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Hello Spring: Front Royal beautifies downtown



John McDonald, senior maintenance worker for the Front Royal Horticulture Division, tends to the Town’s newly hung, award-winning flower baskets. Photo by Royal Examiner Publisher, Mike McCool.

Springtime bloomed above the streets of downtown Front Royal this week when the Town’s Horticulture Division completed its annual flower basket hangings along E. Main Street and Chester Street.

The Petunias for the 43 baskets are donated each year by the Beautification Committee. The Horticulture Division, which is part of the Town’s Public Works Department, arranges, hangs and maintains the hanging flower baskets, which have earned Front Royal several Beautification Awards along the way for landscaping.

“The Town receives a lot of complements regarding the flower baskets each year from residents and visitors,” Front Royal Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick told Royal Examiner today. “The Town staff is very proud of the baskets each year and enjoy being able to help keep the Historic Downtown area looking nice for the residents and visitors.”

In fact, the Town normally puts up the hanging flower baskets at the beginning of May to coincide with the start of scheduled events, according to Robert B. Boyer, director of Public Works.

“These baskets receive so many complements each year by residents and visitors from other areas,” Boyer said. “We feel this makes the downtown area look nice throughout these months when there’s a lot of events going on and the Town staff takes a lot of pride in doing these baskets each year.”

Boyer explained that when the flower baskets are first hung up, they weigh around 75 pounds. As the flowers grow and grow and grow and grow — draping over the baskets and flowing down toward the street — they end up weighing around 80 to 85 pounds.

The watering depends on the weather, said Boyer, who added that “when it’s dry, we usually water them every other day.”

The hanging flower baskets remain in place around the downtown area through the summer months, he said.

“Every year, once the season is over, the plants are normally starting to die so they’re removed and the baskets are cleaned up and put away” for next year, Boyer said.

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Valley Health accelerates staff vaccination deadline – urgency driven by staff quarantine, Delta variant and lagging community vaccination rates



Concerned about a predicted surge in COVID-19 cases locally, Valley Health advised staff earlier today that it has shortened the timeline for employees, affiliated medical providers, and contractors to receive the COVID-19 vaccination. The new policy requiring vaccination remains intact, but staff must now have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccination by September 7, 2021. (editor’s note: the original first dose deadline was October 1) 

Valley Health President and CEO, Mark Nantz

“I am pleased to see our Valley Health vaccination rate has increased to 75%, and I thank all of you who have chosen to protect yourselves, your patients, and your coworkers,” Valley Health President and CEO Mark Nantz said in a memo to the health system’s 6,300 staff. “We continue to monitor new COVID-19 cases in our community and have seen an increase in caregiver quarantine, due in part to lagging community vaccination, as well as the growing presence of the highly contagious Delta variant. These circumstances compel us to reevaluate our timeline for requiring vaccination for VHS staff.”

Employees who plan to request a religious or medical exemption have until August 16 to file documentation; Valley Health anticipates review and resolution of exemption requests by August 23.

“Many of those infected seek care in our hospitals or visit Valley Health physician offices, clinics, or testing sites for diagnosis and treatment,” Nantz continued. “Each encounter with an infected patient offers COVID-19 the opportunity to spread, and the chance of transmission increases exponentially when our caregivers are unvaccinated. Our vaccination standard is our duty as a healthcare system and our moral responsibility as professionals who prioritize patient, visitor, community, and workforce safety in the midst of a pandemic.”

COVID-19 vaccination is available free of charge at Employee Health locations on each of Valley Health’s six hospital campuses.

(Taken from Valley Health press release)

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Governor Northam announces COVID-19 vaccine requirement for state workers; rising cases and hospitalizations



On August 5, 2021, Governor Ralph Northam held a press briefing to discuss the state’s rising coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. Dr. Anthony Fauci joined Gov. Northam and other Virginia health leaders earlier in the week to discuss the importance of the COVID-19 vaccine and the challenges ahead.

“Vaccination works, it is that simple,” said Governor Northam. “Nearly every single person who has died from COVID was unvaccinated.”

Governor Ralph Northam also announced that Virginia will require its state workers to show proof that they are fully vaccinated or be tested for COVID-19 every week. This policy will impact approximately 122,000 employees and will go into effect on September 1.

Governor Northam’s action comes as the highly transmissible Delta variant is driving up cases across the Commonwealth and around the country, primarily among unvaccinated people. Nearly 73 percent of Virginia adults have had their first shot, and 54 percent of all Virginians are fully vaccinated against the virus, which is higher than most states.

