Ramble On

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Summary of Fibrowatt Posts

In April, at the invitation of Hburgnews.com, I took all my past posts on Fibrowatt and summarized them into a five-part series.  There are still a number of people finding this blog from a search on that firm's name, including many in the Georgia community that is a candidate for a project and elsewhere.

To streamline your reading on the topic, here are links to the summaries on Hburgnews...you are certainly welcome to browse the "Fibrowatt" label below for additional information about the Page County experience.


Cabin Jim  

Clarendon Construction - June 2010, part 2

For the second post this month on this topic, I wanted to give an update on a project that has been in the works for a year or two, with preconstruction activities going on since the fall of 2009.  But activities have really picked up in the last couple of months, so it's time to add this Clarendon project to the list.

From a development standpoint, the project, called The Views, has some interesting aspects to it - but it's also kind of amusing; not without controvery; and in my opinion, ugly.  Sorry for that.  Well, not really.

The plan is to develop an "airspace" building over an old church in Arlington, with eight to ten floors of residential above two floors that will continue to be used as a church.  In a dense urban environment such as we have in this Arlington neighborhood, squeezing more and more use out of the available square footage is inevitable.  It's just that sometimes, an attempt to be creative heads off in a truly unfortunate direction.  This project is simply an assault on one's sense of aesthetics.

The in progress photos show the demolition of the old sanctuary, leaving the portal into the old church standing for now.  One photo was taken at ground level looking into the lot, the other is the view out of my office windows.  The ground level photo reminds me of a bombed out old cathedral I once saw at a monestary in Kiev.  The project itself brings to mind a similar "church +" project in the Rosslyn area that my friends and I call "gas 'n' god" - the sanctuary in that case being built in the airspace over a gas station.

The project, sene in the developer's concept materials here, is offset one block from the others that I have been tracking in this series, and involves building a new sanctuary and other church associated areas on the first floor.  A separate entry and core building functions will be built within the footprint to support the residential tower that will start on the third floor above the church.

For controversy, this project isn't short of it.  Because of the close association with the church, and the desire to offer this housing to low income residents, the hearings and communications have led to confusion about whether the subsidies for building these apartments might actually benefit the church.  Courts have decided that due to the structure of the project - the two uses will actually become condominiums that share the property, the developer has been able to segregate funding and future ownership so that no public funds are involved in the new church use.

I think it's a creative solution to the density problems we'll continue to face with the continued urbanization of this area in Arlington.  The real estate - the land here - was valued at almost $15 million when planning got underway.  Those values are going to drive new uses...I just wish in this case they could have done a better job designing the project.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Mary's Workplace

Mary is lucky enough that for the second time in her career her workplace is the grand National Building Museum. I’ve included some highlight photos that hardly do the place justice, including a couple of shots of some outside details, including terra cotta sculptures and friezes, and of the Corinthian columns that screen the interior atrium, which are described as some of the largest classical columns in the world.

The National Building Museum describes its home as follows, summarized from the NBM website:

“…Built between 1882 and 1887, the project began following a Senate Appropriations Committee approval of $250,000 to purchase a suitable site and construct a fireproof building for the US Pension Bureau’s headquarters…The building was designed for two distinct functions: to house the Pension Bureau and to provide a suitably grand space for Washington’s social and political functions.”

-From http://www.nbm.org/about-us/historic-building/

Mary’s current work is with a government organization that guides and oversees the design process for significant elements of US culture, including buildings, monuments, and even medals and awards. In fact, several examples of this work are part of the exhibition she led that is currently on display at the NBM – see http://www.nbm.org/exhibitions-collections/exhibitions/century-of-design.html.  That’s why I visited her at lunch time a few days ago, to check out the show.

She also worked at the museum a few years back as a curator, and before that, she worked in development. One of the last shows she did in this role (she is credited as Guest Curator for this one) was on the Anacostia Waterfront, and is visible on the NBM site at http://www.nbm.org/exhibitions-collections/exhibitions/dc-builds.html.

Two other highlights were the “On Track: Transit and the American City” exhibition, and a series on Smart Growth topics that was done in collaboration with the Urban Land Institute.

Her work is interesting and rewarding – that’s something we all wish for, but the workplace she gets to go to is really something special. There aren’t a lot of places like this special building around.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Vegetable Patches

It occurred to me that I haven't posted with a status on the two vegetable patches we have going on - the traditional container garden in Alexandria, or the bag-patch I am trying out in Stanley. 

