, it is entirely self-governing and responsible to the citizens it represents. It acts as a concessionaire in operating public use facilities arid has general supervision over activities. All profits from the venture must be spent in furtherance of the program.

As was expected, the members of this Council have become ambassadors of good will to the various communities they represent. They have given the people a feeling that the Swift Creek Area is theirs to be used and enjoyed by them. It is important, too, to note that this Council has received enthusiastic cooperation from the press, from civic clubs, churches, organizations of all sorts, in its efforts to disseminate information concerning the area, its facilities and program. Long before the opening date, the name of Swift Creek was on every tongue. There was a feeling among people that here was something new, something they had been wanting and needing for a long time as a wholesome outlet for their leisure hours.

The success of the undertaking to date has astonished even the most optimistic. A few figures on attendance and use will illustrate. The area was opened to the public on July 2. Between that time and the evening of July 4, over 10,000 visitors were recorded and more than 2,000 cars had been turned away because of insufficient parking space. By the end of August, attendance had exceeded 80,000, which is more than three times the attendance at the average southern State park for the same period of time. Participation in activities was gratifying. Swimming led in popularity, with 34,000. More than 12,000 participated in beach games, 5,000 in music and dramatics, 2,000 in various nature activities and crafts, and there were over 20,000 picnickers.

Leadership in activities was furnished by the Works Progress Administration, through its State Division of Recreation. The staff consisted of four life guards, and directors in music, drama, dancing, handicraft nature lore and beach and playground activities. The supervisor was given the added responsibility of working with recreational interest groups in various communities in organizing activities which founds expression on the area.

In projecting the program, the principle was accepted that parks are established so that man may regain, in part, his rich heritage of association with nature, that he may give expression to those fundamental urges for self-expression which arise out of this association and can be offered only where nature provides the environment. Thus, while mass activities were given ample attention, efforts were directed toward the provision of opportunities for nature study, for music and drama, adapting these recreational arts to the setting provided by woods, water and open sky, for pottery making, one of man's most ancient skills, and for other crafts which were practiced before the dawn of history. True, in the two months reported on here, not a great deal was accomplished, but the effort did reveal that, given the opportunity, the recreational interests of the average park visitor can be vastly expanded.

As a result of the experiment to date, a friendly interest in the area has been created throughout the section of the State it serves. As one illustration of this interest, we quote in full a letter published in The Richmond News Leader:

"Sir,--I want to take this opportunity to express my appreciation for the fine recreational facilities at the new Swift Creek Park. You newspapers have printed plenty, but you still can't imagine how fine it really is."

"Most such places, you know, are for people who have plenty of time and money to enjoy them. But Swift Creek is convenient to a lot of us who couldn't go any other place. And another thing. The attendants are very courteous. You know when something is free you sometimes run into argument. But over there they treat you like they want you back -- like you were a valued customer. l tell you -- it's fine!"

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Date: 04-Jul-2002