“The only way to end this pandemic is to for everyone to get vaccinated against COVID-19,” said Governor Northam. “As head of state government, we have a responsibility to lead by example and ensure the safety of our employees and the people they serve. The three vaccines are safe, effective, free, and widely available, and I strongly urge every eligible Virginian to get their shot. The time for waiting is over.”

Last week, President Joe Biden announced a vaccination requirement for federal workers, and Governor Northam’s executive directive is consistent with this policy. The full text of Executive Directive Eighteen can be found here.

“Our valued state employees are dedicated to public service, and I am confident they want to do what is necessary to keep themselves, their co-workers, and the public safe,” said Secretary of Administration Grindly Johnson, who oversees the Department of Human Resource Management.

Virginians who have not been vaccinated are encouraged to go to or call 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682, TTY users call 7-1-1) to find a nearby vaccination clinic. For answers to frequently asked questions or to learn more about vaccination for COVID-19 in Virginia, visit

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After room cleared School Board approves transgender policy, restroom study, phased mask use



Following two hours of comments from residents, the Warren County School Board on Wednesday approved the May 2021 Virginia School Board Association (VSBA) Policy Updates, which include anti-discrimination items specific to transgender students. The updates will now be included in the Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) Policy Manual.

The School Board also during its regular August 4 meeting approved a comprehensive study to access the feasibility of providing additional privacy in school restroom facilities, as well as a fall WCPS reopening plan that includes the phased-in use of face masks for staff and students.

Community Participation

Roughly 30 residents spoke to board members about the inclusion of the transgender policy updates in the WCPS Policy Manual. Each had three minutes to speak. Many went over that mark, despite Board Vice Chairwoman Catherine Bower’s instructions to refrain from doing so.

Many in the audience also ignored Bower’s instructions to refrain from applause, interruptions, and other distracting behavior. At the meeting’s roughly two-hour mark, some residents got so unruly that Bower called a board recess, had the Warren County Sheriff’s Department clear the meeting room at the government center, and then proceeded to hold the remainder of the meeting in a session closed to the public.

Following are excerpts from some of the residents’ comments, which may be heard and viewed in their entirety here. The chosen comments generally represent — though not completely — what people said ‘for’ and ‘against’ the board voting to include the transgender policy updates in the WCPS Policy Manual. The comments listed below are in the order they were made during the meeting.

1. The feelings of the majority “should not be put aside for the feelings of the one or two that are not the majority. This is not the time or place… to upset the rule of the majority to give special rights to those having special claims.” Gene McGuirk, Front Royal.

2. “There is a difference between an adult and a child. A child is often governed by emotion, as we can witness often in the tantrums of a 2-year-old or even in the struggles of a teenager. It’s a very interesting development to suspect that the feelings of a child should subjugate the structures of society…. It would be odd for those who are to be the educators to be subjugated to the educated.” John T. English III, a Valley Health physician, Front Royal.

3. “The thing that should primarily be in focus is what is best for the kids in our schools. And what we have proposed is the enshrinement of a radical, progressive ideology that is harmful to children and it isn’t in their best interest, not in the best interest of those who are suffering from this mental condition, and certainly not in the best interest of those who might be lured into it by swimming in the waters that have been set up to promote it — and certainly not for the teachers and the students who would be opposed to this.” Anthony McDonald, Front Royal.

4. “Warren County seems so committed to antiquated, oppressive ideals that it would rather risk legal action than ushering its schools into a safer and more inclusive future. Imagine if we fostered love, compassion, and acceptance in our most formative years inside our school system. Although Warren County seems content to perpetuate the status quo of anti-trans violence, fortunately… the rest of Virginia will keep driving us along as it leaves this hateful era in the dust.” Laura Lee Cascada, organizer, Northern Shenandoah Valley Unites (NSVU).

5. “Trans kids have rights in public schools in the state of Virginia and the Warren County School Board just needs to apply them.” Samuel Porter, Front Royal.

6. “No one wakes up one morning and says, ‘I think I’ll be a different gender today.’ To experience yourself as a gender that doesn’t match your body is not a choice; it is an existential reality. And coming to terms with that is made much more difficult by rejection from families, from churches, from schools. Transgender students using bathrooms with the gender with which they identify is not a risk to other students. It’s the transgender students themselves who are at risk of being bullied, demeaned, ostracized, maybe even physically attacked. If our commitment is to keep all students safe, then we need to deal in facts — not fears, not stereotypes.” Rev. Shea Godwin, deacon, Calvary Episcopal Church, Front Royal.