Starting with the patch out in Stanley - where I have started a variety of plants from seed, planting directly into bags of topsoil from Wal-Mart.  I took the idea from "Mother Earth News" - the advantages are that the soil is pastuerized before it is shipped, so weed seeds and insects are eliminated, and the bags provide a barrier to any lurking in the soil beneath.  I have green and yellow summer squash here, and also tried cucumbers and eggplants.

The cucumber did not germinate, so I replaced that with a watermelon vine I found at Wal-Mart, although I am not seeing a lot of progress.  The eggplants germinated, but never grew more than an inch and ultimately were fried in the sun, so I replaced them with some white petit pan squash.  The yellow and green squash are going absolutely crazy though, and I saw quite a few blossoms - some just opening, some already pollinated and closed. 

So we'll see what we get next weekend.  Walking around back there to water, the area is a riot of other life, including spiders, grasshoppers, and praying mantises.  Hopefully all of this, combined with the source of the soil, will keep the hated cucumber beetles away; just to make sure, I have a Sevin-like product I have been using - doesn't seem to be causing problems with the other garden residents, which is great news.

Back in Alexandria, Mary is having her usual great success with the tomatoes and peppers.  We haven't hit full stride on the harvest yet but she is already getting tomatoes, and there are a bunch of peppers on the plant just starting to form and grow.

My two squash plants here are casualties to the cucumber beetle.  Each blossom that has been pollinated and closes produces a feeble little squash that soon withers on the vine.  I have tried the Sevin-like product here, but I think the problem is complex, starting with the old soil that has been in the garden for a couple of years.  While the plants are still alive and still giving blossoms, I've pretty much given up on seeing any squash from these.

Complementing both gardens are some purple flowers - the hostas finally bloomed out in Stanley, and the hydrangeas in Alexandria are still going strong.  In Stanley, we've also got a nice mature planting of bee balm near the garden.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Clarendon Construction - June 2010, part 1

I stopped by the Arlington office this week on an errand and took a moment to check on the progress on the two main building projects.  There is a third, although I haven't posted anything on it yet - it is a controversial topic in Arlington and I can't say that I really appreciate it either...that will be the topic of a "Part 2" post next week.

Here are the two main buildings that we have been watching go up across the street.  Now it is pretty clear that the building on the left will be residential and the one on the right will be office - at least I think so.  The fenestration leads me to this hypothesis.

Still have some exterior finishing going on up on the office building penthouse, and the grounds have to be redone.  Traffic is almost returned to normal over there on that side of the block, and I am sure that loads of work continues inside.

On the second building, the masonry is in progress and they have already gotten up a couple of storeys.  The detail isn't clear in this photo, but the purpose of the little wooden structure on the right side of the building is clear now, there is a lot of masonry mortar cast offs that cover the plywood sheets, which keep the material off of the Hard Times equipment.

Still a couple of months of exterior work to go here.

Next week I will post a follow-up with a look at a new building getting underway in this area.  It uses a smart growth new urbanism concept...even though I generally appreciate these approaches to dense development, I am not sold on this one for a couple of reasons.  More on that later.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

"... has been let go"

Between the Page News and Courier and the “LurayVa” blog (link below) I try to stay up-to-date with how things are going in the County. It just seems to me that Page County’s small community (the 2000 Census reports the County population as 23,177 – as compared to Alexandria City’s 2000 population of 128,283, for example) has taken the economic shock much harder than other places in Virginia. And that’s why I spend a lot of time researching the situation and writing about it here on the Hawksbill Cabin blog.

Although the County passed an increase on property taxes last year, there was still budget pressure this year. The Board of Supervisors have just gone through a round of reconciling the budget to a figure of about $58-million, but along the way faced some tough choices. Some of the controversial ones were the closing of Grove Hill Elementary School, stopping construction of a new cell at the landfill, and decisions on levels of funding for the Economic Development Authority.

Another significant decision was to retract the offer of the County’s CTO position to Dave McClure, who had been working as an IT consultant. The offer was made by the past county administrator Tom Cardman, without consultation to the BoS. Stopping the hiring action subsequently became a high priority.

There have been reports about layoffs of County personnel – and there has been a lot of discussion about the justifications of past and current decisions being made on this account. Sometimes the press and discussion seems to be arguing more about the people in these positions rather than about the need for these positions…I think this is a response to the arbitrary decision-making and lack of transparency of the past, something the current BoS seems to be correcting.

However, for two weeks running, over on LurayVa, there has been a post headlined “… has been let go” – it will be good to finally see us turn the corner on this difficult economy.

The LurayVa blog is at http://lurayva.wordpress.com/ . There is typically a good discussion associated with each post there.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Small Annual Maintenance Matter

In the spring clean up department, a few weeks back we had the drive regraded, and while he was at it, Mickey put in new gravel.   The paths and driveway look fantastic for a couple of weeks after this...

