After 25 agonizing years and approximately Million poured down the drain, Explore Park remains the same as it was in 1985, – 1100 acres of cut over timberland, thus proving the old adage: Even when 1000 people believe in a bad idea, it’s still a bad idea. Further, who in the Roanoke business, tourism or government community really ever believed that a nursing home operator from Florida was going to invest 0 million to build and operate an entertainment park far, far away from major highway traffic generators? This has always been Alice in Wonderland wishing and thinking.
In 1985, several knowledgeable tourism business people realized, when first proposed, that Explore would never be built to full scale as either an African Zoo or a Disneyland Playground. Why? – because there is no proper easily available main throughway or entrance for hundreds of thousands of people and their many, many cars and buses. The Interior Department controls the Explore entrance and can close it anytime it wants to. Secondly, 1-81 our main highway entrance artery is miles away from Explore’s entrance. Moreover, similar parks are adjacent to, and some can be seen from, major interstate highways. Major Amusement Parks utilize huge high rise flashing neon signs at the entrance.(I-95 at Kings Dominion). The Interior Department will not permit such signs or for that matter any signs on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Unfortunately, in 1985 the development window closed and we missed the boat. At that time and on to 1999/2000, the best two options for Roanoke were: Acquiring site for the Virginia Horse Center, which was vetoed by Roanoke Valley business leaders in favor of Explore; or a “Tamarack” style guest rest stop on 1-81, similar to the very successful guest service rest stop in West Virginia near Beckley. In 1999/2000, several tourism businessmen obtained an option on 150 acres for $600,000 and worked hard to promote this project. It would have gone on land adjacent to 1-81 across from Hollins University at the Roanoke/Botetourt Counties line. Again local business leaders killed this project out of fear that travelers would be diverted and not continue into downtown Roanoke. What a shame.
Explore has now become a distraction. Let’s truncate Explore, come together, and finally concentrate on a reasonable project that is Valley wide in scope, mutually agreed to by City, County and state officials, will pay for itself over time, can be financed and will succeed.
-J Granger MacFarlane, Roanoke