Once order was restored after the meeting room was cleared, the School Board members resumed their work around 9 p.m., which included approval of the May 2021 VSBA School Board Policy Updates as the second action agenda item. Prior to the 3-2 vote to accept the policy updates, the School Board members explained their rationale for their votes.

For instance, School Board member James Wells, who voted yes along with board members Kristen Pence and Ralph Rinaldi, agreed that the board needed to follow the law and make updates to its current policies. Rinaldi agreed, saying his concern “was of a legal stature” and he didn’t want to see the board get bogged down with potential lawsuits.

Among several reasons for voting no, Board Vice Chairwoman Bower and board member Melanie Salins explained that they would first like to see the results of a study on WCPS restroom facilities (see below). Bower also said she had read through the County’s existing policies multiple times and found them to be sufficient, while Salins also voiced concerns that the updates infringed upon parental rights.

Restrooms Study

The School Board also approved the first action agenda item, which was presented to the board by WCPS Assistant Superintendent for Administration George “Buck” Smith, Jr., who recommended a comprehensive study be conducted that will access the feasibility of providing additional privacy in school restroom facilities, including whether to provide stalls on all urinals and to identify single-user or gender-inclusive facilities, or other reasonable alternatives for any student who seeks privacy.

“I asked for this item to be on the agenda so I would like to make a few comments,” Bower said prior to the board’s vote.

During the past few months, Bower said there have been discussions, public comments, emails, and phone calls related to transgender students in school restrooms. “We have had transgender students in our schools for many years,” she read from a prepared statement. “In the past, if a transgender student was uncomfortable using the restroom that aligned with their biological sex, they were offered the use of a single-stall restroom in the nurse’s office or in the counselor’s office. There had never been an issue.”

However, Virginia law now states that transgender students may use the restroom of their choice, said Bower. “We will absolutely abide by the law,” she said, even if “this may not be acceptable to all students.”

Bower said that she thinks the only equitable solution for all that doesn’t discriminate against anyone is to remodel WCPS restrooms into single-stall or unisex restrooms.

“I think a comprehensive study is needed to assess the restroom needs of our students so that everyone feels comfortable, both physically and emotionally,” said Bower, who added that a preliminary evaluation of single-stall restrooms in WCPS middle and high schools is already underway. However, the restrooms in WCPS elementary schools also will require remodeling “so that they are acceptable,” she added.

Some of the items Bower thinks the study should investigate include determining whether all or just a few restrooms need to be remodeled; where unisex restrooms would be most needed; the costs to remodel and where the remodeling funds would come from; and the length of time needed to complete remodeling and whether a temporary fix would be required in the meantime, among other questions.

“This is a state law that we’re adhering to, and I doubt that the state is going to fund this,” Bower said. “It would be nice, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

The approved study will be conducted by the WCPS Director of Facilities and Assistant Superintendent for Administration, but Bower said she would also like to see the study team include a school administrator, a teacher or two, a School Board member, and a community member. Rinaldi volunteered to join the team on behalf of the School Board.
Following some discussion by board members and WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger, Wells made a motion to accept the study with a second made by Pence. The board voted 5-0 to approve the study.

Reopening Plan

With the fall start date for classes slated for August 17, the School Board also approved a WCPS COVID-19 Mitigation Health Plan entitled “2021 Leading the Rebound,” which emphasizes the implementation of layered prevention strategies “to protect people who are not fully vaccinated,” according to the plan.

Ballenger and WCPS Director of Special Services Michael Hirsch said that the health mitigation strategies in the plan vary in two main areas: distancing requirements and the use of face coverings.

For example, a tiered, or phased, response will be used to address the health and safety needs of WCPS students and staff. According to the plan, medical-grade personal protective equipment (PPE) has been acquired for health services staff. N95 masks, shields, gowns, and gloves will be provided to WCPS nurses and assistants who are supporting them. Face shields will be available, in addition to additional masks, upon request.

“Face coverings are an important part of our mitigation strategies in keeping our students and staff safe against COVID-19,” the plan states. “Face covering procedures will be discussed in each phase of our plan to reopen. All visitors (very limited number) will wear face coverings when entering and occupying any school building.”

During phase one of the reopening plan, face coverings will be “strongly encouraged” for all employees and students. “However, it is parent choice” whether their child wears one to school. Face coverings will not be required to be worn outdoors.

During phase two of the plan, face coverings will be required for all students and staff when indoors and on school buses.

During phase three, face coverings will be required for all students and staff indoors and outdoors and there will be increased social distancing.

Ballenger noted that movement between the phases will be based on metrics and data. He pointed out that changing between phases “could happen before school starts. We want to stay in phase one,” he said. “We need the community’s help. Everyone has COVID fatigue, but we still need to work as a community as a whole.”