Unfortunately at the first big rain, we find a new gulley on the downhill side of the drive, and we can begin to observe as our gravel begins the journey first out into the road and eventually over into Beaver Run.  I am quite sure that I have gravel as far down the Shenandoah as Front Royal by now.

I used to look at this as one of the small projects...but now I recognize that it is at minimum an annual task -  unless we spring for getting the drive way paved.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Pool Opening: The Dude Abides

Tammy and the team from Uncle D's came out yesterday to open the pool.  Before I write up the report she gave, I'll post a bit on the prep I did for this.

First things first, I brought the Dude out of hibernation in the shed.  Some readers may recall that our beloved pool robot was named "the Dude" in a reader poll back in 2008.  He is a real work horse and source of entertainment.  Some weekends, I don't even go in the pool, settling instead for putting the Dude to work and watching from the brick terrace.  With pool opening imminent, I got him ready to stand by.

And that is just what he did yesterday.  After taking the cover off and starting the process, Tammy decided it would be best not to put the Dude in the pool...She wrote, "Well your pool is NOT pretty and blue right now!! It is open but really green. We did not put the pool rover in there because you could not even see in the water."

Some of the other stuff I did this weekend to get ready for the opening was to clear all of the litter from the pine tree away.  It settles and steeps on the pool cover during the winter, so it was a priority to clean that periodically.  Still, there was a lot of decaying plant matter there - I am sure that it contributed to the condition of the water.

Also, there was a lot of accumulated stuff around the deck and on the patio down there.  After about two hours I had everything gathered in the corner, as shown here.  Just looking at these results - although I hated losing that big pine, it will probably be a good thing for the pool filter and pump not to have to deal with all this.

Tammy said she'd be back on Wednesday to check in to see how things are cleaning up.  I will also head out for a day trip this weekend to check in - trying to get everything ready for the Fourth!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Trees Before and After

We had to get a bunch of tree work done this year - in fact, these tasks have held up getting the pool opened.  And taking care of it has led to the realization that we probably have five or six more pines to take down, unfortunately.  I've got some photos to post of all of this, starting with the apple tree.

The apple tree is poised for a bumper crop this year.  Unfortunately the stress of the snow last winter left this old tree in poor shape, and we noticed that the second of the tree's originally three trunks had split.  So that's gone now, but the remaining trunk seems healthy and strong.  Once again, I forgot to save the wood for our artist friend Lisa.  You wouldn't believe all the golf ball sized green apples all over the yard!
The second, and more problematic tree, was the big pine.  This one had a pronounced lean that showed up after the winter, and I knew there was trouble when the hawks (check the label "Hawks" on this post) didn't return to nest here this year - they are nearby, I see them flying through the woods from time to time. 

So we also took this one down, and a couple of others that were sickly.  Now we've got a big open space in the front yard, and the sky is opened up overhead.  The pool will be cleaner this year as a result, and probably warmer.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Hawksbill Cabin on the Radio -

The guys on the Speak Out radio show invited me on to talk about the letter to the PNC editor I wrote last week.  They've already got the material up as an mp3 and podcast.  Here's a link: 


I'm on from 13:10 to 23:40 -
I will figure out how to get a link up on the page to the show in the next few days.

The View from SNP's Big Meadows

On my vacation I took in a couple of those easy day hikes around the Big Meadows lodge up in Shenandoah National Park.  I freelanced a combination of two of them, as a matter of fact, with the transition happening on a little outcropping near the lodge that is called Blackrock (not to be confused with the other Blackrock in the Park, which includes a little rock scramble).

I was out early enough that the haze that sometimes comes out midday hadn't appeared yet, so I was lucky to have these incredible views.  The first one here actually looks out to the northwest, towards Stanley and Luray.  Our neighborhood is just at the line of the hill in the foreground - I know it's hard to make out.

Click on the photo and you can just make out the purple roof of the barn at Wisteria Vineyards, and the lodge of the closed Jordan Hollow Farm Inn.  We'd be just to the left/south of them in the patch of woods.  In fact, when our house was first built, you could see the Big Meadows Lodge - but the trees have all grown up and we have a forest view now.

Also here is a view to the southwest, to Tanner's Ridge.  Here the SNP boundary swings out to the west along the ridgeline, making this one of the widest sections of the Park.   

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Dan's Crop o' Hops

We had a little errand to run up to Sally and Dan's last weekend.  We missed them, but while we were there, I snuck around to take a look at the garden.  Everything in this patch is done organically - there's a good half acre or so under cultivation.

