Ramble On

Friday, April 30, 2010

Clarendon Construction - April 2010

Readers know that I recently moved offices to downtown DC for the remainder of the summer.  However, I had an errand to run over to our Arlington offices this week, and was able to get an update on the Clarendon Construction progress that we have been monitoring for the last 2+ years.

The large building across the block is coming along with most of the exterior work now complete.  The masonry work has moved to the upper stories - seems like they are on track for the late fall opening.

The mid-block building is coming along also.  They are putting up interior walls and insulation prior to putting up the exterior, which I believe will be masonry like the one across the street.  They are part of the same development, managed by Clark Construction.

There is a new project still in its early stages, I have some photos I will put up on that one over the weekend.  It's controversial, but an interesting concept for a high-density urban core area like this one.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Earth Day on the Greenway

On Saturday, the big Earth Day festivities were on in Luray. Here’s the home page: http://www.earthdayonthegreenway.com/index.php

We made a stop in the afternoon while we were running errands. While we were there, we listened to a panel discussion on a range of issues, including forest management, local food growing (Heather from Public House was on the panel), and the Fibrowatt campaign were some of the discussions.

We also ran into “Firkin-Good”, Deanne, whom I met through the Fibrowatt efforts. She’s been part of the event for the last few years, and was very busy doing photography and coordination. Her husband’s band SleePFeeDeR was set to perform later in the afternoon, but we missed the show.

Here are a couple of photos of the events. Local sponsors for the event put up tents with information and merchandise – I’ve got one of Howard here from Appalachian Outdoors Adventures. Andy was there too, listening to the panel while I was taking this…earlier in the day we’d run into Gary and Linda in the shop.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A tip of the hat to Hburgnews.com -

There is a five-post summary of past Hawksbill Cabin blogposts about Fibrowatt going up on http://www.hburgnews.com/  at the moment. Three posts are up already – links below, with two additional to follow.

There is a nice dialog on the comment section there as well, featuring solid moderation and respectful discussion of the issues.

Also coming from this series are a couple of very useful comments on sustainable energy, including a number of referrals to links with more information about power from biomass. I am going to look into this, and may return to the topic in the future.




Wise Sofie

Here's a photo of our old girl from Sunday morning, out on the brick terrace.  She'd got a whiff of spring and wanted to hang out with us outside for a little while.

It seems a very long time ago that Sofie joined us - Mary found her as a stray at the corner of 18th and T NW in the winter of 1996.  That means we've had her for 14 years...the vet thinks she is 17.

Don't let the age fool you.  Last week one of the neighbor's cats sauntered across the lawn after looking at her.  Sofie scampered down the stairs and chased it out of the yard, coming back up on the porch tail high.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Close Encounter of the Reptilian Kind

I’ve heard they’re on the move…April is the month that it is finally warm enough that we see snakes moving around out there. It’s still cool in the mornings so they are slow to get started, probably lurking about while they look for a sunny spot, or someplace with residual warmth to heat their bodies.

A sunny rock, perhaps, or a woodpile that is still waiting to get organized. Last weekend we walked around the yard with Mickey, planning some projects – one of which is to move the pile of pine back into the wooded lots, where I want to use the logs to line the path.

While we were out on the tour, we found this shed from a large black rat snake. If you’re going to have snakes, these are the ones you want – they are not venomous and actually keep the others away…by eating them. So I am always relieved when I find a shed from one of them, as opposed to a copperhead, say, or a timber rattler!

Here’s a post from a past April encounter with a black rat snake: http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2008/04/snake-in-laundry.html

Monday, April 26, 2010

As seen on... Adventures in the Valley Blog -

Well, almost everywhere I went this weekend, I was greeted by a story that began:

"Howard could not be with us because he was in West Virginia helping Joe and Cooter deliver a hot tub to a trailer."

With such a fine opening statement, I'll let readers go ahead and make up their own post this morning.

Friday, April 23, 2010

EDA's 2009 Plan Update, continued

Whenever I take a look at these EDA strategic plans, especially the 2008 and 2009 versions, I see this emphasis on “ready-to-go-sites,” as in priority A.4 from the 2009 plan: “Continue to work on ready-to-go-sites and identify locations in conjunction with the future land use plan.” The status reported here for this item is: “Rezoning of Project Clover proceeding. Related marketing initiatives moving forward.”

