On Saturday morning, August 11, local descendants of Warren County families displaced by the creation of Shenandoah National Park gathered to break ground at the site of a memorial to their families’ collective experience.
That Blue Ridge Heritage Project site is on the Town walking path along Happy Creek just north of Criser Road, adjacent to Burrell Brooks Park and the current Criser Road Bridge replacement project. The Town of Front Royal donated the land for the project.
Hosting the event was local project committee Chairman Darryl Merchant. Merchant was joined by Blue Ridge Heritage Project Founder Bill Henry. Both addressed the project’s impetus, goals and status.
Last year Warren County joined the seven other Virginia counties that Shenandoah National Park runs through in a joint effort to shed light on an often-ignored part of those counties’ collective histories. And while federal officials heading the national park service may previously have been lax in acknowledging those histories, Merchant noted they are now active supporters of the Blue Ridge Heritage Project effort to bring that story to the forefront in the communities that were impacted.
The Blue Ridge Heritage Project is a non-profit, 501-c 3 founded by Greene County resident Bill Henry. Of the eight-county project, the organizational literature states: “To establish a memorial site in each of the eight counties where land was acquired for Shenandoah National Park (Albermarle, Augusta, Greene, Madison, Page, Rappahannock, Rockingham and Warren) to acknowledge the sacrifice of involved families in those communities.
“In order to recognize their contributions and their losses, each site will contain a memorial to the people from that county whose land was acquired for the park. Through educational displays, cultural displays and demonstrations the project hopes to accurately depict the people’s lives and to help preserve their lifestyle, crafts, music, and traditions.”
The ultimate goal, as of the broad study of history itself, is to give visitors to this particular series of memorials “a greater appreciation for the impact the park had on individual lives in general and for that particular community. – Altogether, the eight sites will create an understanding of life in the Blue Ridge Mountains,” project literature states.
Project & costs
The ground broken this past Saturday in Warren County is for Phase One of a three-phased local project. Phase One will see construction of 2-foot x 5-foot x 9-foot stone chimney memorial with a bronze plaque holding the family names of county citizens who lost their land to allow establishment of a pristine national park that is now a major regional tourism and economic asset.
Phase two will add a 16 x 22-foot concrete patio and phase three, two benches, a flagpole and informational kiosk. Total cost of all three phases is estimated at $25,000, with phase one priced at $12,000, including $9,000 for the stone chimney and $3,000 for the bronze plaque bearing the displaced family names. Merchant said $3,500 has been raised so far.
Consequently, the August 11 event also marked the launch of a more aggressive fundraising campaign, including direct contact, mail and online efforts. Donations can be mailed to the: Warren Blue Ridge Heritage Project, PO Box 1508, Front Royal, Va. 22630.
Online, one can access additional information, including on fundraising, at either the Blue Ridge Heritage Project Facebook page and website www.blueridgeheritageproject.com – click the “Warren County” tab – and a new local Facebook page, the “Front Royal Warren County Blue Ridge Heritage Project”. Merchant, who serves as chairman of the local project committee may also be reached at (540) 683-6878.
In another update in numbers, also as of August 11 Warren County’s contribution to the project will commemorate the sacrifice made by what is now counted at 67 local families who lost their homes and land as part of the federal effort to preserve large swaths of America’s natural resources for the enjoyment of all Americans for generations to come.
Merchant said that number has risen from an originally-cited 32 families. But he added, that initial number based on information in park service archives included only those families who had legal title to their land taken for the park. Those 32 families were the lucky ones.
As Merchant noted at the August 11 groundbreaking, the families with deeded proof of ownership of their land in what was to become Shenandoah National Park were compensated for their lost property. However, others who were tenants or who may have thought they owned the land they settled but had no legal record of that ownership, were not compensated for their loss.
And while the goal of natural resource preservation for accessible and affordable regional tourism may be good one, it was often painful for those told they must leave their homes for a greater national good.
A brief history of SNP
Literature handed out at the Saturday groundbreaking documented the creation of Shenandoah National Park (SNP) as a process stretching from 1924 to 1938. That process involved federal and state officials, as well as a private-sector businessman and his associates. Most prominent on that list were President Franklin D. Roosevelt on the back end and Virginia Governor Harry F. Byrd and summer resort “Skyland Lodge” owner George Freeman Pollock at the front.
