Prince George County, Virginia, may be steeped in American and Eastern European history, but it’s also making its own modern-day history by beefing up its status as a desirable sports tourism destination.
“Lately, we’ve been placing a big emphasis on sports tourism, and we’re definitely seeing an economic impact,” says Yoti Jabri, economic development specialist for the county, which has a population of about 37,000 residents.
Nestled between Richmond and Williamsburg in south-central Virginia and considered part of the Greater Richmond Region, Prince George County is celebrating its 315th birthday in 2018. Founded in 1703, the county is named after Prince George of Denmark, the husband of England’s Queen Anne. Many American Civil War battles took place in the county, and shortly after the Union victory, hundreds of families from Eastern Europe immigrated to Prince George County, where they established a rich Slavic culture that still flourishes today.
History permeates the region and makes it appealing to youth sports event organizers seeking to incorporate education and ambience with competition.
“Prince George County has been discovered by youth sports teams,” Jabri says, pointing to several high-profile baseball and softball tournaments the county has hosted in recent years. “We provide a welcoming family atmosphere and plenty to do before and after the games.”
Prince George County boasts four sports complexes, all with easy access from Interstate 295 (just south of Richmond) and in close proximity to each other.
The largest, JEJ Moore Athletic Complex, is located on 52 acres and offers four fields for baseball and softball; one multi-purpose field for soccer, football and field hockey; and 200 paved parking spaces. All fields are natural grass and lighted, bleacher seating accommodates up to 600 spectators and walking trails lead to a marsh area good for exploring or nature-watching.
Scott Memorial Park, meanwhile, is located on 10 acres and provides two grass baseball/softball fields with lighting and bleachers that seat 200 spectators as well as 150 paved parking spaces. Jabri says the park’s master plan calls for additional fields and the establishment of other sports and recreation components.
The other two athletic complexes in Prince George County are Temple Recreation Park, a 32-acre site with one lighted baseball/softball field and one lighted multi-purpose field, each with bleacher seating for 50, and the Central Wellness Center, which provides one lighted multi-purpose field and bleachers for up to 125 spectators.
According to Jabri, about 600 hotel rooms and almost 30 restaurants are within a 15-minute drive from the parks.
‘Champion of Economic Impact in Sports Tourism’
In 2016, Sports Destination Management named Prince George County as a Champion of Economic Impact in Sports Tourism in recognition of the county’s exemplary hosting of the 2016 American Softball Association’s 14U Class A Fastpitch Eastern Championship.
“With this, its first major national tournament, it saw widespread success,” SDM reported at the time. “The event, held in late July and early August, put all four of the area’s hotels at or near capacity. A total of 1,200 spectators attended, and organizers recorded 810 tourists from outside the region. The per-visitor-per-night spend was calculated at $208. The county notes that the per capita tax revenue raised will help keep local tax levels stable and provide funding for future improvements.”
Today, Jabri proudly points to that softball tournament as a turning point for Prince George County. “I think that tells a lot about what we can do,” he says.
Indeed, Prince George County is doing a lot these days. In early October, for example, it hosted the United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) Fall State Baseball Tournament for even-numbered age groups. Odd-numbered age groups were scheduled to compete the following weekend, but field conditions were not playable after Hurricane Michael unexpectedly ripped through the Southeast in mid-October.
In November, the regional Skalsky Soccer Tournament (named after a prominent community leader who passed away in 2017) was expected to bring several U18 and U14 teams to Prince George County.
Off the Fields
Prince George County also offers plenty of other outdoor sports and recreation opportunities. Visitors have access to two rivers (the James River and the Appomattox River), three kayak launches and four marinas for plenty of boating and fishing options.
The annual Paddle-or-Battle takes place on the Appomattox River and welcomes canoe, kayak and standup paddleboard racers from throughout the region to compete for a good cause: river conservation and stewardship programs that are overseen by the Friends of the Lower Appomattox River.
Appomattox River Regional Park — considered a little-known county gem even among locals — is the newest official green space in Prince George County, and it offers more than 60 acres of nature trails, a canoe launch, an observation pier, a pavilion, picnic tables and benches along the trail. A fitness station circuit also is available, and the park is popular for geocaching.
Sports participants who time their visit right might be able to take advantage of one or more cultural events that happen throughout the year in Prince George County.
The annual highlight is the Virginia Czech and Slovak Festival — a daylong celebration of the history and culture that has permeated the county since immigrants settled in the region on abandoned farms after the Civil War. One popular tourist site is the Church of the Sacred Heart in New Bohemia, long believed to be the earliest Slovak church in the South and now on the National Register of Historic Places.
Another local destination, the Petersburg National Battlefield, is preserved by the National Park Service as the site of the American Civil War Siege of Petersburg in 1864-65.
Prince George County also offers other history-focused experiences, including the U.S. Army Women’s Museum, the U.S. Army Quartermaster Museum and the Prince George County Regional Heritage Museum.
Additionally, local dining and boutique shopping options abound.
“Our great sport parks, amenities and rich history really bring people back once they’ve visited Prince George County,” Jabri says. “There is an abundance of activities in our county and region to make for a memorable family experience.” SDM