Likewise, as the “2021 Leading the Rebound” plan permits in-person instruction for all students, WCPS will strive to educate students in this manner as health conditions permit, Ballenger said, noting that such a fluid approach will allow WCPS to maximize in-person instruction supported by a robust virtual academy and social-emotional supports.

Additionally, according to the plan, significant resources have been allocated to support the division’s Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Initiative. The current SEL teacher will be collaborating with school social workers and trauma coaches to ensure staff and students are supported.

In addition, Student Support Coaches have been allocated for each school to further support academic remediation and students’ social/emotional needs. This support includes linkage to community-based mental health supports that currently partner with WCPS, as well as direct support to students and staff.

Outpatient counselors also will be available in each middle and high school to meet the additional mental health challenges the pandemic has created, the plan says, and private Insurance, as well as Medicaid, may be used to access these supports.

A motion to accept the plan as presented was made by board member Pence, with a second by Rinaldi. The motion carried on a 4-1 vote with Salins voting no.

To watch the School Board’s August 4 meeting in its entirety, go here.

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FRWRC awards 2021 Kim South Girl Grant to Reaching Out Now



Reaching Out Now Diamonds & Pearls Gala

The Front Royal Women’s Resource Center (FRWRC) awarded its annual Kim South Girl Grant to the Reaching Out Now, Girls of Destiny Program for the second year in a row. The $1000 grant was presented at the Reaching Out Now Diamonds & Pearls Gala on June 16.

“The Girl of Destiny Leadership Program directly aligns with the mission of the Kim South Girl Grant by empowering young women in our community with workshops and programs that help them rise above life’s challenges,” said Joyce Jenkins-Wimmer, FRWRC President and the Girl Grant Chair. “We are delighted to award this grant to this thriving program for the second year in a row.  We were especially excited to have Mary Ellen South, the funder of this grant, with us this year to witness all the leadership opportunities this program offers to the youngest women in our community.”

Mary Ellen South, a member of the Front Royal Women’s Resource Center, and her husband Mike, established the Kim South Girl Grant in 2006 in memory of their young daughter. Awarded annually, the grant supports middle-school aged girls by providing programs that inspire future leadership, curiosity, confidence, and success.

“When Mike and I first established the grant, the FRWRC worked with middle school counselors to award the grant to individual girls,” she said.  “We have been thrilled to watch its expansion to reach more young women.”

Over the years, the grant has supported summer camp, courses in the arts, summer school, a training course, tutoring or special needs. Grants are also awarded to organizations or a clubs that empower young girls through related activities. Since 2006, 22 individual grants and seven program grants have been awarded totaling $15,450.

The Reaching Out Now organization recognized Mary Ellen South’s significant contributions to young women in the community with a special Legacy Award.

Ms. South dedicated a new poem, Girl Power, when accepting the Legacy Award from Reaching Out Now:

Girl Power

Girls are special
Girls are strong
Girls can be anything
Girls can achieve it all.
When I was a girl I looked
At a mountain far away
I said I’ll cross that mountain
And one day I did.
I’ve crossed that mountain and many more
Fulfilling dreams with a few scars
But never giving up, never giving into
The notion that I couldn’t, that I wouldn’t.
Women are special
Women are strong
Women can be anything
Women achieve and carry those girls on their shoulders.

So reach out, reach up
Search for your dream
Your destiny awaits…
And you can do it.

Mary Ellen South
June 2021

About Front Royal Women’s Resource Center

The Front Royal Women’s Resource Center (FRWRC) is a 25-year-old non-profit organization, dedicated to providing a support network for women in the Warren County area through programs, information and education. Over the last two decades, FRWRC has provided networking opportunities, spotlighted women leaders in our community and awarded more than $133,000 in grants and scholarships to 178 Warren County women and girls to support education, and professional and personal enrichment opportunities. We empower women to change their world. Visit our website and follow us on Twitter @FRWRC.

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Blue Ridge Wildlife Center Patient of the Week: Great Horned Owl



Photos / Blue Ridge Wildlife Center

Possible West Nile Virus Case

We see many cases of West Nile Virus (WNV) each summer in corvids (crows/ravens) and raptors and this year is no exception. This Great Horned Owl was found unable to fly and was rescued by Kristi’s Caring Hands Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education, then brought to our hospital for evaluation. Given his mental status and signs, we suspect this may be due to WNV and diagnostics are currently pending.

WNV is a mosquito-borne disease that impacts humans and horses too. Luckily, there is a vaccination for horses. For the rest of us, mosquito control is the best protection!

