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The thick forest, the open fields, the still ponds.
"It's a really nice place to be," said McGee, an Army veteran who had been, by his own description, in a "bad place" physically and emotionally, as he recovered from injuries suffered in a fall in Iraq.
"If you want to just get away from the world, you can come here, and get your mind right. It's quiet. It relaxes me. It's amazing."
Former NASCAR driver Ward Burton, who knows and loves this place better than anyone, couldn't have described it better.
As a child, he roamed these woods. As a young man, he discovered tranquility here that helped give direction to his life. As a successful racer, he helped purchase the property through his foundation and preserve it for future generations.
"This land is like one of my children," Burton said Friday as we sat in the shade on a glorious autumn afternoon.All of which gives you a sense of how personal and heartfelt it is when Burton invites military veterans -- "American heroes," as he calls them -- to spend a day enjoying the outdoors with him and other volunteers in this piece of paradise.
The Cove is its name, given because of the horseshoe route the Staunton River takes around the 2,000-acre property. I believe we can describe it as deep in Southside Virginia. The route to this destination in northern Halifax County goes from four-lane to two-lane to a gravel path meandering through the woods.
It's quiet enough to hear your spirit reboot.
Twice a year, the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation, along with corporate partners, opens The Cove to dozens of veterans for a day of fishing, archery and target shooting. It's a way, South Boston native Burton says, to say thank you and to let them know they are not forgotten. It's also an opportunity for the vets, many of whom still are dealing with the effects of their service, physical and otherwise, to take a break from the stress, frustration and even depression that characterizes so many of their lives.
"You can't imagine what we're talking about unless you live that way," said McGee, 48, who remains part of the Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Eustis in Newport News. "I can't tell you in words what this place has done for me and my family.
"If God could reach in and grab your heart and just touch it and give you that special feeling, that's how I feel about this place."
McGee, who has attended previous events at The Cove, joined 44 other vets from around the country at Friday's outing. Participants are selected from various veterans' organizations, but Burton -- who last raced in 2007 and is almost as well-known now for his conservation work -- is always open to hear from others who might want to visit.When he started this program three years ago, Burton figured it would focus on wounded warriors only. But he discovered quickly the need -- and advantage -- of including not just those with obvious injuries.
"The first event, we had six guys from Texas," Burton recalled. "Three of those gentlemen had lost a limb, and the other three had not been able to quite figure out how to deal mentally with their experiences. We spent three days with them and what we saw happen was the gentlemen who had lost the limbs were still just as gung-ho . . . and they picked up the ones dealing with some backlash mentally.
"When those six left, they left as one."
Billy Herrell, 35, who suffered a back injury in Iraq, requires the assistance of a walker to get around and has been in the transition unit at Fort Eustis for more than two years, said a gathering at The Cove is "a lot like a family reunion."
Burton would like to develop permanent facilities for future events as a way to connect the heritage of the land with the legacy of America's military service.
"We don't know from the current conflict to some of the ones in the past whether they were right or wrong; the truth will always come out in time," Burton said. "But at the end of the day, that doesn't matter. It's the men and women doing what they're asked to do for our country. They're true patriots and heroes."