Heritage site marked with red tape

Among the items on another full agenda at the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors’ monthly meeting next Monday (Dec. 5): The county’s official blessing, thus far oddly elusive, of a privately funded Blue Ridge Heritage Project memorial, whose organizers hope to build a small stone monument to those Rappahannock families displaced by establishment in the 1930s of the Shenandoah National Park.

Similar efforts in other counties adjoining the park are underway or, in some cases, complete; in Rappahannock, it took some time to find the right location. Now it’s taking some time for the supervisors — four of whom are involved in a lawsuit claiming they violated Freedom of Information Act laws earlier this year, and all of whom have found themselves in lengthy and contentious public meetings every month since this summer— to find the right . . . attitude.

Thornton River Orchard owner Russell Jenkins late this summer offered a small corner (about 1,600 square feet) of his Sperryville property along U.S. 211, not far from the park entrance, for the memorial — planned as a simple stone chimney and plaque naming the mountain families who were relocated by the federal government. Sperryville attorney and farmer Bill Fletcher, whose family roots in Rappahannock go back a couple of centuries, offered $10,000 from his Hampton Foundation to build the monument.

After an extended discussion at their September session, during which Hampton district supervisor John Lesinski said he thought the memorial would be better located at the county visitors center (where it had been initially planned), the board voted to accept the gift of the land in principle (Lesinski cast the sole “no” vote) but left the details be worked out later.

In October, after attorney Michael Brown, representing Jenkins, came up with an easement agreement that the supervisors found acceptable, several of them — Lesinski, Piedmont district supervisor Mike Biniek and Stonewall supervisor Chris Parrish — still objected to clauses in the agreement that stated the county would be responsible for maintaining both the small memorial site and the adjacent parking lot, including mowing and snow and ice removal, and would provide liability insurance coverage. They voted 4-1 (with Jackson supervisor Ron Frazier objecting) to strike those clauses requiring maintenance and liability insurance.

“When the park took the land, it was a holocaust to a lot of the Rappahannock way of life,” said a clearly upset Bill Fletcher on the phone the other day. “I mean, it destroyed a lot of families and a lot of culture in America. And for the supervisors not to be able to pony up a little money . . . I can’t imagine their total [insurance and maintenance] cost would be $200 a year — in a bad year. I mean, it wouldn’t cost anything.

“It’s absolutely . . . ridiculous,” said Fletcher, who estimated that legal fees to comply with the county’s requirements so far have cost him more than $2,000. “And I bet if you took a poll on the county citizens, they would say ‘yeah, it’s a worthwhile thing to spend money on.’ Unbelievable.

“I’m scared to go to the Dec. 6 meeting because I’m afraid I couldn’t contain my anger,” he said.

The revised easement agreement which the supervisors will consider Monday, attorney Brown said this week, requires only mowing (not snow or ice removal) by the county, and limits the county-maintained and county-insured plot to the memorial site itself, not Jenkins’ adjacent parking lot.

The organizer of the grass-roots memorial project, Missy Sutton, said this week that she remains optimistic.

“I just hope the board can come together and approve this contract so we can go forward with this project,” Sutton said. “Without an approved contract, I think we stand a very real chance of losing the $10,000.”

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