This chronology is summarized from the Blue Ridge Heritage Project informational packet distributed at the Warren County site groundbreaking:
- “The idea for the SNP began in 1924. The federal government decided that the east coast region of the U.S. needed a park similar to Yosemite or Yellowstone out west.
- The owner of Skyland Lodge, a summer resort (located at what would become Skyline Drive mile post 42) for wealthy clients and politically-connected residents of Washington, D.C., thought a national park would bring visitors to the Shenandoah Valley.
- That resort owner, George Freeman Pollock, recruited guests and business friends to nominate this area of the Blue Ridge Mountains as a potential site of the eastern national park.
- Government specifications required the proposed park to be visually stunning and have amenities like fishing and hiking, access to roads; and essentially be a wilderness – in other words “FREE OF HUMANS”.
- However, the selected site was not free of humans; it was home to over 500 “mountain families”.
- Public and pseudo-science stereotyping of those somewhat isolated “mountain families” as backwards and in need of a push into “normal” society was used as justification for their removal from their mountain homesteads. Later sociological studies concluded that those “mountain folk were no better or worse off than the valley folk” they were said to need social integration with.
- In 1926, during the presidency of Republican Calvin Coolidge, the U.S. government approved the proposed eastern national park site.
- In April 1926, Virginia Governor Harry F. Byrd established the Virginia Conservation & Development Commission, headed by William E. Carson of Front Royal. The commission was created to acquire the land for the park, which would then be transferred to the federal government.
- Carson convinced the State Legislature to enact a blanket condemnation law, which was promptly challenged and not resolved until 1935 when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
- Originally, many land owners were told they would be allowed to remain in the park. However, that changed on February 1, 1934, when a new commission director decreed that “all inhabitants must leave.”
- Federal officials initially tried to dump the relocation problem on state officials, who resisted taking on the final step in a politically-volatile matter they had helped create. Eventually responsibility was transferred to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Resettlement Administration.
- By 1938, some 175 of the estimated 500 impacted families had been resettled to over 6,000 acres of land purchased by the U.S. government for use as resettlement communities.
- As the relocation continued, as quoted by Nancy Martin-Purdue – “And people came in and moved them out. Burned their house down in some cases. Took their things and carried them off to some other place.”
The bottom line assessment: “The FORCED RESETTLEMENT represents a classic case of bureaucratic ineptitude.”
And as the ever-wise “they” say, “Those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat its mistakes.”
So this humble observer urges all who are able, to help realize the Blue Ridge Heritage Project mission of seeing that this part of our collective history is NOT forgotten or NOT learned from.
Hey, there are around 40,000 people in Warren County, albeit some too young to earn a living yet. But 55-cents per person would more than cover the $21,500 balance necessary to fully fund the project. We can figure a way out to accomplish that, can’t we?
That might be a topic of conversation at the next meeting of the Warren Blue Ridge Heritage Project Committee, slated for this Thursday, August 16, at 7 p.m. at the Warren Rifles Confederate Museum at 95 Chester Street, Front Royal.
The Blue Ridge Arts Council launches its ‘Deck the Halls’ Christmas Tree and Festive Decorations sale Thursday and Friday
Blue Ridge Arts Council’s annual “Deck the Halls” — now in place in downtown Front Royal for almost two decades — opens today, Thursday, November 30, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and extends tomorrow, Friday Dec. 1, from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. at the BRAC headquarters, 305 East Main Street, several doors west up East Main from the Gazebo.
A variety of decorated Christmas trees, holiday wreaths, and other seasonal items will be on sale throughout the month. Proceeds support ongoing programs of the arts council. For the first two days, refreshments will be offered.
This year the “Deck the Halls” display features an in-place art exhibit of the work of former Warren Sentinel Editor Kevin Seabrooke, “Browntown and Beyond”, that opened at the BRAC center October 14, running through January 12, 2024.
St. Michael Dojo Young Karate Stars Shine at National Tournament
Impressive Medal Wins for Local Dojo at Prestigious Karate Championship.