Moving on through the Priority A goals, here is A.6:

Identify the sectors and business types that are most conducive to locating in Page County. Ensure that: 1) the list matches the future land use plan and intergovernmental agreements; and 2) the zoning ordinances support the needs of targeted businesses and industries.

…and its status:

Project Clover is in compliance with draft land use plan. Working with Planning office to implement zoning ordinances that are in compliance with environment of county and clear, concise and manageable from business point of view.

What’s missing? The status report doesn’t include any information about the sectors and business types that are good prospects for locating in Page County. If you look at several other Priority A goals, they mention this business identification issue as well…

  • A.5 – Identify companion businesses to those existing in the county and target these kinds of organizations to locate in the county.
  • A.8 – Develop and implement a marketing program to attract new businesses. Include information about the HUBZone program.
These goals are assigned to the Department of Economic Development…as are most of the Priority A goals. Few if any are assigned to the EDA, and those seem to focus around Project Clover.

I guess what troubles me about the 2009 plan update is the same thing that I have been saying about the whole strategic planning process in the county since I started looking at it. These plans seem to focus on putting logistics support in place, or on putting big money on the table, before we have a good idea of what we are trying to accomplish. Aside from the continuing emphasis on Project Clover as a panacea to all of Page County’s economic concerns, the hard work on analysis is always left for last, so the easy and glamorous work on “big ideas” gets all the attention.

Working as a consultant, and in A-E firms over the last 15 years or so has taught me a lesson – we call this process requirements gathering – you have to know the environment, the stakeholders and interests, and you have to know the issues, not to mention the strengths and weaknesses of the situation – before you commit to a plan.

You can’t propose an answer before you know what the questions are…that’s what I think has happened with the EDA and the Project Clover approach. That’s why Page County has ventured down the pathway of very speculative real estate deals, as opposed to the brass tacks work of learning what your prospects are and selling into your strengths. I read a book a few years ago – “Hope is Not a Strategy” – this stuff is hard work…just seems like we aren't working hard enough on it for some reason.

Someone else said, "If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there."  Seems like we know where we're going with Page County's EDA - we're going to Project Clover.  As far as what we'll find when we arrive...well that's anyone's guess.

Here's an Amazon link to the book I mentioned:

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Page County EDA 2009 Updated Strategic Plan

Today, I’m beginning a review of the 2009 update to the Page County Economic Development Authority’s 2008 Strategic Plan. Past posts in this series have looked at the 2004 plan, and the 2008 plan – the past posts can be found by clicking the EDA label to the right or at the end of this post. The 2009 update begins with a preface, mentioning progress against goals and objectives that were included in the 2008 plan, as well as mentioning the reduction of a full-time position at the County that also supported EDA, which was offset by citizen volunteers, increased involvement from existing members, and collaboration with other organizations such as the Chamber and the Shenandoah Valley Partnership.

As I read this – it’s hardly a plan, it is more a report card on the previous goals and objectives. It’s set up in tables, with the objectives listed in the first column, lead and support roles in the next two, and finally a status shown in the fourth column. There are 24 “priority A” objectives and 11 each of “priority B” and “priority C” objectives.

Most of the objectives are shown with an “in progress” status, although there are four priority a goals shown as “not started yet” –

  • A.7. Develop land use plans targeted to areas around the towns taking into consideration existing infrastructure and future infrastructure planning.
  • A.9. Develop a “fast tracking” process at the County to secure permits. Pursue in conjunction with the Planning Commission and Zoning/Planning Departments appropriate zoning subdivision plans for industrial parks, business parks, technology parks, etc.
  • A.16. Build a portfolio about the County and present it to financial institutions in order to promote and support funding of businesses within Page County.
  • A.18. Establish an annual round table discussion between stakeholders…to promote better planning and coordination of business-related training and education in the County.
There are four priority b objectives that have not been started or were deemed not possible, and seven priority c objectives with this status:

