On the Ground — December 2017 Update


Albemarle continues evaluation

As mentioned in previous On the Ground updates, Albemarle County has been looking into renovation options for its court facilities at Court Square, including potential cooperation with the city on upgrading shared facilities and services. However, late last year, the county suspended discussions with the city and began pushing to move the county courts to a site on Route 29 North. They’re hoping a move would spark redevelopment of an underperforming commercial center, but the county’s consultant advised relocation is a more costly prospect. We fear a board majority will favor the move and call for a vote as early as December 18. We will circulate information about any hearing, and we encourage county residents to tell the board to keep the county courts at Court Square. Ultimately, we believe moving the courthouse is shortsighted, an inefficient use of funds and robs historic and economic value from the downtown core.

Greenways Project

Our Charlottesville – Albemarle Greenways Project kicked off in November. Approximately 175 people shared an evening of fellowship and inspiration. The evening’s keynote speaker, Chuck Flink, of Greenways Inc, gave a tailored presentation about how urban areas benefit from a comprehensive greenway system, provided examples of successful approaches and highlighted strategies for avoiding common pitfalls. After that, Max Hepp-Buchannan of Bike Walk RVA presented an example of a process that is getting results in Chesterfield County.

Soon after, we teamed up with the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation and Cypherways for an evening of facilitated discussion — with a beat. Spoken-word artists Bernard Hankins, Cullen “Fellowman” Wade and Envy rapped a freestyle improv to get the creative juices flowing and generate ideas and enthusiasm for greenways. “The warm-up got me thinking of issues in an entirely new way,” said one attendee.

Taller, more visible cell towers?

Albemarle’s tower policy encourages cell towers, provided they are short and less visible. For almost two decades, most new towers have been hard to spot — treetop monopoles hidden by trees and even cell arrays on transmission line towers. However, in the past few years PEC has noticed a slight, yet troubling, shift toward taller, wider and more-visible towers that require a Special Use Permit — and they are getting approved. It might be time for the community to remind county officials that the policy’s intent is for these visible towers to be the exception, not the rule.


Pollinator “facilities” expanded

In a second year of planting at the VDOT Park and Ride Facility on Route 50, the Monarch way station was doubled in size. Filled with host and nectar plants essential to the full life cycle of Monarch butterflies and other pollinator species, the field has been observed to be humming with pollinators utilizing the “facilities.” This project was directed and managed by VDOT staff with support from Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists, Blandy Experimental Farm, Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy, PEC and concerned residents in the county.

Successful nature education

The 10th Annual Clarke Conservation Fair for Clarke County 4th graders was once again a great success. We coordinated and facilitated the event, which brings local non-profits and agencies out to give students an outdoor experience in nature education.

Sporting Clays for Conservation

This past fall, we held our “Sporting Clays” event to support conservation in Clarke, and it was a success! The top three scoring male shooters: Jake Dunning, Mike O’Bannon, and Steve Kirstein and John Moring tied for third. The top three scoring female shooters: Arianna Dunning, and Sandra Guarriello and Mary Catlett tied for second.


Solar Farms

With the adoption of a public process for solar farms by Culpeper County (a special use permit), we are starting to see the first proposals roll in. We are also hearing from multiple landowners who say they are in discussions with project developers. If done right, solar farms can provide a boost to renewable energy goals and serve local energy needs. But, as is the case with any large-scale energy project (many solar farms cover hundreds of acres), in the wrong location, they can have detrimental impacts. We will be weighing in on these proposals on a case-bycase basis to ensure they provide the benefits of renewable energy without negatively impacting agricultural soils, scenic and historic resources or detracting from other stated goals of the county

Farmer-Chef event

Also in Culpeper, we hosted a networking event where farmers and chefs had the opportunity to meet and network, this past November. Guests heard from speaker French Price, a Virginia Cooperative Extension representative of Market Maker, a national network that connect farmers and fishermen with food retailers, grocery stores, processors, caterers, chefs and consumers. Buyers from restaurants, retail stores, public and private schools and even wholesale purchasers attended the event. It was a wonderful opportunity for local growers to talk up the variety of products our region offers and make connections that can help support the economic vitality of their farm.