In a remarkable display of skill and discipline, fifteen members of the St. Michael Dojo, including a spirited group of fourteen youth, made their mark at the 43rd International Shotokan Karate Federation / US National Karate Championship Tournament. Held in Columbus, Ohio, from November 10-12, 2023, this event drew 180 karate enthusiasts from across the nation, spotlighting the rising talent of the local dojo.
The tournament kicked off with an impressive start for St. Michael Dojo, particularly through the performances of William and Warren Dooley, ages eight and eleven, respectively. These young brothers set a high bar, each securing gold medals in both Kata (form) and Kumite (sparring) events, showcasing the effective training and dedication nurtured at St. Michael Dojo.
While competing in intermediate categories, Fiona Riccio and Joseph Spiering continued this winning streak. Riccio’s grace in Kata and Spiering’s prowess in Kumite earned them gold, further cementing the dojo’s reputation for excellence.
Overall, the young participants from St. Michael Dojo bagged an impressive total of twenty medals, a tally that included six golds, eight silvers, and six bronzes across individual and team events. This demonstrates the breadth of talent at the dojo and the effectiveness of their training regimen.
Notably, silver medals were claimed by Samuel Fidero, Fiona Riccio, Joseph Spiering, and Agnes Cammack in various age and belt divisions. Additionally, bronze medals were earned by Dominic and Jonny Fidero, Isabella Fidero, Joseph Spiering, and Jacob Carlson, showcasing depth in both skill and competitive spirit.
The youth kata team, representing the East Coast Region and led by black belts Agnes Cammack, Gianna Parente, and Margaret Carlson, with Jacob Carlson as an alternate, battled against numerous teams from around the country, ultimately securing a well-deserved silver medal.
Behind these remarkable achievements is the guiding hand of Majal Colon-Cammack Sensei, who operates St. Michael Shotokan Karate with dojo locations in Front Royal and Fort Valley. Their affiliation with the International Shotokan Karate Federation, under the leadership of Shihan Hiroyoshi Okazaki, has been instrumental since 2007 in nurturing these young talents.
The national tournament’s success is a testament to the individual skills of these young karatekas and the community and support system built around them. St. Michael Dojo’s philosophy of fostering discipline, skill, and a competitive spirit shines through in these remarkable achievements. As these young athletes continue to train and compete, they raise the bar for themselves and set an inspiring example for their peers and the wider community.
Blue Ridge Wildlife Center Patient of the Week: Eastern Gray Squirrel
Cue the Jaws theme for a squirrel with a shark fin-shaped bandage! This young male Eastern Gray Squirrel was brought into care after the finder noticed him limping on the front right leg. Radiographs revealed a broken radius (one of the forearm bones) most likely due to a cat attack, given the cat-sized puncture wound over the fracture site.
Fractured limbs can be difficult to treat in most wild mammals, especially smaller ones with sharp teeth and claws to rip off bandages, their e-collars (“cones”), or even surgical hardware. It’s especially tough when the injury occurs in a species that is highly mobile and all about climbing.
To combat some of these factors, our vet team placed a sling to immobilize the affected limb (they had to get a bit creative and fashioned a padded “shark-fin” vest to prevent him from chewing it off). After recovering from anesthesia, we are happy to report that he wasted no time in figuring out how to continue his squirrely antics with the remaining three limbs.
We will be tracking his progress closely over the next few months as the bone heals by performing regular physical therapy and monitoring his bandage site for complications.
These creative solutions are common in wildlife medicine where you are dealing with hundreds of different species, all with different illnesses and injuries, and at every stage of life. Help us continue to create creative solutions and provide high-quality medical care to 3,500+ patients annually, covering over 165 different species, by donating to Blue Ridge Wildlife Center.
To learn more about the incredible work at BRWC, we invite you to watch this video:
Virginia Colleges Launch Innovative Program to Address Teacher Shortage
Lab Schools to Train High School Students as Future Educators.
Virginia is taking a significant step towards addressing its teacher shortage with the launch of a groundbreaking partnership between Laurel Ridge Community College, Germanna Community College, and James Madison University. This initiative, part of the state’s broader College Partnership Laboratory Fund, is not just a solution to a critical issue but a beacon of hope for future educators.