Dan is a home brewer - I've posted on the IPA he's been perfecting over the last few years a couple of times now.  Check the "Beaver Run Brewery" label on this post or in the directory...

He grows several varieties of hops, including German and North American ones.  From the photo, it's obvious they are coming along.  He reports, " The hops are already forming their cones and should be harvested in a few weeks. Seems early. "

What the heck, here's an old photo of a past brew, taken on a fall day at their porch.  I'll be taking him up on any offers to test the new batch.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Page County Data Center Wrap Up

I edited the material in these posts down for a PNC letter to the editor, which appears as submitted below.  A lot has happened in Page County on these matters just this week, so this material is almost moot at this point. 

Dear Editor,

Recently I finished a data center feasibility study, so I thought I would share some of what I learned. I’ll focus on just two elements of my concerns in this letter: the competition, and how quickly data center technology changes.

Digital Realty Trust and Terremark are nearby in Ashburn and Culpeper. Digital has an occupancy cycle of just six months, and has land and infrastructure for expansion. Terremark has a secure data center “outside the blast zone” up and running, with 50,000 square feet of space ready to go. Without signed agreements to occupy the data center before it is built, can Page County really expect compete with them in this marketplace?

Also, large data centers are obsolete in five years. Microsoft, Google, and Intel usually just sell off to other companies ready to “grow into” their hand-me-down facilities, and build new ones.

Sun, HP and other technology vendors have started using sea freight containers that don’t even need a facility to house them anymore. The containers cost as little as $500,000 each, and ten boxes may do the job the entire $16.5 million Page County data center can do as designed. By the way, people cannot work in these containers, and they add few technology jobs - they are simply replaced when they wear out.

With the County stretched so thin in so many ways, it doesn’t seem like Page County is ready to swing for the fences in the data center industry. It is hard to imagine that such a high risk, high cost idea is the one that is going to save our bacon. There are many low risk, low cost goals and objectives in the EDA Strategic Plan that are being ignored because of the data center hoopla – why not pick a few of these and go for some solid base hits?

Best regards,
“Cabin Jim”

About this Page County Data Center...post 5, Final

Post 5 – Summing Up

You know, as a Page County taxpayer, I have only brought the topic up because I genuinely want to see us prosper and grow – and I honestly want for our Board of Supervisors to be successful. I hope these posts provide them with some additional data they can use as they consider next steps for the County and EDA.

I mentioned some preliminary concerns in my first post, when I said that it is hard to believe that anyone is entertaining the concept of building one of these high risk, high cost facilities in Page County. The industry just changes so fast, and technology has changed this much since the idea first came up…this just seems to be a case where the due diligence has to be thorough and accurate.

Why would a lender give EDA, Premier Technical Services, or anyone else a $20+ million construction loan for a data center facility, especially if the borrower has never built, operated, or perhaps even worked in one?

- and especially to build one on speculation, in a location where the infrastructure has not yet even been extended to support this kind of technical facility.

I am not sure where the financing for such a facility would come from today’s financial market – unless there are signed contracts with tenants for the space. Especially when well financed – self financed – professionals like Digital and Terremark are already swarming the market with competing, up-to-date modular solutions, already built or under construction, that won’t go obsolete as new generation technology comes on line.

In conclusion, it seems like the County is just stretched so thin in so many ways, I don’t think Page County is ready to swing for the fences in the data center industry. It is hard to imagine that such a high risk, high cost idea is the one that is going to save our bacon. There are many low risk, low cost goals and objectives in the EDA Strategic Plan that are being ignored because of the data center hoopla.

Why not pick a few of these and go for some solid base hits?

Board of Supervisors Developments

Over on the Lurayva blog, Keith has a post up about one of the outcomes of last night's Board of Supervisors meeting...I've included the post below, with a link following.  No doubt, there will be more information to follow, maybe in the paper today or soon after.

In a suprising move, the Board of Supervisors tonight had voted to eliminate the position of the Economic Development Director, which was held by Tom Cardman. Since Tom Cardman has been let go, the County Administrator position has also been vacated, which will be held by Board of Supervisors Chairman, Johnny Woodward until the position is filled. The budget has not been passed at tonights meeting. It was reported that Tom Cardman had not attended tonights meeting.


About this Page County Data Center...post 4

Post 4 – The Changing Technology

Moore’s law still applies (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore's_law ), so capability, capacity, and infrastructure requirements continue to grow at a very fast pace. I just want to give two examples of change here – the equipment and the alternatives to data center facilities.