Buckland Bypass

2017 has been a year of successes in Fauquier County! At the end of 2016, Prince William County initiated another study of Buckland Bypass. Prince William Conservation Alliance and PEC worked together to inform and engage residents of both Fauquier and Prince William this year. In direct response to the outpouring of opposition to a bypass, the Prince William County Supervisor, who initiated the study, has stated she does not plan to move forward with any bypass option.

Dealerships in Marshall

Fauquier County adopted the Marshall code after several years of work, but not without significant controversy about the prospect of auto dealerships in Marshall. In August, an applicant proposed a large auto dealership at the corner of East Main Street and Old Stockyard Road. It was not consistent with the comprehensive plan, and it would have had a chilling effect on efforts to improve the gateways into Marshall and reinvigorate Main Street. After strong opposition, the dealership pulled their application. However, the Supervisors then considered adding auto dealerships into the Marshall code as an allowable use, albeit with a special exception. Again, the community came out in force and made it clear they did not want to have auto dealerships in the gateways of Marshall. The Supervisors voted to adopt the Marshall code without that addition.

Remington Walks

Our Remington Walks project, which created a clear vision for improving pedestrian safety, recreational opportunities and trail connections in the Town, was completed in August. As part of the project, we did landscaping around the entrance to the Rappahannock Station Battlefield Park and worked with the county to move forward with the design and construction plan to be completed by fall of 2018.

Planting for pollinators

We spearheaded a number of native planting projects in Fauquier, with a focus on creating habitat for pollinators. The largest project took place at our headquarters in Warrenton, where we planted roughly 60 species of native trees, shrubs, grasses and flowers. We also enrolled in Soil and Water Conservation District’s cost-share program, VCAP, to help offset some of the project’s cost. This past spring, we also oversaw the installation of a small pollinator meadow and adjacent riparian planting at the Orlean Volunteer Fire Department and a pollinator garden at the site of the new Warrenton Dog Park along the Warrenton Branch Greenway.


Mountain Heritage Program

We hosted our sixth annual Mountain Heritage Celebration on April 15 at the Cecil Mission near Stanardsville. One of more than 30 missions established by the Episcopal Church in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountain communities, the Cecil Mission served hundreds of people in its heyday. Local families brought poster displays, family photos and other memorabilia to share with visitors, amidst the sound of live bluegrass music.

Memorial Dedication

On October 29, over 200 people gathered in Stanardsville for the dedication of a memorial to the families that were displaced from the mountains in Greene County for the creation of Shenandoah National Park. The memorial, an effort by the Blue Ridge Heritage Project, was the fifth one to be dedicated in the eight counties where land was taken for the Park’s creation. The memorial site will be part of a larger revitalization project to establish a town market and performance pavilion in downtown Stanardsville.

Brook trout initiatives

We are working with local landowners along Entry Run to investigate potential fish passage improvement projects. Additionally, we gave a presentation at the Greene County Library on October 10 about our Eastern brook trout initiative and other conservation threats of this iconic species.


The Future of Loudoun

“Envision Loudoun” is the public process to update the county’s comprehensive plan. It has consisted of two parts — public input meetings and the stakeholder committee (formed by the Board of Supervisors). We are represented on the stakeholder committee to work with county staff to guide the comprehensive plan update. Throughout the planning process, we have been actively encouraging public awareness and participation in the meetings. There have been two rounds of public input over the last year, and the third will happen in early 2018.

Data Center Proposal

We are concerned about a data center proposal for development on the banks of Goose Creek, which would be upstream from the reservoir and in the transition policy area. The land is currently planned and zoned for low density (1 unit per 10 acres) residential. The proposal is strongly opposed by the public, and runs counter to what citizens have been calling for in the transition policy area as part of Envision Loudoun. The Board will vote on December 5 to determine the fate of the site. We oppose the location, the conversion and the precedent this rezoning would set.

