Town authorizes $3,000 for nature trail

The Washington Town Council Monday night this week approved spending up to $3,000 to purchase trees, plants and shrubbery for the Washington Nature Trail project – an expense it expects may be covered by by local organizations that have expressed interest in providing funding for the project.

Mayor John Sullivan said that, while he is confident that the town will be reimbursed for the expenditure, the plants should be purchased as soon as possible to keep the project moving.

In December, the council approved preliminary plans to create a butterfly garden and nature trail between the wastewater treatment facility and the Avon Hall estate, both of which are properties owned by the town. The area covers about an acre and would offer some 400 feet of mowed walking trail through a diverse population of native plant species. The goal is to draw insect and animal species to the area, especially butterflies – while also creating a natural attraction for tourists and a learning environment for children.

“We have not yet found external funding, though I am confident that that money will come, and I have spoken with members of an organization today that might,” Sullivan said, noting that Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection president Rick Kohler and executive director Kaye Kohler showed interest but haven’t made a specific monetary commitment. Two weeks ago, members of the Old Rag Master Naturalists (ORMN) cleared a significant amount of brush and weed trees to prepare the nature trail area for planting the estimated $3,000 worth of natural plants.

“They [the ORMN] are now prepared to purchase trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants listed in the program material,” Sullivan said, asking the council to approve an expenditure of up to $3,000 for the purchase. “Because of the time of year, and for the sake of getting rolling, I ask that we approve that funding. I’d just like to keep this thing moving because they’re ready to go.”

The motion passed unanimously.

Sullivan also said that a number of groups are interested in helping to improve the landscape around the town-owned Avon Hall property adjecent to the trail site, and that Joe Wenk will remove the tree-of-heaven clusters growing near the adjacent county property. Sullivan added that Rappahannock County Administrator John McCarthy will reimburse the town for clearing out the weed trees on the county’s property along Warren Avenue.

“We’re going to enhance the viewshed, the watershed, the whatever-shed of Avon Hall and the land around it,” Sullivan said.

During the public comment period of the meeting, RLEP founder Phil Irwin said that at its last RLEP meeting, the organization’s members voted to support the nature trail, and asked how best to provide funding. “Would you take a check?” he asked.

Sullivan also announced that May 12 is Food Pantry Day, and that a number of events will take place to raise money for the Pantry on that day – including a benefit at his and wife Beverly’s home in town that evening.

The June and July town council meeting dates have been changed to June 18 and July 16. Council members also expressed support to begin monthly meetings at 7 p.m. on a permanent basis, since the original 7:30 p.m. start time was to return after Daylight Savings Time began. To do so, Town Attorney John Bennett said, the council needs to advertise the change.

Council member Gary Schwartz said that although the next town election isn’t for two years, he recommended that the council consider “piggybacking” its elections with the larger state and national elections in November, to save money.

“The county and state charge the town a lot to have a seperate election in May instead of November,” Schwartz said. He also recommended staggering elections for council members, in the same fashion as the board of supervisors.

Though Sullivan noted that the next election is some distance in the future, he thinks Schwartz’s suggestion makes sense. In the current format, town elections are usually in May, and new terms begin on July 1. Bennett said that since the May election date is in the town charter, a charter amendment would be necessary to make the change.

Schwartz said that other nearby Towns are also considering making the switch to November elections, because the cost of organizing, running and financing the May election as a separate event costs the town thousands of dollars. Town clerk Laura Dodd agreed.

Mary Ann Kuhn pointed out that the cost-saving move might also “buy us some more trees.”