Large companies in this business that own their own facilities plan on obsolescence in three to five years, before selling it off to other companies ready to “grow into” their hand-me-down facilities. Is this a market that you, with your backgrounds as long-time Page County residents, can see us competing in – and succeeding in?

The racks and servers themselves populating data centers can also be obsolete in two to five years and their owners will have to replace them. However, this process can also mean an update to the facility at the same time the new equipment is brought in. If our data center were fully populated with 500 or so racks, when the recap cycle begins we’d need to recap those at a rate of one every other day. That is a lot of equipment to ship in and out of Page County – we can handle the truck traffic, but our roads would need to be improved to handle shipping sensitive, expensive equipment in and out of here.

Major technology vendors have even come up with a technology that lets users avoid the cost of a data center facility altogether: companies like Sun, HP, Microsoft, Google, etc., are advertising new modular systems that use sea freight containers and can be installed anywhere – they don’t even need a facility to house them anymore. These boxes, costing from $500,000 to $1.5 million each (an example is at http://nebula.nasa.gov/about/  - the data center is in the white container next to the antenna) are designed to allow users to avoid hard facility costs, like the $16.5 million Page County construction budget.

By the way, people cannot work in these containers. They are simply built with enough redundancy that no service is required…and they are replaced when they wear out.

Next Post – Summing Up

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

About this Page County Data Center...post 3

Post 3 – The Costs

I recall from past PNC articles that the PTS strategy for a data center included cost estimates of $16.5 million. Costs will surely have increased by now, maybe even to $25 million or more, but there is also significant infrastructure to be built.

For power, it’s reasonable to think that the facility will need upwards of five megawatts of electrical power – during the Fibrowatt discussions, we learned that the County’s entire power usage was around 25 megawatts, so this plant will require almost 20 percent of the County’s entire power load!

Most clients are sensitive to power availability and quality, so the building will probably need a second power source, especially if the clients will be government organizations (American Operations, the company noted in last week's PNC, is essentially a business development specialist for the federal market sector). Some of these clients are sensitive enough about real-time access to their data they might require a second, generator back-up in addition to the grid connection.

I learned that the power company will pay for the first connection, but the developer/owner/builder is usually responsible for the second grid connection, which can cost $1 million per megawatt; for five megawatts, Page County will need an additional $5 and $10 million just for the power infrastructure.

…and power is just the first of three critical needs for a data center – it will also need cooling, and communications, this last to be addressed by the Broadband Authority.  For our purposes, it's enough just to look at the power costs.

Next Post – The Changing Technology

Some Splainin on the Data Center Posts

I received some questions on why I left the roles and responsibilities here in a relatively unclear state.  That's because they need some clarification as far as the data center discussions go.

I understand that the EDA's role is courting and attracting business to Page County.  However, a lot of people are appearing in the PNC making statements about the data center - very few of them associated with PTS, the company who announced they wanted to build it in the first place.  The letters I am referrring to are the recent ones by Steve Dave McClure and Bill Shuler, where it's understood they have roles within the County (McClure calls himself the CTO, Shuler is vice chair of the EDA and BBA), yet here they are championing a data center...it gets very confusing to me about whether this is a public sector effort or private sector initiative - it belongs firmly in the private sector... 

Since so many of these people making public statements aren't being clear on their roles, I have left a lot of these details in a not specific state.

I just don't have the visibility into these roles to assign who's responsible and who isn't. It seems like one big "them" to me, and that's my point.  Without clear lines of responsibility, without a game plan, and without due diligence, it's ripe for SNAFUs.  That's why I have posted this stuff the way I did.

Cabin Jim

About this Page County Data Center...post 2

Post 2 – The Competition

As we think about who we would compete with if Page County were to have a data center, let’s focus on just two nearby companies with data center facilities.  I've heard that there may be existing buildings in industrial parks down in Harrisonburg along I-81 that may be suitable for data centers, but I'm not sure about them.  We can get an idea of what to expect, not only in building a data center here, but in finding customers for it, from Digital Realty Trust and Terremark, who operate data center facilities in the Ashburn and Culpeper areas.

• Digital (NYSE Stock Symbol DRT; http://digitalrealtytrust.com/ ) has pioneered a modular development process that not only reduces the construction/occupancy cycle from as long as 3 years (which is what we can likely expect for Page County) to one that can be as short as six months. Digital is poised to expand their facilities in the Dulles area, already acquiring the needed land and infrastructure connections.

• Terremark (NASDAQ Symbol TRMK; http://www.terremark.com/technology-platform/nap-of-the-capital-region.aspx ) already has a secure data center – “outside the blast zone” – up and running, ready to accommodate clients requiring space as large as 50,000 square feet or more.