Roundabout Meadows

PEC has laid the groundwork for a new community farm at Roundabout Meadows. To read about this project, see the cover story in The Piedmont View.


Robinson River thrives

In April, PEC staff removed a culvert that was impeding fish passage on a significant section of the Robinson River. We worked closely with Karl and Teressa Beier to reconnect over five miles of habitat for native Eastern brook trout. The project also restored in-stream habitat upstream and the natural stream channel. Fish monitoring before and after the project implementation demonstrated that brook trout were moving through the former barrier by September — in fact, monitoring revealed that the restored stream bed is a now a hot spot for them!

Headwater Stream Initiative

Further downstream, two native tree plantings are planned for next spring with landowners who own extensive frontage along the the Robinson River near Oak Park. The project is organized through our Headwaters Stream Initiative. Read more about the success of this program in the Rappahannock section of On the Ground.

Jack’s Shop and James City

Our work continues on the documentation of two often-overlooked Civil War battlefields, Jack’s Shop and James City. We were awarded a grant from the American Battlefield Protection Program in 2016 to shed light on the history of these engagements. Earlier this year, Rivanna Archaeological Services was selected as the consultant to carry out the research and mapping component of the project. We expect the project to wrap up next spring with a final community meeting to share the results of the study.


New historic district

The Rapidan River Clark Mountain Rural Historic District was determined eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) this past fall. Earlier this year, we hired Data Investigations, LLC to prepare a preliminary information form to determine the eligibility of this area for the NRHP. The proposed district includes a vast swath of land along the Rapidan River in Orange County, with portions extending into Madison and Culpeper Counties. The area has significant Native American settlements along the Rapidan River, historic plantations, early African-American settlements, Civil War resources related to Clark Mountain and the Battle of Morton’s Ford, and historic resources from the prehistoric period through the 1960s.

If funding and support allow, we plan to move forward with preparing a full nomination to have the district listed in the NRHP, which will require detailed documentation and site visits to all eligible properties.

Neighborhood park

With support from local members, PEC staff worked with the Town of Gordonsville to begin the process of refurbishing Verling Park. Over the summer, the Town held three community meetings to gain input from citizens on what the neighborhood park project would include. Then, in the fall, we worked with Land Planning and Design Associates and Charlottesville Aquatics to draft a park design that will hopefully be finalized over the winter. This park project holds the prospect of improving recreational access for Gordonsville area residents and visitors alike, including underserved populations. Neighborhood parks are a high priority among residents of this region and called for in the Virginia Outdoors Plan – the state’s comprehensive plan for land conservation, outdoor recreation and open-space.


Headwater Stream Initiative

In 2017, PEC partnered with Friends of the Rappahannock, Virginia Department of Forestry, John Marshall Soil and Water District and dozens of private landowners to plant seven acres with 1,786 native trees and shrubs, with the help of 221 volunteers from our Madison, Orange, Rappahannock and Fauquier communities, including many local schools. This good work resulted in over a mile of stream restoration, significantly reducing nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment and bacteria from entering local waterways.

Sprucepine Branch

We are restoring habitat and water quality for local streams by removing culverts and low-water crossings that can be roadblocks to stream health. In September, we celebrated the completion of the Sprucepine Branch restoration project, near Huntly. We were recently awarded a $108,000 grant with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Small Watershed Grant Program for the Chesapeake Bay for trout stream restoration to remove three culverts at Bolton Branch in 2018.

Thornton River pollinator garden

In October, we worked with RappFLOW and Hill House Nursery to install a pollinator garden, with 14 species of native plants, near the walking trail along the Thornton River in Sperryville. This project is a collaboration between PEC and the Endangered Species Coalition to raise awareness about the plight of the rusty-patched bumble bee, a federally endangered species.

This article was featured in our Winter 2017 member newsletter, The Piedmont View.