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Blue Ridge Heritage Project Memorial Chimney dedicated this Saturday

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The Warren County monument awaits the plaque bearing the names of 68 county families known to have been displaced; below, a proof of the plaque scheduled to arrive this week in time to be inserted for Saturday’s dedication. Photos/Roger Bianchini – Courtesy Graphics/Blue Ridge Heritage Project


Just two months after breaking ground with descendants of mountain families relocated to facilitate creation of Shenandoah National Park, Warren County’s Memorial to those families whose lives were sometimes unceremoniously upended for a greater national good will be unveiled.

That unveiling is slated for this Saturday afternoon, October 13 at 1 p.m.  Displays from Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Heritage Project on the memorial and its impetus will be on view from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.  The community is invited to come and share in the dedication of the chimney memorial and the history it commemorates.

The Blue Ridge Heritage Project site, donated by the Town of Front Royal, is on the walking path along Happy Creek just north of Criser Road, adjacent to Burrell Brooks Park and the current Criser Road Bridge replacement project.  Due to the bridge replacement project the site is currently accessible only from the west on Criser Road coming off South Royal Avenue past Ressie Jeffries Elementary School and Samuels Library.

Hosting the event will be local project committee Chairman Darryl Merchant.  Phase One to be dedicated Saturday is a 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.

As they were during the August 11 groundbreaking, descendants of some of those relocated families will be in attendance for the dedication ceremony.

Descendants break ground on August 11

Warren County’s Blue Ridge Project Memorial will commemorate the sacrifice made by what is now counted at 68 local families who lost their homes and land as part of the federal effort to create an eastern equivalent of western national parks for the enjoyment of all Americans for generations to come.

Merchant said that number has risen from an originally-cited 32 families.  But he has observed that initial number was based on park service archives that only included those families who had legal title to their land taken for the park.  As Royal Examiner has noted in previous coverage, those 32 families were the lucky ones – they were compensated with money or property to rebuild their lives off the mountain with those already settled in the valley. Read here:Blue Ridge Heritage Project breaks ground on Warren County memorial site

Faces of the county’s displaced

Two more phases are to come before the Blue Ridge Heritage Project Memorial site will be completed.  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 says $12,936 has thus far been raised covering phase one costs.  Pledges for an additional $4,500 toward phase two’s $9,000 cost have also been made, if not yet received.  Donations can be mailed to the: Warren Blue Ridge Heritage Project, PO Box 1508, Front Royal, Va. 22630.

A plan to primarily use stones from the remains of the Robert McKay House, formerly believed the oldest surviving home in the county circa 1731, which was destroyed by fire several years ago, had to be partially altered, Merchant told us.

“We used some of the McKay stones in our chimney foundation.  Most of the rocks left at McKay were rubble, and really not suitable for our use.  Some of the stones in our chimney were from the mountain locally.  We also purchased some from Frederick block and stone,” Merchant says of the finished project.

Some of the stone from the Robert McKay House, circa 1731, were used in the Warren County monument foundation

History remembered

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 .  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,” project literature states.

The Merchant family was among those displaced

“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.”

What better way to spend a late-morning, early Saturday afternoon than by becoming part of a celebration of a long-ignored but important part of the history of our community?

Online, one can access additional information, including on fundraising and project assistance, 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”.  County project Chairman Merchant may also be reached at (540) 683-6878.

A brief history of SNP

For those not prone to click to “linked” stories, to further pique your interest we will recount here the 14-year process resulting in a “forced resettlement” later described as “a classic case of bureaucratic ineptitude”:

Stone chimneys were often the last sign of the homes that once stood throughout the mountainous area taken for Shenandoah National Park

Literature handed out at the 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:

  • “The idea for the SNP began in 1924. The federal government decided that the east coast region of the 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 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 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.”

Local News

Petco donates $25K to Humane Society of Warren County: New shelter director explains where most of the money is spent

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These two Julia Wagner shelter dogs, the miniature pug Ophelia (Barr) and Max (Coolidge), the boxer, in a post-adoption meeting at Ophelia’s (Rockland) home – Photo/Malcolm Barr

Following a year of missteps and tragedy, bravely fought through by the Board of Directors of the Humane Society of Warren County (HSWC), 2019 launched in a new and encouraging direction – highlighted last week by a $25,000 Petco donation – under revived humane society and animal shelter management.

HSWC Board President Ellen Aders announced what she called “the most generous donation by Petco” on Saturday, February 16, the day after Executive Director Meghan Bowers delivered an upbeat, maiden speech to the Rotary Club of Front Royal just two months after her appointment. Bowers came to the Warren County Humane Society from an animal rescue operation in Aldie, Virginia.