These are large, specialized organizations with quick and easy access to the financial resources needed to build these facilities. Can Page County really compete with them in this marketplace? You can’t bet the farm and get into this market speculatively – without signed agreements to occupy the space before it is built, especially if you are new to the market, like we are. 

And we don't even have the infrastructure trunks extended to the planned locations.  What are the schedule and cost implications of that issue?

Next Post – The Costs

Monday, June 14, 2010

About this Page County Data Center...

Post 1 – Intro

I’ve been thinking about the discussions that have been showing up in the Page News & Courier the last few weeks about the prospect of a data center in Page County. I submitted a letter to the PNC, but in case they don’t pick it up –

I guess the use of words like “bickering” and “playing on the internet” in last week’s paper have finally set me off, so I have a series of posts ready to put up over the next few days, based on some things I’ve learned being around the data center industry the last few years.

Data center technology and processes change very fast, so examining risks and understanding the deal thoroughly are critical. My research has convinced me that this is a prospect to approach with eyes wide open, frankly skeptical of buying into the concept as a panacea that will easily cure all economic problems.

To be honest, as well intentioned as those involved in this prospect may be, it is hard to believe that anyone is entertaining the concept of building one of these high risk, high cost facilities in Page County. My letter to PNC is brief so it fits their guidelines; in these posts, I’ll focus on three elements of my concerns: the competition, the costs, and how quickly the technology for data centers is changing.

I don’t think anybody is doing anything intentionally wrong, and I would never presume to suggest that. The industry just changes so fast. Technology has changed this much since the idea first came up, and this just seems to be a case where the due diligence has to be thorough and accurate.

It’s probably best to be prudent, don’t you think?

The County is just stretched so thin, in so many ways, I don’t think Page County is ready to swing for the fences in the data center industry. It is hard to imagine that such a high risk, high cost idea is the one that is going to save our bacon. There are many low risk, low cost goals and objectives in the EDA Strategic Plan that are being ignored because of the data center discussions. Why not pick a few of these and go for some solid base hits.

Next Post – The Competiton

Tech Watch Geek: Nearly Optimal

I have a few Shenandoah National Park trail reviews to put up - as I mentioned in a post last week I finally completed all of the "Easy Day Hikes" in the Gilbert book.  On the final day of my vacation, I went out to check the box on the last two hikes, and as I started the first one - the "Traces" trail, I saw an opportunity to take a quick altitude measurement and compare it to the NPS map at the trailhead - shown here - where the altitude was reported as 2,710 feet.

I took the short walk over to the little ampitheater - it was a cozy little outdoor place where they show movies and do ranger programs at the Matthews Arm campsites.  I took my reading at the stand where they usually put the projector.

As shown in the final photo, my watch read out 865 meters - roughly 2,682 feet.  The air pressure must have been optimal this time, because that is the closest reading I've had so far, only 29 feet, or 9 meters, off. 

I forgot to take this opportunity to set a reference altitude, so when I do the hike reviews for Matthews Arm and Bird's Nest Summit, I may not have a correction factor for those posts. 

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Quiet Moment

Taking a few days off from blogging.  Mary and I said goodbye to our beloved Chow mix, Sofie, last night. 

Mary found Sofie as a stray at 18th & T in the District in 1996, and the dog has been with us ever since.  She and her sister Gracie made a great pair.  Sofie was a feisty and strong little girl, ever the faithful watch dog.  She went through an awful lot in her long life, but always had the sweetest disposition and personality.  So we will miss her.  And we'll need just a little time away.

Thanks for the kind words and thoughts today.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Corbin Cabin/Nicholson Hollow: an "easy" SNP day hike

As I prepared for my week off, one of the things I thought I might like to try and do was complete the last five hikes (out of 26) in the “Best Easy Day Hikes” book (Amazon link at end of post). Since Chris was coming out for Sunday on Memorial Day weekend, we thought we should take on the one that sounded the most challenging of those five, which combines the Corbin Cabin Cutoff and Nicholson Hollow Loop.

This hike passes through an area that was fairly well populated before the Park was formed – the Corbin’s lived here, of course, in a cabin that still stands and is available for rental from the PATC (there’s a photo of Chris standing near the backdoor – we didn’t realize the cabin was rented until we went around front, but fortunately we didn’t disturb anyone). Also the Nicholson family lived here, farming a lot of the down sloping and relatively flat terrain, although the forest has grown over the clearings here as with other parts of the Park.