  • B.1. Promote a unified relationship with the towns…
  • B.2. (Not possible due to staff reduction) Have a rep from the Economic Development Department join the Tourism Council.
  • B.6. Department of Economic Development will develop a list of targeted industries and communicate that information to the Technical Training Center and LFCC in order to provide direction regarding skills that will be needed.
  • B.7. Encourage school district to have conversations with students in middle school and high school…
  • C.2. Request tourism funding support from the towns.
  • C.4. Explore the possibility of involving citizen volunteers to assist the Department of Economic Development.
  • C.5. Research how graduation rates compare to other counties and explore what needs to be done to bring Page County to a competitive level.
  • C.6. Educating the County and towns on the importance of including access to utilities with their requirements for development.
  • C.7. Engage the Board of Supervisors on roadway transportation issues and obtain direction to move forward.
  • C.10. Investigate overlay on roadways to prevent future building within widening areas.
  • C.11. Assist in establishing new group (could be an EDA subcommittee)…key issues this group must address are zoning, land use planning, utilities and transportation.
Tomorrow I will take a deeper look at the priority a goals, assessing their progress against the understanding we’d come away with after the previous reviews of the 2008 and 2004 plans. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Bungalow Suburb

Last week I worked from home one day, and took a walk down to Whole Foods for lunch.  It was on the way back that I noticed all the spring flowers through the fog of oak pollen that clouded the air.  So I took some highlight photos of some of the bungalow homes here.

Then there is ours...

I've written about it before, but some of the bungalows in our neighborhood, including the two in the first photos above, appeared in a book called "Bungalow Nation" a few years back.  It also features suburb neighborhoods in other cities, some of them quite surprising.  Our neighborhood began as a streetcar neighborhood in the 1920's, just like many of the ones in the book did. 

Here's a final house from my "tour" - along with an Amazon link to the book.  Hey look at that - it's the cover house!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Of Interest to Rockingham County Readers

Thanks patient readers, for your attention while I recap the recent experience in Page County with the potential Fibrowatt plant here.  Hopefully you'll find this a useful summary, even if you have already read or heard some of this material in the past. 

Because they pitch the technology as green, make a lot of noise about the construction jobs that come with the plant and the residual 30 to 50 jobs that may be created once the plant is up and running, and because they tell a story that other uses of chicken litter will soon be illegal, Fibrowatt tends to get very favorable press. They build upon this with an M.O. that involves locking up support from the poultry industry before the general public learns about them, and then sequestering public discourse with NDAs to local government officials, officials who may be ill-informed about what should and shouldn't be discussed with the citizens they represent - so that Fibrowatt can advance their plans out of the watchful eyes of interested citizens.

After the Page County Board sent a letter thanking Fibrowatt for their interest, but saying that they didn't think the industry fit in with the areas plans, FW has moved on - featured in PN&C and DNR article last month. We've heard they are looking at other locations, probably including Elkton and Waynesboro as alternatives.

Our arguments against FW in Page County centered on three main points:

First, environmental concerns - the FW technology is an incineration process, and there are byproducts. They need a 300-foot stack to disperse the steam and particulate matter - which includes a number of toxins, which they argue are released in miniscule amounts. The follow-up question is, if that is a 7/24/365 operation, when does miniscule become an amount that is overwhelming? Also, there is the matter of the semi truck traffic that will be required to haul the litter - as many as 100 trucks a day making round trips into the plant - the roads aren't designed for this and that is a lot of carbon released through truck exhaust. One could argue that the alternative disposal of chicken litter this way will have a positive impact on watersheds and the Chesapeake Bay, but if litter is respectfully spread with proper and legal regard for proximity to watersheds and the Bay, this isn't a problem in the first place.

Second, the economic impacts - FW claims to create construction jobs, which are short-term or contract-based during the construction period. They are not continuous and require periodic work according to the construction schedule for the plant. Then there is the claim that there are a residual 30+ jobs once the plants open - these jobs come at the cost of eliminating one group of jobs, the independent distributor of chicken litter - we were never satisfied that we could get an accurate count of the net increase in jobs, because these impacts were understated or ignored. Another point is the actual competition for materials that FW will go into once the plant is operational - they mix the litter with wood chips (the raw material that makes up litter) to control humidity for optimal burning. So they compete on the resource side with a potential impact that increases raw materials prices for the farmers. Last one, they enter into long-term contracts with the farmers for the litter at reduced prices - this we heard from our own farmers who said they'd have to do better than that to be taken seriously - creating a squeeze by reducing revenues at the same time as increasing costs.

Third one - the Valley relies on tourism as a major industry, and along the South Fork this means we have to respect the Shenandoah National Park interests in the view shed. The 300-foot stack is one thing, but the continuous output from the stack adding to summertime air quality is quite another. I won't go into the details about the particulates being part of acid rain, etc.