The Virginia General Assembly established the College Partnership Laboratory Fund in 2022, committing $100 million to this cause. Following the success of the first lab school associated with Virginia Commonwealth University, the Virginia Board of Education recently approved two more lab schools, including the Future Educators Academy.
Dr. Kim Blosser, President of Laurel Ridge, expressed excitement about collaborating with Germanna to operate the lab school at the Middletown and Fauquier campuses. “Our public school divisions, especially rural areas, face acute teacher shortages. This program is a step towards addressing that need, focusing on educating high school students who will eventually serve their local communities,” said Dr. Blosser.
The Future Educators Academy is a unique approach designed to bridge the gap in the teaching workforce. Students enrolled in this program will simultaneously work towards an associate degree and a high school advanced studies diploma. Moreover, they will receive guaranteed admission into JMU’s College of Education, potentially earning their bachelor’s degree in education within two years.
This accelerated and rigorous program is inclusive, targeting all students with a passion for teaching, including at-risk groups and those who have experienced pandemic-related learning setbacks. Governor Glenn Youngkin, who prioritizes establishing lab schools, highlights the program’s accessibility and commitment to educational recovery.
Dr. Janet Gullickson, president of Germanna, explained the vision behind the Future Educators Academy. “Our goal is to create a no-cost, accelerated path for students to fill teaching positions quickly. The idea is to nurture our K-12 teachers who will contribute to their home communities,” she stated.
The initiative is timely, considering the current challenges in the education sector. It offers a sustainable solution by empowering young aspirants to step into the teaching profession equipped with early training and a sense of community responsibility.
Germanna’s lab school students will begin in fall 2023, while Laurel Ridge will welcome its first cohort in fall 2025. This strategic timeline ensures a steady flow of trained educators into Virginia’s school system in the coming years.
The Future Educators Academy is a testament to Virginia’s commitment to resolving the immediate teacher shortage and fostering a new generation of educators equipped to face the challenges of modern education.
Cub Scouts Bring Joy to Pediatric Patients with Jared Boxes
Local Scouts Offer Comfort and Fun to Hospitalized Children.
Warrenton, VA – In a heartwarming act of community service, the young members of Cub Scout Pack 1166 Wolf Den from Warrenton, VA, have brought smiles and comfort to pediatric patients at Fauquier Hospital. During October, these spirited youngsters crafted and delivered handmade Jared Boxes, transforming a potentially intimidating hospital experience into joy and playfulness.
For more than two decades, over a million Jared Boxes have been distributed by various groups nationwide. Brimming with activities such as fidget toys and coloring pages, these boxes have been a beacon of happiness for young patients. The Cub Scouts of Pack 1166 have joined this noble effort, contributing their energy and creativity to this cause.
Sarah Shilling, a Cub Scout Leader, inspired her troop with the idea of this impactful service project. Her vision was to involve young children in community service in a meaningful and relatable way. The Jared Box Project perfectly aligned with this goal, empowering children to support their peers through thoughtful gifts. “I always encourage them to look for the helpers. It is empowering to have them be the helpers in this case,” Sarah remarked, highlighting the project’s positive impact on both givers and receivers.
Matthew Martinez, another dedicated leader and volunteer at Little Fork Volunteer Fire and Rescue, has witnessed firsthand the anxiety children face during medical emergencies. His involvement in the Jared Box initiative stems from his desire to alleviate these fears. “I see many kids upset and scared during transport. I wanted to do something to brighten their day and get the Cub Scouts involved,” he shared.
The effectiveness of Jared Boxes is not just theoretical. Jess Laurent, a fellow Cub Scout Leader, shared a personal story. “My son was one of the first surgical cases to be done during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Masks and COVID testing were scary, but he received a Jared Box. That act provided him comfort and helped ease his nerves,” Jess recalled, emphasizing the boxes’ reassuring presence during stressful times.
The successful delivery of these Jared Boxes in October has endowed Fauquier Health with a valuable resource. These boxes offer a sense of normalcy and fun to children facing medical challenges, thus fostering a deeper sense of community and empathy within the hospital environment.
