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April 27, 2008

Press Release: Martinsville Bulletin

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Richard P. Gravely Jr. Nature Preserve is "ready to be discovered" by local residents and tourists alike, according to Lindley S. Butler, a board member of the Dan River Basin Association (DRBA).

Butler made the remark while addressing about 50 residents attending a dedication ceremony at the preserve Saturday.

The preserve, located on Eggleston Falls Road in Ridgeway, is a 75-acre tract bordering the Smith River, according to Jim Adams, chairman of the Henry County Board of Supervisors.

"It contains 1.5 miles of trails and an outdoor classroom facility to be used for nature studies. The land was once home to a 500-acre plantation in the 1800s and a thriving tobacco farm in the 1900s," Adams said of the county's first interactive trail.

"A man once cautioned me to learn all that I could from the oldest citizens I encountered, because if their stories are not recorded and preserved, they are forever lost," Adams said.

Visitors to the preserve "will not only get the benefits of the beautiful park surroundings as they walk the trail, it also is an opportunity to learn of the history of the property," he said. "Preserving the beauty of this place is progress at its finest."

The preserve is the county's seventh park and 19th recreation facility, said Roger Adams, director of Henry County Parks and Recreation.

It features 1.5 miles of marked wooded hiking trails with more to come, an informational sign with a history and map of the facility, stations on the trail that identify the plants nearby, and a station identifying the Burgess family cemetery.
It also has a gravel parking lot and a picnic shelter.

Lindley Butler explained that the land once was the Burgess family plantation. R.P. Gravely Jr. later bought it and "fell in love with this land."

Gravely wanted it to be a wildlife habitat and nature conservancy, Butler said. "And if Richard Gravely thought it was worth preserving," then Butler said he realized "it must be" saved for future generations.

Gravely was an industrialist, civic leader, historian and archeologist. He had been president of Gravely Furniture Co., started by his father, R.P. Gravely Sr., and organized and was chairman of Henry County Plywood Co. before he retired.

He helped organize a local archeological society and was instrumental in getting a grant to excavate a major Indian village in the Koehler section of Henry County and an Indian village at the site of the Blue Ridge Regional Airport in Spencer.
Among many other interests and honors, he was named Virginia's Archeologist of the Year in 1984.

After Gravely's death, the property became held by the Virginia Museum of Natural History, which sold it to Henry County. The county partnered with the Dan River Basin Association to create the preserve.

"The beauty is obviously apparent," Adams said, but it also took a lot of work and dedication to bring it to Saturday's event. He thanked Henry County Public Service Authority and Parks and Recreation staff for their help.

Jennifer Doss, rivers & trails project manager for the DRBA, said the trail has the capacity "to tell amazing stores," but without the efforts of many, the stories may have remained silent.

She presented awards to several, including Adkins Home Building, the PSA, Parks & Recreation, Martinsville Henry County Rivers & Trails, The Harvest Foundation which provided funding, and others.

"The driving force behind this project" was Lindley Butler and his wife, T Butler, of the Dan River Basin Association, Doss said.

Lindley Butler also expressed gratitude to many who helped with the project, including County Administrator Benny Summerlin and Adams.

They, along with other county officials and others involved, "embraced the vision and provided vital resources" to help the project reach fruition, Butler said.

The preserve and other areas like the Smith River are all "part of our economic future," he said of the preserve. "It won't replace" the jobs lost, but it is a vital part "of our changing economy."

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