In addition to the Corbin Cabin, which is in good shape, there is a second, easily visible cabin called the Nicholson Cabin, now abandoned and just across the Hughes River. Shown in the photo at the top of this post, the guide books highlight this cabin as a worthwhile exploration “to see how the mountain people lived.” I came away with my usual impression of hard work, but strong community – something a lot simpler than how we typically define our lifestyles today.

There are other highlights on the trail – many traces of the “mountain people.” We found a small spring, and of course, enjoyed the two river crossing – Chris took a photo of me crossing the Hughes River. Near the top of the trail, in both directions, the mountain laurels were blooming, not quite at peak, but profuse.

As far as technical details go, I’d consider this more of a moderate outing, despite its inclusion in the easy day hikes book. It’s an adventure, no doubt, because of the things to check out and learn about down in the hollow. We did the 4.3 mile circuit that included a stretch of the AT, and experienced a total altitude change of about 1,350 feet – including some very steep sections.

Because I like doing it this way, we also reversed the typical direction. This approach makes the trails seem a little more private, even on a crowded weekend like Memorial Day. We had a late start, so there were fewer people on the trail – we crossed paths with four other parties, including an older couple who were about halfway up the steep climb back out of the hollow. I checked my Pathfinder and told them they were 2/3 of the way back up – “only about 400 feet of climbing left!” – but they didn’t seem to appreciate my confident and accurate report.

A quick check of the Heatwole guide (online at http://www.guidetosnp.com/web/) reveals the possibility of additional discoveries on this trail, but we weren’t able to pick these out: a third abandoned cabin, rock piles, ruins of other farm buildings, maybe even grape vines. I could pick out the areas that had been cleared for pastures and farming, though, I’ve seen enough of these areas to be able to note that.

For sheer exercise, I’d consider this hike a pretty good one, and it rates highly as a Park experience, or adventure. I think I might like to try it again, along with Snead Farm, in colder weather so that the undergrowth is gone and the snakes are hibernating, allowing a fuller exploration.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Spring Hydrangeas

The immediately previous owners told us they had a gardening philosophy in the Alexandria yard.  Summing it up, they said, "We'll plant it, and if it takes, so be it."  So we have an apricot tree - that has surprisingly held it's own in a climate that is clearly not suited for it, and we have hydrangeas.  Also, we have a red bud as a street tree out front - that's an indigenous species but not suited for life as a street tree.
The hydrangeas are the real deal though.  We have blue and pink varieties, in the pom pom style and the nurse's hat style.  Last year we had heavy rains the week after they bloomed, and they bent to the ground, so I didn't take a picture.  This year, sunny mornings and low humidity created a hydrangea riot, so I got some phone cam shots.

Also, Mary made a little arrangement, shown above, with my cow picture on the mantel.  I like cows. And hydrangeas.

Luray's June Triathlon Event

Posting a quick follow-up on the Triathlon event in Page County last weekend.  This is a new race, and over 300 participants were there - quite a few I recognized from last August's races.  There were participants in their teens to their 70's.

My volunteer assignments this time were handing out timing chips and then traffic/direction guidance out on the bike route.  I met Deputy Good from the Page Co. Sheriff's and we had a good chat about the area and event.  I think there may be one or two tasks that I haven't done by now in this Triathlon volunteering thing - I'll try and make sure I complete them in the next event.

The Luray races are organized by David Glover, who himself is an experienced triathlete.  He's won four at Iron Man distances and competed in many more.  I picked up a copy of David's bio - he's very accomplished and a role model and inspiration for everybody.  There's more at his blog site - http://davidglover.net/ .

I mention the Tri because I think the events are important to the economy in Page County - this kind of "active tourism" is a special kind of economic engine that I'd like to see get more attention.  I remember at the end of the August that the event contributed a generous donation to the United Way - so things add up, not just in terms of room nights, meals in town, and shopping...some of that money goes to people who need help.

The race was an inspiration as well.  I don't know that I could really put everything together to participate in a triathlon...it's an interesting thought though.  I'll track Mary's cousin's progress (look for the Shuster Team blog -in German - in the right hand column) and I'll check in at David's site from time to time.  Also, I think I heard Howard mention he and Gary at AOA may do the August Sprint (Gary's done the International too) - their blog is the Adventures in the Valley one over there to the right - incidentally, both of them were out volunteering, and AOA is a sponsor.

I didn't get to take as many photos this time.  At the chip booth, we had a number of last minute arrivals that had to rush to get into their first wave start on the swim.  We motored out onto the course as soon as the first wave of swimmers launched, so not a lot of time to do more than snap a quick shot of the transition area, above.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Themes or Memes on Vacation...and Project Clover

For the last two weeks leading up to my vacation, things started falling into place for me to wrap up a number of projects and other initiatives.  For example, in one case, the final report for a long-running project was published while I was away, and in another, we finished a series of cost estimates and sent them along to the client on my last day in the office.