Now, there is a concentration of industrial uses at Elkton and Waynesboro. But it seems to me that this plant has adverse impacts that need to be considered in thorough detail before they are located here. I'd make it clear, as I did in my blog, I'm not so averse to this kind of a plant having a role in the future, as long as you get the location correct - no pocket valleys where the output can residually settle, like Page Valley, etc. I'm not so familiar with the Winchester, but that seems a more optimal location as far as proximity to the poultry industry goes.

There just seem to be a lot of risks associated with the potential plant. We know they are already communicating with Robin Sullenberger and that organization, and they are working over the poultry association. They're lobbying for favorable laws and regulations, and tax breaks and incentives in the state. All of this quietly, out of sight and sound with the general public, who will only be told once the negotiations have progressed to a point where there is no turning back.

So Rockingham County, the sights are now set on your loaction for a potential plant.  I've recapped our analysis above, but you can read more by clicking on the Fibrowatt label below or in the labels column to the right.  And there is plenty more available on both sides of the issue with a simple we search.  You need to start thinking now about what you want to see happen in your area especially now that the prospect is on the table, having moved south into your area, where Elkton and Waynesboro are being considered for plant locations.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Azaleas and Modern Design

It's the time of year when the azaleas at Hawksbill Cabin are blooming.  They are a real prize, and we really appreciate the forethought whichever one of the previous owners planted them in the beds at the front of the house.

It was a chilly, but sunny, spring morning on Sunday as I took a walk around the yard to plan some projects.  I caught site of some nice modern lines from down in the yard and snapped of a few moto-cam shots.

This second photo was taken from underneath the apple tree.  Most of the blossoms are off now, hopefully we had some pollination action there, and will have fruit in September.

One final moto-photo here, a view out the bedroom window, looking across the road to Beaver Run.  There may be a new dam going up over there, I'll keep an eye on it.

Friday, April 16, 2010

It's April so it must be Mary's Rock

On Sunday, after Chris and I went for a hearty breakfast over at the Southern Kitchen in New Market, he headed back home, and I headed back to SNP for a little warm down hike. It was a beautiful day and I thought I might head into the Central District to do the Hawksbill Summit or Stonyman trails, but then I decided I didn’t have enough time for the drives to these hikes, and I decided to try Mary’s Rock instead.

The trailhead is right at the new Panorama rest station, just inside the Park, south of the Thornton Gap entrance. In fact, you can see all of that from the summit, where the 360-degree view is one of this hike’s great features.

Mary and I took this hike last April, when traces of spring were working their way up the mountainside, just as they were on my hike last weekend. I also had an ill-fated attempt to climb it in December, where I wanted it to be the first test of my new Casio pathfinder…the snow held me back, and I turned around after less than 200 feet of climbing because of the conditions.  Here is my record of this hike, from the Pathfinder data bank:

This is a steep and rugged trail, with my altimeter recording 1,130 feet of elevation gain during the 1.7 mile ascent . The trailhead sign advises the hike would take almost four hours, so I was worried about my late start. There were no impediments on Sunday, so I easily made it to the top, and completed the 3.5 mile hike in about 2.5 hours, and I traveled very light, carrying only a liter of water – I encountered some busybody overnighters on the trail who let me know they thought I was unprepared.

One of the things that I always pause to think about on the Mary’s Rock hike is the amount of trail building that’s been done here. Almost the entire route, except for the tenth of a mile spur trail to the summit at the very top, lies on the Appalachian Trail. The downhill edges of the path are curbed with rocks, and the tread of the path is often paved with rocks laid into the ground. So I have these images of CCC teams busting up the rocks, hauling them, and setting them in their places in the 1930’s – that’s plenty of hard work, but I have really grown to appreciate it on this route.

Here are links to my past hikes on this route, including some of the other lore about this trail:

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A New Web-based Guide to Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive

One resource I frequently reference when planning hikes in the Shenandoah National Park is what I call the "Heatwole guide."  The actual title is "Guide to Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive," it was original published by Henry Heatwole in 1978 as a hardcopy volume (I have a copy of the 1988 edition).  The lore of the guide is that Henry painstakingly researched, interviewed, sketched, and wrote about nearly everything there is to know about in the Park, and he updated the book several times before he passed away.