The Cub Scouts of Pack 1166 have demonstrated that age is no barrier to making a significant impact. Through their efforts, they have brightened the days of many young patients and set an inspiring example of community service and compassion.
About Fauquier Health
Fauquier Health, located at 500 Hospital Drive, Warrenton, VA, is a community-focused health system emphasizing high-quality, individualized patient care. Serving Fauquier and neighboring counties, it includes a 97-bed accredited hospital, a 113-bed rehabilitation and nursing center, an assisted living facility, a wound health center, and a wellness center offering various health programs. Additionally, Fauquier Health operates multiple specialized physician’s offices. For more information, visit FauquierHealth.org or call 540-316-5000.
Winchester SPCA Thrift Shop Ready to Show Off Its New Look at Grand Reopening, Sat. Dec. 2
The Winchester Area SPCA has expressed excitement in announcing the grand re-opening of its thrift shop on Saturday, Dec. 2, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Winchester-area community is invited to join a day of celebration and shopping at the newly renovated and revitalized thrift store located at 1944 Abrams Creek Drive, Winchester, VA.
“We are extremely grateful to the Winchester business community for supporting this endeavor,” said Lavenda Denney, Executive Director of the Winchester Area SPCA, in a recent press release. “The thrift shop is the lifeblood of our animal shelter and clinic. This revitalized space offers an improved shopping experience and directly supports the Winchester Area SPCA’s mission of providing care and compassion to needy animals in our community.”
It was noted that a grassroots effort has given the Winchester Area SPCA Thrift Shop a total transformation over the last few months. Winchester area businesses have generously funded the entire project, which includes the installation of new lighting, new display furniture, relocating the front entrance, the addition of dressing rooms, fresh paint throughout, reconfigured floor space, a coffee bar, several new merchandise sections, and new landscaping that incorporates native plants. Additionally, the exterior features a mural created by Winchester artist Sarah Gallahan.
The release acknowledged local businesses that contributed to the renovation, including Four Square Architects, BAC Dumpsters, Sunbelt Rentals, Vulcan Materials, Blue Ridge Glass and Metal, United Rentals, Sherwin-Williams in Stephens City and Winchester, Winchester Printers, Frogale Lumber, Glass Doctor, Hunter’s Head Tavern, and Ayrshire Farm. Sharon Phipps of Boyce generously donated the funds for the coffee bar, and Airynee Damewood of Upperville provided landscaping services.
Some parts of the renovation still need sponsors, however, and the Winchester Area SPCA asks other businesses and individuals interested in donating to contact Lavenda Denney for more information.
“We still have several naming opportunities available,” she added.
The grand reopening event will feature a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10 a.m., followed by exclusive in-store promotions, live music, photos with Santa and his sleigh, face painting for children, exciting raffles throughout the day, and refreshments, including hot cider, popcorn, and cookies.
“We are thrilled to invite the community to join us in celebrating the grand reopening of the Winchester Area SPCA Thrift Shop,” said Nicole Seal, the thrift shop’s manager. “If you haven’t visited us recently, you’ll find it so much easier to discover what you need and, of course, unexpected treasures!”
Shoppers can expect a wide array of merchandise, including clothing, accessories, home goods, vintage finds, pet supplies, tools, technology, and more. One hundred percent of the proceeds from the store benefit the Winchester Area SPCA’s programs and services, so each purchase involves a meaningful contribution to the welfare of animals in our community.
Save the date for Saturday, Dec. 2, and join the Winchester Area SPCA Thrift Shop for a day of festivities, community engagement, and fantastic finds – all aimed at making a difference in the lives of animals in need.
And don’t forget that our Warren County community now has its own Humane Society and Julia Wagner Animal Shelter-supporting “Pick of the Litter Thrift Store” in the southern commercial area of downtown Front Royal off Commerce Avenue at 450 South Commerce Avenue, Suite E. That location is not far from the Humane Society’s Discount Spay and Neuter Clinic on the John Marshall Highway side of that commercial area. In fact, the Pick of the Litter Thrift Store celebrated its first anniversary earlier this month, on November 4.
But for more information about the Winchester Area SPCA and its Thrift Shop re-opening, visit winchesterspca.org.
(Information from a release by the Winchester SPCA)