Gee Gee Pasquet lives in her ancestral home in the Shenandoah Valley, an 1840 mansion named Long Meadows. Don Ratcliff lives a few miles away in a 1950s brick ranch. Suddenly, and without moving a stick of furniture, both of them live in the nation's newest national park.
For decades, the National Park Service has created parks by seizing land and evicting the residents. Memories of hard feelings remain nearly 70 years after Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive were established farther south in this valley.
But the bane of tight federal budgets has been a blessing for the new park's 150 private property owners, who find themselves owners -- with Warren, Frederick and Shenadoah counties and four nonprofit groups -- of parts of Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park, which was dedicated in ceremonies yesterday at Belle Grove Plantation.
The Park Service is only one of five managing partners of the park, responsible for maintenance and operations -- duties the Park Service handles alone at other sites.
"It's the only way for the national parks in today's world," said Wendy O'Sullivan, program manager for the Park Service. "It's federal recognition" without federal ownership.
Besides Uncle Sam's name on the deed, something else is missing at this park, and that is any mention in its name of the words "battlefield" -- Cedar Creek was the site of a noted one during the Civil War -- or "plantation."
The 3,500-acre park was designed to preserve both, and Belle Grove advocates went to some lengths to secure equal billing with Cedar Creek. But Congress edited the name to a manageable mouthful as it considered the legislation that created the park.
Suzanne Chilson, director of the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation, one of the managing partners, said she is a little concerned that the truncated name will leave visitors uncertain about the purpose of the park.
"Someone seeing the sign would think we have a pretty meadow located on a scenic creek," she joked.
In the 18 months of negotiations over the park's creation, the foundation did keep its right to hold an annual reenactment of the Battle of Cedar Creek, something the Park Service ordinarily doesn't allow in national parks. The event is an important fundraiser for the foundation and a long-standing tradition in the area.
"We have counted on our reenactors over the years," Chilson said.
For residents and neighbors, a "pretty meadow on a scenic creek" would have been reason enough to create a park.
Pasquet, who was born in Richmond and reared at Long Meadows, hopes the designation means that "everything will stay as lovely as it is now."
Ratcliff, a retired government employee, said, "I hope it will keep the developers out."
Most of the park land is scenic, gentle hills dotted with grazing cattle, historic homes and a few Civil War markers. Its centerpieces are Belle Grove -- built in 1797, owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and managed by Belle Grove Inc. -- and the open battlefield along Route 11, owned by the battlefield foundation. The other nonprofit that will help manage the park is the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation.
Unlike residents, who are counting on the park to stave off change, elected officials and business owners outside its boundaries are sure change is on its way.
Richard Orndorff Jr., mayor of Strasburg (population 4,300), and John Copeland, mayor of Middletown (population 1,200), foresee more visitors and more cash for the towns' guest lodgings, restaurants and shops. Both communities would like to host the future park visitors center.
"We are a preservation-minded town and like to think of ourselves as a gateway to the park," said Copeland, pointing with pride to Middletown's historic Wayside Inn.
Jerry Pruto, owner of Carl's Pizza in Middletown, loves the October weekend when the crowds attending the annual reenactment of the Battle of Cedar Creek, fought on Oct. 19, 1864, fill the tables in his little restaurant.
"The park will keep the people coming," he said.
Orndorff, naturally, sees the gateway on the Strasburg end of things.
Michelle Alexander, a Strasburg antiques dealer, anticipates an influx of history buffs, which could only be good for her business. "The other national parks around here draw hikers, and they come in to shop," said Alexander, owner of Fancies. "The history part of this one will be an important draw."
After yesterday's dedication, Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), who shepherded the park legislation through Congress with Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), said that's the idea.
Beyond preserving history, the park "is an opportunity for economic growth," he said. "Tourism offers an opportunity for the Shenandoah Valley, for jobs at hotels and restaurants and gas stations. Tourism is an industry. When you think of Gettysburg, it's tourism. Think of Williamsburg, and it's tourism."
at newly dedicated Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park in Virginia.