Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain battlefields in Culpeper County are among the most significant sites of the American Civil War. Now, an effort is underway to transform this pair of historic battlefields into Virginia’s next state park.
About the Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain State Park:
Who is leading the effort to establish the Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain State Park?
In 2015, the American Battlefield Trust joined with partners in preservation in Culpeper and across the Commonwealth of Virginia to launch the Brandy Station & Cedar Mountain State Park Alliance.
Following its formation, the Alliance secured a series of successes in the effort to establish a new state park as envisioned — garnering the endorsements of the Culpeper Star-Exponent and The (Fredericksburg) Free Lance-Star, for example, as well as the unanimous support of Culpeper’s county and town governments. Local government support was formalized in a pair of 2016 resolutions emphasizing that a Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain State Park would “provide a distinctive destination for heritage and recreational tourism alike, increasing existing visitation and enhancing Culpeper’s economy.”
This year, in response to sustained advocacy by the Trust and the Alliance writ large, the Virginia General Assembly has directed the Commonwealth’s Department of Conservation and Recreation — which oversees Virginia State Parks — to consider the “management,” “potential user activities at” and “operation of” the proposed Culpeper-based park and report back to the legislature with its recommendations.
Notably, this progress has also resulted in the creation of a permanent, locally led and locally rooted successor organization to the Trust-driven Alliance: the Friends of Culpeper Battlefields™. Chaired by Culpeper resident Camilla Strongin, the new group will continue to pursue the realization of the state park and serve more broadly as an enduring, unifying organization supporting battlefield-focused preservation, stewardship and heritage tourism across the historic Culpeper region. Its governing board includes representatives of the Trust, the Brandy Station Foundation, the Culpeper Department of Tourism, the Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield, the Museum of Culpeper History and the Piedmont Environmental Council.
What is the shared vision for the Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain State Park?
More than 1,000 acres of land have been acquired by the Trust and the preservation community across Brandy Station, Cedar Mountain and Culpeper’s other historic battlefields to date. This acreage, nestled between the Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers, is home to some of the most picturesque landscapes in Virginia. A state park encompassing these hallowed grounds would provide the Commonwealth with a unique opportunity to showcase our shared history, increase tourism, and promote context-sensitive recreation in a region currently underserved by the Virginia state park system.
The fundamental building blocks for a new park are already in place, including a series of interpretive trails with accompanying signage, parking areas and an active support network. Through mutually beneficial partnerships between the Trust and local caretakers, the proposed park lands are currently maintained at little to no cost; the Trust has offered to continue its management of these lands for the first five years following the park’s creation as Virginia forms and finalizes its own management plan.
When will the Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain State Park become a reality?
With the steadfast support of Culpeper County, the Town of Culpeper and the greater Culpeper community secured, the Trust and its partners have been working to educate members of the Commonwealth’s General Assembly about the park proposal in turn.
As previously noted, in 2020, the General Assembly has directed the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) — which oversees Virginia State Parks — to consider the “management,” “potential user activities at” and “operation of” the proposed Culpeper-based park and report back to the legislature with its recommendations. Lawmakers will then be able to determine the appropriate next steps.
When the General Assembly opts to create a new state park, DCR is called upon to prepare a master plan for the site, pursuant to the Code of Virginia. Master plans, according to DCR, “cover the size, types and locations of facilities as well as the site’s special features and resources. Plans also cover infrastructure, such as roads and utilities, and outline phased development and costs for operations, maintenance and staffing.” Crafting a new master plan entails close coordination with the surrounding community to ensure that the final product accords with the needs of the park’s neighbors.
Where will the Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain State Park be located?
The park will be centered in Culpeper County, an ideal location for Virginia’s next state park.
Within comfortable commuting distance of Washington, D.C., and situated in the heart of the breathtaking Virginia Piedmont, the new park would serve as a principal link in the region’s storied chain of historic, cultural and recreational sites, from the hallowed halls of Monticello and Montpelier to the world-famous gateway of Shenandoah National Park. Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain themselves are just 14 miles apart, providing easy access between the two partner sites. Further, both are approximately nine miles from downtown Culpeper — a Virginia Main Street Community and go-to destination in its own right.
Culpeper’s proximity to multiple interstates, major highways, airports and rivers ensures that visitors to Virginia or the nation’s capital would have no shortage of ways to get to the Commonwealth’s newest state park.
Why should Virginians support the creation of the Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain State Park?
Even among Virginia’s many premier Civil War battlefields, Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain stand out. The Battle of Brandy Station — the first engagement of the legendary 1863 Gettysburg Campaign — was the largest cavalry battle ever fought in any war waged on this continent. In 1864, the Federal Army of the Potomac also made Brandy Station the site of its largest-ever winter encampment. Two years prior, the Battle of Cedar Mountain marked the first major Civil War battle in Culpeper County — and, with an estimated 2,707 casualties, was also its bloodiest.
Far to the south of Culpeper, the three existing battlefield parks in the Virginia state park system speak chiefly to the Civil War’s closing campaigns, drawing their principal significance from the conflict’s final days. A new battlefield park centered in Culpeper offers an unparalleled opportunity to tell the broader story of the war in the Commonwealth, while complementing local and regional planning and tourism efforts. Moreover, as one of the most camped-upon landscapes of the conflict — and, likewise, as home to the largest-ever cavalry battle on American soil — opportunities for context-sensitive camping and experiencing the park on horseback can serve to provide recreation in concert with education.
Even now, visitors to Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain can set out on walking trails stretching a combined total of more than three miles, replete with interpretive signage; both battlefields also boast existing visitor facilities. Nearby preserved lands on the banks of the Rappahannock provide a rare opening for expanded access to area rivers and related resources, further ensuring that park patrons seeking a refreshing reprieve from daily life would be certain to find it.
The Community Land Use + Economics Group estimates that the park would likely attract 75,000 visitors in its first year, then 100,000 visitors within three years of operation — even approaching 200,000 visitors at five years and beyond. Corresponding visitor spending is estimated at $1,770,000 in the park’s first year, rising to $4,720,000 in three-plus years. The park would generate new economic activity, creating jobs and businesses and, in turn, tax revenues and fee income for the Culpeper community, the Piedmont region, and Virginia writ large.
How will the effort on behalf of the Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain State Park be a success?