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Explore Park works towards completion of master plan

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ROANOKE COUNTY (WSLS10)-- The Visitor Center at Explore Park reopens for the season this weekend and visitors will get a preview of what to expect this summer and for the next few years.

Roanoke County Parks, Recreation and Tourism continues working to implement a master plan that could allow for major investments and more visitors.

It's been just two years since Roanoke County took over Explore Park as part of a 99 year lease from the State, and county leaders are taking a very different route with this master plan. In the past, there have been some big goals for Explore Park, including plans for a Louis and Clark themed amusement park back in 1987. The park, a sort of living museum, was set to have big hotels and a zoo-- but plans for that never fully came to life.

Now, 30 years later, the county is taking a very different approach. Instead of creating a giant theme park, Roanoke County leaders are keeping it simple, by offering up outdoor recreation ideas that appeal to everyone.

"We want to have a park where they can come and learn," says Director of Roanoke County Parks, Recreation and Tourism, Doug Blount. "Whether they're novice or an expert, they can learn to be in the outdoors and participate in the many trends that are taking place in outdoor recreation. But we also want this to be a destination where tourists want to come from outside of the Roanoke Valley to spend their overnight, to participate in different activities."

Until now, camping in the park has not been allowed, but that's one of the big changes the county is looking to make. There are already a few organized camping trips scheduled for this summer. Other popular activities at the park will include hiking and kayaking as well.

"Now we're really making it a more adventure type of park," says Blount. "We want to have trails and access to the Roanoke River and more access from the Blue Ridge Parkway. There are activities where people can participate in archery, they can camp and do all of the different type of things they like to do in the outdoors in one setting."

The county has also been getting feedback from the community, reaching out to see what people in our area would like to get involved with at the park. The response has been huge.

"We have people that want to help us, not just through donation but with their time," he says. "They're offering resources and other partnerships to really work together for some kind of meaningful implementation of a master plan."

From a Twelve Hikes in Twelve Months program to a Bootleggers Twilight Trail Race and Monthly Artisan Craft shows, there's a lot planned for this summer as county leaders work to add a little something for everyone.

You can find more details about all of the upcoming events here.