I found the guide's on-line version, which hadn't been updated since the last publication - it still made a good reference for many of the hikes I've taken.

Last year I learned that there has been an ongoing effort to update the guide and republish it on the web.  Finally, it is user-ready after a five year effort.  The team sent me a press release on the new web version earlier this week, which I am re-posting below.  I'm looking forward to consulting the guide for my next hike!
For Immediate Release......

Spring 2010

New Web Based Guide to Shenandoah National Park Announced

After five years of work a new web based, free resource for visitors to Shenandoah National Park is available to enhance the visitor experience. This new guide is designed to provide an orientation for first time visitors and in-depth information about many park elements for all visitors of this well loved national park. The guide features general park information, full coverage of Skyline Drive, a comprehensive set of 110 hike recommendations with new maps and updated hike descriptions as well as a careful look at the park’s history, and insightful background about flora and fauna. It is illustrated with superlative new photography and also includes historic photos from the park’s early days.

The guide is dedicated to Henry Heatwole who authored the popular Guide to Shenandoah Park and Skyline Drive first published in 1978 by the Shenandoah Park Association. Almost 75,000 copies were sold. A generation of users has grown to know, experience, and love the park based on Henry’s knowledge, experience and remarkable insights. His observations range from the eons of the park’s geology, to the reality of the park’s establishment, to the excitement of observing a wildflower blooming along a trail for a short time in the spring. This new guide, though significantly updated, remains basically Henry’s work. It is hoped that several more generations of park users will benefit from his labor of love.

The guide is an all volunteer effort. First steps involved hiking and field checking and updating the text relating to Skyline Drive and the 110 hikes constituting more than 430 miles of trails. The field work was begun by members of the board of the Shenandoah National Park Association, who were soon joined by the members of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club and others. The reviewers found many changes since the original field work was done over thirty years ago. The Park Service generously provided new maps that superimpose the hikes on their base maps.

The new guide can be found at:


It is hoped that future generations will continue to experience and enjoy the visionary expectations of the park’s founders and Henry Heatwole’s love of and insight into most every element of the park.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Jones Run - Doyles River Part 2

This is the second part of my review of the Jones Run/Doyles River hike we took last Saturday. I posted the first part yesterday. There are quite a few additional points of interest about this hike that I came across while we were planning the outing, so along with some more photographs, I thought I might mention them here.

In the post yesterday, I mentioned the three large waterfalls that you encounter while you are on this 6.5 mile trek – one on Jones Run and two more on Doyles River. Because the two streams tumble down separate gorges on the way to their confluence, there are a number of smaller waterfalls and cascades along the path. There were so many we didn’t even keep a count of them.

I took a look at the newly updated and now web-friendly “Heatwole Guide” that I like to consult for my Shenandoah National Park hikes – the link here will take you to a page with this and several other hikes: http://www.guidetosnp.com/web/LogoftheDrive/logs4.aspx . Heatwole mentions the Brown family, settlers in the area starting in the mid-1700’s, as a part of the local culture. This family prospered and expanded, and as I learned in the “Undying Past” book, eventually had a second branch in the North District area as well – the locale Browntown near Bentonville is named after them, as Brown’s Gap here in the South District is. There is an Amazon link to that book at the end of the post.

Heatwole also notes that the Fire Road, which we used to close out our hike and is shown in one of the photos, was built as a turnpike by the Browns. It was used for Civil War traffic by Stonewall Jackson and Jubal Early. The Heatwole guide also mentions a couple of other Civil War sites in his review, including the location of a gun placement by Early’s troops, which allowed for mustering without Union harassment after the defeat at Winchester.

A last note on other sources: earlier this winter Backpacker magazine posted a review of this hike, which can be found with a search for “Jones Run Shenandoah” or similar on their website (down for maintenance as I write, I may come back and update with a link in the future). One of the highlights I recall from that article is a note about the hardwoods in the Doyles River gorge. They are tulip poplars – many of the ones we saw on our hike were more than 100 feet tall. There is more about them on Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tulip_poplar .