This trend of completing things also was a theme during my vacation - I finished the remaining hikes in my copy of "Best Easy Day Hikes in Shenandoah National Part" and will write about those.  But the hot topic of the day has to be outcomes of the June 1 Page County Board of Supervisors meetings, which I touched on very lightly last week - the Page News and Courier headline has it "Project Clover put on Hold."

The meeting was attended by more than 150 people; there is a photo of the packed meeting hall, as well as a gathering on the courthouse steps featuring signs that say "EDA: Where are the Jobs?" and the like.  Among many local citizens, there is a view that EDA's long-running focus and funding priority on the Project Clover land deal has come at the expense of other important goals and objectives - I share that opinion and have said so here on the blog. 

Other important issues at this BOS meeting were concerns over a school closing in Page County, and recent job cuts at the County level.  Revenues are down, and County leaders are looking at hard choices.  My opinion was that in a ranking of priorities, you'd look at a boondoggle like Clover as a lower priority than other items - it is a project that might even make sense in better economic times, but that's not where things stand today.

As the PNC reports, at one point in the meeting, Chair Johnny Woodward held up the deed and said, "...The EDA budget does not have this in it.  Let's clarify this, the budget they had two weeks ago does not have that payment in it.  Notice how I said two weeks ago.  Their new budget does have it in it.  They think I don't know that, but I do."

Supervisor Jeff Vaughan said," ...This board has considered all the pros and cons, the timing, and the true impact on Page County.  To me, what we have is a mistake - but we have to draw the line sometime and not continue the misery in which we put our County in."

And finally, Supervisor J.D. Cave added,"I'm the lone one here that voted for this project in the beginning.  There are many things in my life that I've done that I'd like to go back and change, but I can't.  This one I can."

These are all rational decisions, and these speeches, along with the BOS vote to postpone the project, were very brave moves by these leaders.  I congratulate the board on their efforts to do the right thing for the County.  The final outcome of the meeting was a vote not to fund Clover, to look for ways to keep from closing the school, and look for funds that will help prevent some of the proposed job cuts. 

As far as the EDA goes, this was a pretty significant no-confidence vote for the current leadership and direction.  A referral to the 2009 EDA plan shows a range of initiatives that attention could now turn to - things that can have both an immediate impact and would set the stage for longer-term growth.  To the extent that's possible, that seems like the right next step for EDA. 

Friday, June 4, 2010

Page County Sprint - Tri Tomorrow!

Birdie tries: 2; birdies made: zip

On Thursday, golf buddies Dennis and Stan came out for 18 on the wonderful course at Luray Caverns - the Caverns Club.  I have a link to the course below.

The last time I was out for a round of golf was here as well, and it was last year.  So I didn't expect much from my game, and over all I was pretty satisfied with how things went.

In fact, I was able to get on a couple of the greens in regulation, as shown here...and with a ten foot putt.  Those birdie opportunities - with the second shot within ten feet of the pin - we'll, you gotta make those.

I didn't.  I turned them into pars, which I guess isn't so bad.

Vacation continues...


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Quick Note on Some Page County Items

Just time for a brief post today.  I understand that at the BOS meeting last night there was some resolution about Project Clover, the land deal I've written about several times here.  While I don't have full details yet, it does appear the land deal has been ended.

There will be some review and I am sure there are quite a number of loose ends to tie down.  But I think this is a move in the right direction - let's work together and find the best way forward.

Other matters dealt with at the BOS meeting were some school board funding issues, and reconciling some of the County's staff cuts.  I hope these things are also going to work out for the best.

In the meantime, I know these things mean a lot to my friends and neighbors.  I am very glad to hear how they've worked out.  More to come!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Clarendon Construction - May 2010

Here are a couple of shots of the Clarendon buildings in progress. 

On the larger two across the street, masonry was very close to complete when I took these two weeks ago.  They are also finishing the exteriors of the penthouses, and several of the masonry elevators have been taken down.

On the mid-block building, the tyvek and insulation is going in.  I don't remember what the exterior here is going to be, I assume brick because all three of these are by the same developer, Clark.  I took a second shot of the area above the Hard Times - the catwalk and little shelter here protect the restaurant infrastructure from construction debris.

I was working in the Clarendon offices over the weekend when I took these.  The space that is being built out for my group was permitted and demolition had begun.  Talking around, sounds like we'll be on track for the August move back.