Early last year, when members were called in to receive assurances that the HSWC was not being allowed, as some had complained, to “go to the dogs,” Aders and her board stepped up to the plate and pulled the society from its downward spiral, culminating in the appointment of Bowers as HSWC executive director. Bowers and new Julia Wagner Animal Shelter Manager Kayla Wines tenures included a four-month saga involving the rescue of 30 dogs and cats from an embattled former breeding kennel operation. The animals were recently released for adoption.

“Hard work and dedication has paid off,” said Aders. “Our board has worked tirelessly doing things that most boards never have to do. For example, I’d never written a grant before but ‘somebody had to do it’ and that’s how we functioned before Meghan joined us (in December) … like, somebody has to do it … and everyone stepped up!”

Bowers, who includes successful community outreach as one of her goals, gave her first speech locally to Front Royal Rotarians last Friday (February 15), recounting her initial few weeks on the job and providing her priorities in the work before her.

She emphasized the importance of “our TNR program” which is shorthand for the “Trap, Spay and Neuter” of stray or feral cats. “It is the only proven effective and humane method of dealing with feral cat populations, of which there are many in this area,” she said.

Cats need love too – as this dog seems to understand. Public Domain Photo/Pixabay

TNR involves trapping feral cats, vaccinating, spaying or neutering them, and returning them to their colony. The program fast reduces feral cat populations.

She admitted TNR has “always been a little bit controversial, with opinions ranging from “kill all feral cats” to “bring them to the shelter and adopt them out (TNA).” She chose TNR over TNA as the doable middle ground and called on the service club and the general public to help support the program to bring the burgeoning problem of feral cats under control. The cost is high – $80 to catch, fix, and release each cat.

Even in a down year, HSWC did many things right – reunited 270 lost animals with their owners; adopted out 900 animals over the previous 12 months; spayed or neutered 6,000 animals through a low-cost partnership with the Ancira Veterinary Clinic; and according to Bowers’ statistical report also maintained the Wagner Shelter’s “no kill” status.

To better meet the already high overhead of operating the72-year-old shelter, Bowers described a new way of donating. It is through the “HSWC Legacy Giving Program.” This involves including the animal shelter in a will.

“Lasting gifts such as this help us better plan for the future and give us peace of mind and stability,” she said.

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New beginnings for Rita Rutledge as an active agent with Century 21 Campbell Realty

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Local real estate expert, Rita Rutledge, is once again available to serve you directly after 20+ years in real estate management! As a managing broker, Rita helped many new agents launch successful careers at Weichert Realtors. Now it’s her turn for a new beginning by aligning with Century 21 Campbell Realty. This strategic alignment has created a unique (powerhouse) brokerage with over 80 years of experience just between Broker Jeannette Campbell (1978) and agent Rita Rutledge (1979)!

Born a coal miner’s daughter in McDowell, WV, Rita learned about hard work and dedication to family. It is at this time she also developed her special sparkle and infectious positive attitude that has proven to be a true Rita quality for those who know her. At age 11, the family moved to Abingdon, VA where she remembers attending a modest 2 room elementary school with no indoor plumbing! After graduating John Battle High School, Rita married her childhood sweetheart in 1963 and started a family.

In 1979, Rita decided to pursue a career in real estate which would give her the flexibility needed as she continued to raise her family.  Keeping true to her life motto, “Education is everything,” Rita achieved a great education from Lord Fairfax Community College in Real Estate Brokerage and all associated business branches. In 1984, she completed her Broker’s license. At this point, the industry did not have many female agents in the Shenandoah Valley. Rita explains, “It was a battle at times to break into the man’s world of real estate.” With a lot of perseverance and that positive attitude, Rita not only achieved her goal to become a real estate professional, she was one of the top listing agents of the area supporting 20+ listings at one time.

When looking to the future, Rita expresses excitement at the thought of reconnecting with old friends from the industry. She has enjoyed getting back out on the road and discovering new places with buyers. If you are looking for a unique opportunity to work directly with one of the most experienced agents in our local real estate industry, you just might want to turn to Rita.

 

Rita Rutledge, Associate Broker
Licensed in real estate from 1979 – Present

  • Mt Vernon/Weichert Realtors from 1985 – 2019
  • Weichert Realtors Managing Broker 1996 – 2017
  • Century 21 Campbell Realty 2019 – Present

Century 21 Campbell Realty
408 South Royal Ave | Front Royal, VA 22630
Cell: (540) 671-0016 | Office: (540) 636-2971
ritarutledgebroker@gmail.com

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Warren County School Board calls special meeting

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The Warren County School Board called a special meeting on February 13th to hear Superintendent Greg Drescher overview of PayPoint Compensation Study and the report on the Compensation and Benefits Study.