As far as a recommendation goes, if you are after a hike with waterfalls, you will get your money’s worth here. There is a nice historical context for the area, and the hardwoods are beautiful, even if they were just leafing out during our trip. But you’ll definitely want to go in the spring, while the streams are flowing. By September, the falls are nearly dry.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Waterfalls Everywhere - Jones Run - Doyles River Loop

On Saturday, Chris, Tom and I managed to finally get out for our first hike of the year. We chose the Jones Run/Doyle’s River Loop as our hike, a 6.5 mile effort that includes three waterfalls ranging from 28 to 63 feet – although since both streams tumble and cascade through gorges, you could say there are a lot more waterfalls than these…there are plenty of smaller ones, I’ve included photos of two of them. Andy, usually our fourth, wasn’t able to join us this time due to a soccer injury.

While we didn't find this hike too challenging, the Park guide describes the round trip as moderately difficult.  There is an altitude change of more than 1,000 feet on this loop as you descend into the gorge and then climb out.  I've kept the rating as a moderate day hike in the label for this post.

The first photo above is of the Jones Run Falls, at 42 feet. As you can see from the map (source is the NPS, this is a GIS product my neighbor Dan worked on, by the way!) – the Jones Run Falls occurs about halfway through the route we took. There was a mile on the AT, then a steady descent to this first one. When I first did this part of the trail last September, there was barely a trickle here – the rocks were slick and wet, but there wasn’t enough to even call this a falls!

At the starting point (photo of Tom and Chris posing by the sign), there are traces of the old farmstead here, including a decaying split rail fence and some apple trees, which were blossoming on Saturday. We met some people in the parking lot who were taking the reverse route than our approach, in fact, most of the people we met on the trail were coming from the opposite direction. There is also a picture of me at the Jones Run Falls trailhead – the PATC does a great job with maps and orientation on these trails in the Park’s Southern District.

I will post more on this hike tomorrow. But I’ll close today’s entry with the table of readings I took with the Pathfinder, tracing the altitude changes on the hike. I still have some work to do on mastering this tool, but I had some fun using the watch along the way on this effort.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Apple Tree in Bloom

Since we didn't have fruit last year, I've been worried about our old apple tree in the front yard.  We were talking about how to prune it even, until the big snow brought down one of the three trunks.

The gardening books say this has to be taken care of by March, and to cut no more than a third any given year.  Since we lost one of three trunks, I figured, no pruning this year. 

Now, the reason we didn't get fruit last year is that there was a late frost that came while all the apples in Page County were in blossom, so no fruit was set - several friends and neighbors have told me about this. 

This year, our tree is covered with blossom, and it looks like the weather will hold long enough that we will see some apples in September.  The tree is the first photo above, and I watched it during the morning on Sunday as the sun moved onto it - plenty of bees and butterflies working over the flowers. 

The showy red buds are out right now too - the big one at home in Alexandria is putting out quite a show.  Here's a photo near the parking area of one of my weekend hikes with a red bud and naturalized apple together.

At this altitude, above 2,500 feet in the Park, spring wasn't quite all the way up in the mountains.  So the rest of the hardwoods haven't leafed out yet.  A couple of days more of this weather and they will be.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Clover Deal...again

It just keeps coming up, this land deal for Project Clover in Page County. Today I am thinking about an EDA meeting that occurred in January 2010 – the meeting minutes are at http://pageforbusiness.com/archives/35/EDA%20Minutes%201-19-10%20Joint%20Meeting.pdf . For background, last year, the Page County Board of Supervisors authorized the purchase of a 200+ acre plot south or Luray. The BOS worked through EDA to make the purchase, and the price was negotiated at $7.5 million – which works out to roughly $40K per acre.

In previous posts about the Page County Economy, I've mentioned the County's economic development plans – the 2004 and 2008 editions, which outline three goals: develop industry, build tourism, and look at sustainable agriculture - as pathways to the future. Next week I’ll take a look at the 2009 update, which was prepared while the Clover negotiations were happening. From what I read, the BOS and EDA believe the land purchase will contribute to one of these goals, for industrial development.

When I posted on the topic of Project Clover in the past, I reported that I simply haven't found anyone who says buying the land was a good idea. Sure, there is an acknowledgement of the need to do something to attract jobs to the County, with a large share of the workforce commuting out for work in good economic times, but the sentiment seems to be that the price for this land, and the need to raise the money for the deal now - poor timing, may simply be a mistake.

