MARION, Va. — Virginia did something in 1936 that was unprecedented in the United States when it opened an entire state park system.
That move initially included six state parks: Douthat, Westmoreland, Seashore, Staunton River, Fairy Stone and Hungry Mother.
The ceremony marking the first parks happened at the beach of Hungry Mother State Park on June 13, 1936, with thousands arriving to hear Gov. George C. Peery and to watch a “bathing beauty” contest at Marion in Smyth County.
Hungry Mother still has lots in common with its sister park, Fairy Stone State Park, in Patrick County.
Just ask Andrew Philpot, the newly arrived park manager at Hungry Mother. He once served as assistant park manager at Fairy Stone.
On the other side of Virginia, Philpot was also once the chief ranger for Kiptopeke State Park at Cape Charles on the Eastern Shore. And he served as park manager at James River State Park in Buckingham County — what could be a model for the developing Clinch River State Park in Southwest Virginia.
Fairy Stone State Park sits a few miles from U.S. Highway 58 while Hungry Mother State Park lies only about 4 miles from U.S. Highway 11 in Marion.
“You know, there are a lot of similarities when you look at the buildings and kind of the era that the state got money to add on the block cabins,” Philpot said. “The facilities are very similar.”
Both parks have lakes with beaches.
Both have mountainous trails.
“The terrain is very similar,” Philpot added. “Fairy Stone doesn’t have a restaurant. It did — a long time ago, but it has long since closed. It would be an outstanding addition, as they do so many weddings there ... Their old restaurant is now a wedding venue.”
Differences lie in relationships, Philpot figured.
“Hungry Mother is so close to town, and it has such a tight connection to the community,” said Philpot, who arrived at the state park in Marion in July. “Fairy Stone is a little more remote, so it’s a little less-involved community there.”
It takes about 25 minutes from Fairy Stone State Park to reach Stuart, the courthouse town of Patrick County, while Hungry Mother is only a brief car ride — or short bicycle trip — from downtown Marion.
“The biggest difference, I guess, would be the community,” Philpot said. “And the community in Marion and the connection that they have to the park is incredible. They grew up here. Their parents grew up here. Their grandparents grew up here. It becomes part of that family legacy for the same experiences that you had growing up. And I love that.”
But what about the names?
“If you look at the six original parks, there’s only two of them that had some legend tied to them,” Philpot said. “And that’s Fairy Stone and Hungry Mother.”
“Hungry Mother” takes its name from the tale of a boy and his mother, Molly. When early pioneers found this boy, 200 or more years ago, all he could cry was “Hungry! Mammy!”
“Fairy Stone” comes from the story of strange stones that have been found in the area along the Blue Ridge. As the story goes, when fairies in these woods learned that Jesus Christ had died, their tears turned to stones shaped like crosses.
“The legend obviously adds another layer of interest,” Philpot said with a smile.
“You know, everybody knows in the area there the legend of the fairy stones, just like everybody here knows the story of Molly and the whole ordeal that her and her family went through,” Philpot said. “Who knows how much truth there is to any of the old legends, but they’re definitely interesting, and they’re one of the things that really make these parks unique.”
276-791-0709 | @BHC_Tennis