Drescher indicated that all of the work on these studies is about being competitive in the local market and not being done to just pay people more money. The local market includes all of the school divisions that touch Warren County and the City of Winchester. He also said that in order for WCPS to attract and retain a quality workforce, WCPS needs to offer competitive pay and benefits.

Download the Studies:

Royal Examiner’s camera was there:

 

Related story: Warren County School Board Public Hearing on FY 2020 Budget 

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I-66 Outside the Beltway Project: Lane closures and traffic changes week of February 17, 2019

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What’s Happening

As weather conditions allow, crews will continue corridor wide roadway maintenance and address issues as needed, with daily multi-lane closures during daytime and overnight hours on eastbound and westbound I-66. Additional construction activities include:

  • Constructing bridge abutments at Route 28 and I-495 interchanges
  • Constructing box culverts inside the Route 123 Interchange for shared-use path
  • Constructing retaining walls near Jermantown Road and Route 123 (Chain Bridge Road)
  • Grading, excavating, clearing trees and brush, and drainage installation at the Route 28, Route 123, Route 50 and I-495 interchanges, and other work zone location along the corridor
  • Clearing trees and brush at the future Balls Ford Park and Ride Lot near Manassas
  • Grading, excavating, and small charge blasting for storm drain trenches at the future University Boulevard Park and Ride Lot
  • Grading and excavating for the new E.C. Lawrence Park Access Road
  • Relocating underground and overhead utilities along I-66 and Route 28

The Transform 66 Outside the Beltway project will add express lanes stretching 22.5 miles from the Capital Beltway to Route 29 in Gainesville, rebuild major interchanges along the I-66 corridor, create thousands of new park and ride spaces, and expand trail options for cyclists and pedestrians. Learn more at Transform66.org.

Upcoming Lane Closures and Traffic Changes

The following planned lane closures are expected to have significant traffic impacts. All work is subject to change based on weather and schedule. Find the latest information on travel conditions and work zones by visiting 511virginia.org or downloading the Virginia511 app.


ROUTE 29 (LEE HIGHWAY) / GAINESVILLE

Route 29 North and South between Heathcote Boulevard and University Boulevard

  • Thursday, February 21, and Friday, February 22: 11 a.m. to Noon
  • Traffic will be temporarily stopped for up to 15 minutes for small charge blasting operations at the future Park and Ride Lot. Additionally, the ramp from I-66 West to Route 29 North (Exit 43B) will be temporarily closed for 15 minutes beginning at 11 a.m.

ROUTE 234 BUSINESS (SUDLEY ROAD) / MANASSAS

  • No significant traffic impacts are scheduled.

ROUTE 28 (SULLY ROAD) / CENTREVILLE

  • No significant traffic impacts are scheduled.

ROUTE 286 (FAIRFAX COUNTY PARKWAY)

  • No significant traffic impacts are scheduled.

ROUTE 50 / FAIRFAX

  • No significant traffic impacts are scheduled.

ROUTE 123 (CHAIN BRIDGE ROAD) / OAKTON – CITY OF FAIRFAX

  • No significant traffic impacts are scheduled.

ROUTE 243 (NUTLEY STREET) / VIENNA

I-66 East and West from I-459 to Route 243 (Nutley Street)

  • Friday, February 22, and Saturday, February 23: 9 p.m. to 9 a.m.
  • Three lanes will be closed with periodic 20-minute stoppages between midnight and 5 a.m. to remove an overhead sign gantry.

I-495 (CAPITAL BELTWAY)

I-66 East and West from I-459 to Route 243 (Nutley Street)

  • Friday, February 22, and Saturday, February 23: 9 p.m. to 9 a.m.
  • Three lanes will be closed with periodic 20-minute stoppages between midnight and 5 a.m. to remove an overhead sign gantry.

Commuter Alternatives

VDOT and the project team have invested in a broad range of programs to help commuters and others stay mobile and safe during construction. Learn more about carpool, vanpool, telework, and commuter bus alternatives.

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Tim Ratigan announces to run for South River Supervisor

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Mike McCool, Royal Examiner Publisher speaks with South River resident Tim Ratigan and his plans to run for the Board of Supervisors. Photo and video by Mark Williams.