I spent some time this morning trying to come to terms with this price of $7.5 million. I found references to two appraisals that were done in 2007 – the height of the economic boom that inflated prices. One valued the undeveloped farmland at $4,300, and the other speculated that a 20-year value of $105K per acre was realistic, assuming that a fully built out industrial park was a benchmark for land values in Page County. Of these two, you’d go with the lower value since nothing is built here yet.

Now, I also came across the assessment on this property, which includes some improvements, including a house. It values the 210 acres at $1.6 million – just more than $7,000 an acre. Even in the Alexandria heydays for real estate, as a rule of thumb, you’d add 20 percent to the appraisal to just values, yielding a price of about $8,400 per acre. The last reference I would make is a listing for 150 acres I found today on the United Country real estate site, for rolling pastureland in Elkton. The listing price is $1.5 million, or $10,000 per acre.

I just haven’t found anything on line that justifies the purchase price – either in remarks from the EDA, BOS, or these market comparisons. Everything I’m reading says this is a bad deal. Many people in the County agree.

I’m not saying this is the way to go, but at this point it seems the County could save itself a couple of million by bagging this purchase, paying the $1 million they are already obligated to – at least that’s how I understand it, paying a kill fee on the rest of the purchase, and buying the Elkton land. You’d come out $3 million ahead with a plan like this one!

Here’s a link to an old Hawksbill Cabin post, for additional background. You can also check out some of the labels: Page County Economy, Page County EDA, and Project Clover, if you are interested.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Spring Flowers Report

With the daffodil drift (here with a glimpse of the pool deck in the background) and asters (near the garden path) all coming up in the last few days, we can finally be assured that the winter is behind us.  That means a lot of activities in the days ahead - spring cleaning sorts of things, maybe some painting touch ups, some gardening, maybe revving up the battle of the species to do something about the carpenter bees and wasps...

Mary has wanted to move the forsythias from their spot down in the front yard to a new, sunnier location.  We'd selected a spot closer to the top of the little hill up front to move them to - the old spot seemed sunny enough, but we'd overlooked all the shelter and shade in that spot from the oaks.  See, when we first planted the forsythia, the oaks hadn't leafed out.

So Mary and my sister moved the shrubs on Sunday morning.  We take inspiration from this breath taking planting in our neighbor's yard...and hope that the plants will prosper in this new location, eventually camoflaging the pool equipment.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Frazier Discovery Tour: An Easy SNP Day Hike

Like millions of our friends and neighbors in the Mid-Atlantic region this weekend, once the sun was out so boldly on Saturday – with temperatures rising into the 80’s – we were desperate to get out for some exercise. My sister was visiting so we went up to Shenandoah National Park.

We decided we should do a short hike, and picked the Frazier Discovery Trail near the Loft Mountain Wayside. This little trail is 1.4 miles long and has an altitude change of 455 feet. It has some great points of interest – I think it is one of the most charming trails in the Park, and it is definitely one that young families should take in with the kids.

Along the ridge of the trail, there is a progression from old pastures from one of the legacy farms that were up here on these hills before the Park came into existence, through a maturing second-growth forest, then a ridge with a view, then back through an older forest to the starting point. Going in the counter-clockwise direction we chose for our route leads you to a natural amphitheatre of overhanging rocks when you have descended about half-way back down – it’s a place where I always imagine early Americans taking shelter from a summer storm.

The hike takes at most 2 hours, and the view from the mountain top makes it very worthwhile.

As part of my review for this post, I wanted to note a new source for trail information in the Park – the Heatwole guide, which has been updated and is now indexed on the web at http://www.guidetosnp.com/web/ . I’ve used this guide over the years for research on prospective trails and was very happy to see it is finally published. I’ll have a future post on it, but wanted to get the link up here early.

One other thing to add, following up on advisories I’ve already seen on my fellow outdoorsy bloggers’ sites – the ticks are out! Read up and take the precautions. We did not encounter deer ticks on this hike, but we did find one conventional pest hitching a ride with us once we got back to the car.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Easter Buffalo

There is a little back route I take sometimes when I am returning from errands Food Lion, Wal-mart, Tractor Supply Company, or the Page County Co-op in Luray.  It takes us through some rolling pastures and farms, where there are a few poultry houses and a flock of goats in addition to a lot of beefs.

