Leisure and culture abound in Suffolk

Published 10:14 pm Friday, June 14, 2013

By Mayor Linda T. Johnson

Leisure and culture opportunities are the focus of the third in the series of our “Blueprint for Success” columns, adapted from the State of the City event.

Every month and every season brings a new occasion to celebrate this wonderfully rich, beautiful, diverse city we call home. Whether exploring our quaint villages or our city’s rich history and heritage, our nature-lover’s paradise and amazing parks, our 8,000 acres of pristine lakes and miles of riverfront, or our ever-evolving cultural arts programs that add so much to our quality of life, there’s something for everyone to enjoy in Suffolk.

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Here, you encounter wonderful charm, but also amazing electricity. From family-favorite festivals, to downtown parades, fireworks exhibits and everything in between, there’s always something happening.

Whether it’s a traditional “walk in the park” you’re looking for or something much more challenging, we’ve got you covered with countless special events and spectacular parks and recreation locations.

One such project is the Whaleyville Community Center, which will open next year. Construction on the repurposed Robertson Elementary school will ensure citizens have access to a fitness center, computer rooms, a walking trail, a sports field and more.

We are a city of active and energetic people, and we’ll soon have even more opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors. Coming soon will be the much-anticipated Lake Meade Dog Park, the predominantly grant-funded Lake Meade Trail for hiking and walking enthusiasts, and — later this year — the Seaboard Coastline Trail, also chiefly grant-funded.

Water lovers will enjoy greater opportunities for fishing, canoe and kayak launches, and special accommodations have also been made for our disabled citizens to have access to water recreation.

Without the diligent pursuit of grants by city personnel to fund many of these projects, we wouldn’t have this good news to share.

Another milestone in the history of our city, the commonwealth and the country will be Mattanock Town. An agreement has been signed with the Nansemond Indian Tribal Association, which has begun the initial phase of work for the authentic recreation of the tribe’s 17th-century village that stood near Lone Star Lakes Park on the Nansemond River.

Recreational opportunities are as diverse as our landscape, from challenging golf courses — all with spectacular water views — to historic destinations such as Cedar Hill Cemetery, Riddick’s Folly House Museum, the Seaboard Station Railroad Museum and the hauntingly beautiful Great Dismal Swamp.

Take in a performance, gallery exhibit, or nationally known entertainers and artists at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts. Don’t miss the abundance of offerings at the Suffolk Art Gallery. In Suffolk, opportunities for a high-quality cultural experience are endless.

Just as endless are the opportunities to excite your tastebuds with offerings from a number of restaurants, some nationally recognized and others destined for the limelight.

Sharing the news of the good times that await you here is the Suffolk Division of Tourism, which this past year brought home honors in several categories from the Virginia Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus.

Not only did they win the award for best visitor center for the repurposed Nansemond County Courthouse, they also won best eco-tourism initiative for the 10th annual Suffolk Swamp Roar motorcycle rally that raised awareness of the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge and provided funding support for the Great Dismal Swamp Birding Festival.

Additionally, they won the best heritage tourism initiative for the “Legends of Main Street: A Suffolk Ghost Walk” for their dynamic, low-cost way to cultivate interest in our history and heritage while generating tourism revenue.

In fact, tourism-related spending in Suffolk in 2012 increased by almost 11 percent from the previous year, and totaled approximately $61.8 million, according to the Virginia Tourism Corp. When you compare the tax dollars collected to the amount spent on tourism, we get back four dollars for every one we spend. That’s a good investment by anyone’s standards.

As one of Virginia’s fastest-growing cities, we know it is imperative for us to keep pace with the ever-growing needs of our citizens, and our recreational, leisure and cultural activities are especially important given today’s hectic lifestyles.

Linda T. Johnson is the mayor of Suffolk. Email her at council@suffolkva.us.