$5K pledged to Artisan Trail effort

The Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors agreed to contribute $5,000 toward the funding of the proposed Artisan Trail at its monthly meeting Monday afternoon (July 1).

As Sperryville glass artist Patti Brennan, who is spearheading the local effort to contract with the nonprofit Artisan Trail Network (ATN), said, the organization is the official state-designated artisan center and is dedicated to enhancing the economic opportunities for artisans and the communities where they reside. The organization would work over the next year with the local artisan and business community to develop a theme, and a website, to attract visitors to the county.

To get started in Rappahannock, the ATN requires $15,000, said Brennan. The Rappahannock Association for Arts and the Community (RAAC) and other area businesses have already pledged $5,000 in support of the project. Brennan and others had approached the supervisors to ask them to match that donation.

The remaining one-third of the money, Brennan said, would be collected via fundraisers and donations from the community.

“All we’re asking is that you offer a pledge,” said Brennan. “This is all still in the experimental stages . . . it establishes a destination idea [for people] to come to Rappahannock.”

Brennan added that, once all the funds had been raised, the director of the ATN would travel to Rappahannock to work directly with the featured artisans and help with the marketing. After the first year, there would still be slight fees (most likely around $2,500) to maintain an advertising presence. Each artist, and participating “sites of interest” such as B&Bs and restaurants, and such “agri-artisans” as wineries and small farms, would pay an annual fee of $90 to $150 to participate in the program.

Brennan said she originally considered partnering with Fauquier County or Culpeper County, both of which expressed an interest in advertising Rappahannock’s artists. “They don’t have the same volume of artists as we do,” Brennan explained.

However, Brennan said she decided not to partner with another county because it wouldn’t be fair to Rappahannock’s other businesses. Only the county’s artists would be featured as part of the trail if partnered with another county; Brennan said she wanted everything Rappahannock has to offer to be featured on the trail.

“I’m rather impressed with this group,” admitted Piedmont supervisor Mike Biniek. “I’ve always thought that when one business in the county does better, they all do . . . [and] this is a good way to increase revenue for the county.”

As County Administrator John McCarthy pointed out, the supervisors have $15,000 in their budget for tourism. (After former tourism consultant Laura Overstreet resigned in January, $30,000 formerly devoted to her salary was diverted to pay for a new position of deputy county administrator, but that position and those funds were removed during this spring’s budget-trimming sessions.) But some of the $15,000, McCarthy suggested, could be appropriated to support the ATN. “There’s no need to commit new money to this,” McCarthy said.

“The more we can get people in and spending money, the better,” agreed Hampton supervisor S. Bryant Lee. “That’s what we want. We don’t want people to come out and stay,” he added with a laugh.

Chairman Roger Welch also voiced his approval of the ATN, noting that he thought the decision not to partner with another county – and instead let Rappahannock stand on it own – was the right choice.

“I think partnering with another county is a negative because most of the people who would come out this way have to drive through [that other county] to get here,” said Welch, adding that the long distance might inspire people to simply stop in another county and never make it out to Rappahannock.

The supervisors agreed, 4-1, to pledge the money to the ATN, on the conditions that the remaining $5,000 be raised and that the supervisors not be obligated to pay any money toward the project next year. Jackson district supervisor Ron Frazier voted against the measure.

McCarthy also informed the supervisors that the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) had reached a verdict on the supervisors’ request to extend the “Scenic Byway” designation on Route 729 to the county’s Culpeper border. Currently, the designation exists on the stretch of 729 running from Flint Hill to Ben Venue; several months back, the supervisors had requested that designation be extended from U.S. 211 south to Culpeper County.

The DCR, however, recommended the designation only be extended to Route 618, several miles short of the supervisors’ goal — though it does, as McCarthy said, “get us most of the way there.”

The supervisors ultimately decided to hold a public hearing on the designation at their September meeting, where Stonewall-Hawthorne supervisor Chris Parrish said he hoped to pressure the DCR to extend the designation farther.

Several county employees were also honored for their years of service at Monday’s meeting, including Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Office deputies Donna Kestner, Nikki Settle and Chris Ubben, all of whom have served for five years.

“I know Chris has been out there doing a good job,” said Welch as he presented Ubben a commemorative pin, “since he’s given me a couple reminders.”

Janie Jenkins, also of the RCSO, was honored for her 10 years of service, while Candy Wroth and Welch were both honored for 15 years. Cathy Lane, deputy commissioner of revenue, was also honored for her 20 years of service.