Help out at home by removing standing water that accumulates in planters, pools, buckets, tires, etc. This is where mosquitoes lay eggs. Cover water storage containers (cisterns, rain barrels) so that mosquitoes cannot get in. Prevent bites by wearing long-sleeved clothing and using repellants when outdoors. Keep screens on doors/windows to prevent mosquitoes indoors.

WNV is just one of many diseases that mosquitoes can transmit to animals and people and lowering the prevalence helps us all!

While we wait for test results, this owl is receiving fluids and tube feedings as it is not yet stable enough to eat on its own. We are hopeful that this bird will recover, but WNV typically has a poor prognosis.

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Front Royal Brewing Company opening new brewery in Winchester, changing name to Vibrissa Beer



Front Royal Brewing Company (FRB) announces plans to open a new location in Winchester, Virginia in mid-2022 and to change its name to Vibrissa Beer by the end of August 2021.

“With two locations and plans to expand our distribution footprint beyond Virginia into neighboring states, we need a name that is recognizable across a broad geographic area,” says Mike McCarthy, FRB’s General Manager, Head Brewer, and eight-time Great American Beer Festival (GABF) winner.

“With Mike’s brewing expertise, and the solid management team we’ve created, we can make a real impact on the beer scene, not only here in the Shenandoah Valley but nationally as well,” says Jeffery Carroll, FRB’s Marketing and Distribution Director.

FRB will be leasing space in the former Winchester Star Building at 2 North Kent Street. The space will include a large production brewhouse, taproom and restaurant, as well as an outdoor beer garden. “We are thrilled that Vibrissa has chosen our building for their new Winchester business,” says Tom W. Byrd, Manager of North Kent Properties LLC, which owns the former Winchester Star building. “We have been very impressed with their Front Royal location and think that they will have great success in Winchester as well. Vibrissa is the type of tenant we hoped to find to anchor our site and we are excited to see their outstanding beer and food made inside the old Star building.”

FRB first opened its doors in May 2018. Since then, it has developed a broad regional customer base and is a favorite among tourists and outdoor enthusiasts visiting Shenandoah National Park. In addition to its beer, FRB offers creative, up-scale pub food. FRB’s beer is widely distributed across the Northern Virginia market, and distribution is expected to grow rapidly with the opening of the Winchester facility.

Buildout and renovations will be supported by Grove & Dall’Olio Architects PLLC and Whittington Construction, Inc.

For more information about FRB’s plans for Winchester and its re-branding as Vibrissa Beer, please contact Jeffery Carroll at

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Front Royal
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Upcoming Events

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Potential UNLOCKED: Become a Roblox Developer In this hands-on, fully guided camp experience, ninjas learn the basics of game building and creative development in an exciting, user-generated online gaming platform called Roblox! This camp will[...]
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9:00 am Waggin’ For Dragons @ Front Royal Golf Club
Waggin’ For Dragons @ Front Royal Golf Club
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Waggin' For Dragons @ Front Royal Golf Club
Our Annual Dragon Boat race is back and better this ever, because we’ve got some special friends joining us! Our race teams, made of local community and business groups, will be racing and raising that[...]
11:00 am Friends of Sky Meadows Farm Market @ Sky Meadows State Park
Friends of Sky Meadows Farm Market @ Sky Meadows State Park
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Friends of Sky Meadows Farm Market @ Sky Meadows State Park
Historic Area. Stop by the Friends of Sky Meadows Farmer’s Market for tasty preserved products, heirloom vegetables, eggs and more. Pick from seasonal vegetables grown in Sky Meadows’ authentic Kitchen Garden, July through September. Grab[...]
12:00 pm Settle’s Kettle @ Sky Meadows State Park
Settle’s Kettle @ Sky Meadows State Park
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Historic Area. Follow your nose to the Log House to see what tasty treats are cooking on the hearth. Watch as a Sky Meadows volunteer or ranger dons historic clothing and cooks delicious dishes using[...]
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Blacksmith Shop in the Historic Area. The forge is fired up and the blacksmiths are hard at work in the Historic Area. Members of the Blacksmith Guild of the Potomac have set up shop and[...]
8:00 pm Astronomy for Everyone @ Sky Meadows State Park
Astronomy for Everyone @ Sky Meadows State Park
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Astronomy for Everyone @ Sky Meadows State Park
Historic Area – behind Mount Bleak. Our evenings begin with a half-hour children’s “Junior Astronomer” program, followed by a discussion about the importance of dark skies and light conservation. Then join NASA Jet Propulsion Lab[...]