Last summer driving through there I spotted three or four really big animals mixed in with the normal-sized cows.  I looked at them carefully before I realized that there was a small herd of buffalo mixed in with the group.  Ever since, whenever I drive through here, I hope that they will be out in the pasture and close enough to the road for a phone cam shot.

Nothing doing all winter long, and I even had begun to think...Ted's Montana Grill.

Well, to my surprise, as we were driving back from Luray on Sunday using this route, one of the buffalo was down in the pasture near the road, so I was able to shap this shot - it's on zoom, so not the best.  Unwittingly, the buffalo is also setting up the argument for riparian buffers and stream banks erosion measures, but let's not go into the technical discussions this morning.

I was happy to finally get this photo for the blog!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Pictures of the Inn

I mentioned earlier in the week that a neighborhood institution, Jordan Hollow Farm Inn, is in foreclosure.  A few weeks ago, the trustee let me come in and take a look around, I brought some friends with me to help me check out the overall condition.  I know my business is all over town on this prospect - but I thought I would share a couple of the photos I took while we visited the property.

Here is the first view guests have as they enter the property to check in or go to the restaurant.  The white house in the background housed the restaurant - it is actually comprised of four old cabins that have been assembled together.  The oldest dates to 1795.

Here is a view of the main lodge building.  Ten rooms here, with another nearby that has four.  These range from a small room to a large suite, and all have doors to the parking/entry area as well as a door of to a balcony or patio that overlooks a small stream. 

Here is one of the cabins - there are six of these, up a hill that overlooks the rest of the inn and has a great view of Hawksbill Mountain over in Shenandoah National Park.  These are all set up with queen beds with a seating area to watch television, plus the French doors open to the view.  There are porches where you can sit out and enjoy the view, which is pretty spectacular in the Fall, as you can imagine.

Last photo in the tour, here is a look down at the rest of the inn from the hillside.  This was taken on a rainy March weekend, so the clouds hide a lot of the Park view. 

It's a nice property.  If you are interested in more details, let me know.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Meeting our local artists - Lisa Woods

One the best parts about our recent work on the Fibrowatt episode was the chance to get to know our Page County neighbors a little better. There was a wide range of folks from the community who got involved in doing the research about the environmental and health related impacts of a chicken litter plant on the area.

One of the people we had the opportunity to meet is local artist Lisa Woods, whose website, http://www.punkspeak.com/,  describes her as, “Known for her cat carvings and paintings, Lisa Woods is an artist who loves the outdoors, working with wood, and Tempera Batiks. Inspired by her surroundings as she creates a variety of work ranging from wood carvings to original tempera batiks, all of her work is original with some limited print reproductions available.”

Although my phone cam doesn’t do the work justice, Lisa came by for a visit a few weeks back and shared some photos of her work on note cards. We got together for the visit to talk about Page County issues and Fibrowatt, but also because we had a small piece of the apple tree that hadn’t been taken away, and Lisa thought she might be able to work with it. On one of the photos here you can see a work in progress, how the sculpture develops out of the hardwood. There is a thought that the apple stump in the front yard and the dogwood stump in the back may have one of these pieces inside of them waiting to come out.

Lisa spent some time working with the Page County EDA a few years back, and her insights on the strategy and goals of the organization have helped me here on the blog as I try to learn and understand more about some of the economic issues that we see there. It’s very interesting to hear about the things that have been tried in the community – things that worked in some cases, and others that haven’t – as we try to deal with the chronic under-employment and the ups and downs of agriculture and tourism, two very cyclical industries.

Lisa’s work is shown on a continuous basis at C’ville Arts cooperative studio in Charlottesville. The website is http://www.charlottesvillearts.com/ , and it turns out that its located downtown in the pedestrian mall, a great location. We’re looking forward to heading over there sometime this spring.

Finally, as I prepared for this post this week, Lisa sent news that her work will be on display all month at The Cat’s Cradle, 124 S. Main St., in Harrisonburg. The gallery will be participating in the first Fridays event this weekend also – link is http://downtownhburg.wordpress.com/2010/03/30/first-fridays-downtown-museum-gallery-walk-April-2/ . Lisa also has some work on display at the Shenandoah Valley Frame Shop in Shenandoah.

So, despite the stress and challenges of the community’s successful effort to stop the initiative to bring a Fibrowatt plant to Page County, we had some very positive outcomes from it. For Mary and me, the chance to meet Lisa and some other neighbors was a big part of that.