Chippokes may close pool

Published 5:59 pm Tuesday, October 8, 2019

By Frederic Lee

Staff writer

SURRY — Parkgoers may have to trade in their flippers and inner tubes when it comes to summer cooldown activities at Chippokes Plantation State Park.  

Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation staff is considering replacing the pool at the park with a watery playground called a “spray ground.” 

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DCR Park Planner Bill Conkle and Chippokes Park Manager Ben Richard cited a low supply of employable lifeguards in the area and the pool’s significant age, 30-35 years — which comes with rising maintenance and repair costs — as reasons. 

However, the pool is the only public pool in the county, according to county staff. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

A spray ground offers recreational activities for children and adults, including water fountains that squirt up out of the ground, buckets attached to overhead structures that fill up with water and dump down periodically and other activities, according to Chippokes Plantation State Park Manager Ben Richard. 

The concept of replacing the public pool with a spray ground was part of the proposed updates to the Chippokes Plantation State Park master plan, and DCR staff held a public input meeting on it Sept. 19 at the park. 

Conkle said that the updates to the park master plan — including closing the pool in lieu of a spray ground — were still in their draft phase, and that now until Oct. 19 is the time for the public to weigh in on them. 

“We’re listening,” he said in an interview on Sept. 23 and in order to contact Conkle about the plan updates, reach him at or call 1-804-786-5492. 

According to Richard, getting lifeguards properly certified with the American Red Cross and having them stay at the park for the duration of the summer season is a growing challenge. 

The pool requires a certified lifeguard on staff for it to be in operation, and there is a lack of certified lifeguards In the area, Richard said. Since the safety certification requirements for a staff member monitoring a spray ground are not as extensive, that facility could remain open for a longer period, said Richard. 

Also, as the pool gets older, staff is looking at whether replacing it with a spray ground may be more cost-effective in the long run, said Richard, adding that the replacement wouldn’t occur for several years, if ever, and depends on funding.

Conkle said that it gets very expensive to renovate older pools and to comply with required safety measures, but “that doesn’t mean we don’t do pools anymore.” He added that spray grounds require less water than pools and that a lot of people like them, “especially parents with younger children,” for safety reasons.  

Richard said that one benefit of a spray ground is that those who can’t swim can still play at it safely. 

On the value of the public pool to Surry County and neighboring localities, Richard said, “we realize that there would be an impact to some folks” if it were removed. He added that the public pool, which comes with a $7 entrance fee into the park, was more popular this year than last year.   

“Having it in the master plan doesn’t mean that it’s definitely going to happen,” said Richard. He added that if the spray ground weren’t in the master plan, it wouldn’t be an option at all, and that the park would require major capital funding before a conversion was even possible. 

Surry Tourism Coordinator Pat Bernshausen said that initially, she’d had concerns about the effects of replacing a public pool at Chippokes with a spray ground, since the former is the only public pool in the county and acted as a draw for tourists. 

After attending a public input meeting on the Chippokes master plan updates, Bernshausen said that replacing the pool with the spray ground probably wouldn’t affect the amount of tourism to the area and that to her knowledge, spray grounds had been met positively in other areas. She added that there may be Surry County residents that would be disappointed to see the pool go. 

In order to officially update the Chippokes Plantation State Park master plan, the updates would have to be reviewed by the Virginia Board of Conservation and Recreation, made available for review by the General Assembly and then adopted by DCR Director Clyde Cristman, per Virginia Sec. 10.1-200.1. 

Other items in the master plan, which covers a 30-year timeframe include resurfacing various roads, expanding trails and renovating the park’s conference center and historic gardens at the Jones-Stewart Mansion. 

Surry County received a grant to do a preliminary study on converting Surry Elementary School into a multimillion dollar recreation center since the school population has dwindled to the point where three schools aren’t necessarily required, said Surry District Representative John Seward. After it was presented, the Board of Supervisors took no action on it, said Seward, who called the project costly.  {/mprestriction}