Tim Ratigan announces his run to fill the South River spot on the Board of Supervisors. Tim stopped by our studios to speak with Royal Examiner publisher Mike McCool:

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Front Royal-Warren County: The canoe AND viewpoint ‘Capital of Virginia’

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Cullers Overlook, (Andy Guest) Shenandoah River State Park; from the Matador story – ‘Take a drive to Shenandoah River State Park and make a quick left onto Overnight Road, where a small parking lot sits next to the best lookout in the state.’ Photos from Matador article as attributed/Shenandoah River State Park/Facebook

Well, a sitting vice president once christened Front Royal/Warren County “the Canoe Capital of Virginia” – thanks, Al. But now – during a tourism report to the Warren County Board of Supervisors on February 5, Front Royal Community Development and Tourism Director Felicia Hart noted that Culler’s Overlook at Andy Guest-Shenandoah River State Park had been cited as the number one view point in Virginia accessible without necessity of a long or grueling hike. This reporter had previously been made aware of the designation by a shared Facebook post of congratulations to the community by an old friend and fellow past travel explorer “Joe Ball” aka Bob Mason.

The designation came as part of the Matador Network’s survey of “The Best Scenic Viewpoints in The United States that you can drive to”. And the Cullers Overlook panorama selected by Matador Network as one of the 50 best drivable-to view-sheds – one in each state – is a magnificent representation of this community’s natural assets; and certainly one the Commonwealth of Virginia can be proud of.

The Matador Network website <matadornetwork.com> describes itself as “a tribe of millions of travelers across the globe with an unquenchable thirst for adventure and exploration” – not a bad viewing base for a little tourism promotion WORLDWIDE!!! (as of publication the referenced story could be reached at <matadornetwork.com/read/roadside-viewpoint-every-state> or simply by searching the web at “best scenic viewpoints” with “best scenic viewpoints in the United States you can drive to” being the first find we encountered).

Screenshot from the Matador Network website, matadornetwork.com.

“Having the added exposure by the Matador Network is a win/win for Front Royal/Warren County. We love being able to take advantage of stories such as this,” Hart told Royal Examiner in response to a question about the designation. “Thousands will see the image of Cullers Overlook and be made aware of all that we have to offer. To stop and realize that out of all the scenic overlooks in the State of Virginia, Matador choose us, makes us extremely proud – and as an added bonus, we didn’t even have to pay for this exposure.”

We asked Hart if there was any special effort that brought the community’s natural tourism assets to the Matador Network’s attention.

“We regularly participate in Help A Reporter Out (HARO) requests when they are looking for stories, ideas, and photography. We have a number of travel writers that will be coming through our community soon – as they always do – so we’ll make sure that they are able to see and learn about all that our community has to offer.”

Hart pointed to economic benefits to the community peripheral to an increase in tourism numbers, potentially from the world over.

“In addition, stories such as this help not only our tourism numbers – heads in beds lodging tax, meals tax, etcetera – it works to draw potential businesses to our community. Whether they are smaller Mom/Pop shops – outfitter or such – or bigger businesses that are looking for quality of life for themselves and their employees – they are made aware of Front Royal/Warren County.

“With regards to how we used the story – not only did we ‘push’ the story out via our social media, the State of Virginia tourism shared it. Several of the Virginia Welcome Centers also ‘pushed it’ out via their social media. A group that we are partners in, the Shenandoah Valley Tourism Partnership … shared the story too.

“We worked hard to maximize the exposure to this story. It’s one thing for us to brag about ourselves, but when we can get an “outsider” to say it, now it has real value to someone reading the story. And of course, local newspaper stories are always appreciated,” Hart said.

You’re welcome, Felicia.

As a teaser to visit the Matador site and story, here are a few other entries – trust us, there are some of astonishing, non-manmade natural beauty, both like and very different from our own entry:

Atigun Pass, Brooks Range Alaska: from Matador, ‘Dalton Highway is not so much an overlook as an immersive glacial mountain experience’ – I guess it’s good we hiked Alaska in the summer, JoeBall – or that we flew over the Brooks Range on way to Anaktuvuk Pass for slightly lower-elevated points north – Photo/Leonie Wharton

Then there are your more urban view-sheds, here Watson Island between Miami and Miami Beach, Florida – Photo/Chris LaBasco/Shuttercock

Or New Jersey’s pick, from Liberty State Park with a panoramic view of the New York City skyline – Photo/Dorbis/Shutterstock

Or Felicia, imagine you had ‘Carhenge’ to work with – Photo/Nebraska Tourism

And just in case you doubted us on the natural beauty teaser – above is Montana’s Heaven’s Peak Outlook; and below a little close to home for my mom, Looking Glass Rock, North Carolina near her hometown of Asheville. Photo/tusharkoley/Shutterstock & ExploreAsheville.com

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