Torney Van Acker: ‘We’re just getting started’


Work-release inmates from the RSW Regional Jail arrive Monday morning at the Rappahannock County Park, eager to participate in a mutually beneficial program begun at the park nearly two years ago. To the right is the park's hands-on volunteer Torney Van Acker.

Have you visited or driven past the Rappahannock County Park lately and seen all the people taking advantage of everything it has to offer?

“It’s a COVID thing,” park volunteer extraordinaire Torney Van Acker tried explaining of the crowds, as he cleared brush at the park Monday morning with a group of work-release prisoners from the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail.

We’re not so sure it’s due to COVID-19.

Under Van Acker’s on-site (read hands-on) leadership, myriad park projects have been completed over the last two years, the results visible in every direction you look. 

And several more park projects are currently in the pipeline, including a new bathroom (ground should be broken by January), a feasibility study surrounding new pathways to provide greater mobility, a privacy fence, and much more.

Meanwhile, Van Acker has helped oversee the park’s jointly sponsored Night Skies program, its powerful telescopes attracting visitors of all ages to one of the few International Dark Skies-designated parks of its size in the United States.

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 “We’re just getting started,” Van Acker said of the Night Skies program in Rappahannock, which unlike some of the surrounding counties still offers an impressive view of the Milky Way. The next Dark Skies event will be Dec. 21, with details to follow in this newspaper.

On Monday morning, a handful of inmates from the RSW jail assisted Van Acker in removing some of the park’s invasive shrubs and trees cut down two days earlier by another work-release group. The prisoners also spent the morning spreading mulch around plants and wood chips onto existing trails.


RSW inmates on Monday help Rappahannock County Park volunteer Torney Van Acker (right) clear invasive species on the hillside above the Rush River.

This coming January will mark two years since RSW prisoners have volunteered to work outdoors at the park, which among other attractions offers nature trails along the Rush River, tennis, skateboarding, basketball, children’s playground, picnic tables, and a spacious pavilion.