News briefs for Oct. 9

Stonyman lawsuit can continue

Rappahannock County Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey W. Parker, overruling the defendant’s motions to dismiss, allowed Stonyman Gourmet Farmer owners Alan and Susan James to continue a suit against Sunny View — an LLC owned by former Sunnyside Farm owner David Cole and local agent Jimmie DeBergh — which the James’ say failed to honor a 2011 oral agreement that would allow them to stay in the Gay Street property they’ve leased since 2008.

Filed May 20, the suit alleges Sunny View failed to honor a “right of first refusal” for Stonyman to purchase the property should it come up for sale. DeBergh has said the property was to be sold to the Inn at Little Washington for $550,000. The Jameses also alleged DeBergh failed to honor a second oral agreement to extend their lease to April 30, 2016.

Parker’s decision allows the case to proceed to an injunction hearing (scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 16).

“Although counsel has advised us not to discuss the details of an ongoing legal matter, we can say that we are pleased by the judge’s ruling permitting this matter to proceed based upon the parties’ verbal agreement,” the Jameses said by email this week. “We look forward to providing evidence regarding our agreements with our landlord throughout what has been a successful tenancy.”

“Washington, Va., is a small county seat built on personal trust,” the email continued. “This is one of the reasons many of our citizens have come to live in this rural community. We are encouraged to have confirmation that one’s word can be one’s bond.”

— Matt Wingfield

Fall wildfire season begins Oct. 15

Daylight is getting shorter, nights are getting cooler and fall wildfire season is nearly here.

With more than 62 percent of Virginia’s land base (15.8 million acres) being forested, there are almost 360,000 homes and more than 1 million Virginians living in areas defined as woodland communities.

Most wildfires (96 percent) in Virginia are caused by human activity, VDOF reports. Of the 140,000 wildfires fought last year by the agency, most were caused by people burning their trash or yard debris.

Precautions include clearing the burn spot and surrounding area down to mineral soil; keeping the burn pile small; having tools (like a shovel or a rake) handy; ensuring a water source is at the ready; reporting a fire immediately, and remaining until the fire is completely out.

You must also check the weather conditions in your area before you start to burn. If it’s been several days since it’s rained, humidity levels are low and the winds are higher than 10 miles per hour, wait until conditions improve; otherwise, it’s quite likely your fire will become a wildfire.

Wildfire season runs from Oct. 15-Nov. 30 each year.

SNP Trust commits $200K to park

How are national parks around the U.S. maintaining programs and facilities in these tough economic times? From the local efforts of private nonprofits, donors, volunteers and businesses — including the Shenandoah National Park Trust (SNPT), which this year committed funding for almost $200,000 in projects throughout 197,000-acre park.

The $200,000 set-aside from the SNPT will be used to supplement funding for the Junior Ranger program, summer youth camps, Kids in Parks, Ticket to Ride, Our Changing World, Experts in Residence and other programs that support the park service’s education mission and the theme of connecting people to their park.

The trust is also supporting invasive plant removal and native plant replacement, new benches at Lewis Mountain and dollars to help renovate the 1930s Pinnacles Research Facility.

Park’s fall color update

Shorter days and cooler nights signal the arrival of fall in Shenandoah National Park. Though every autumn is different, some trees and other plants were already putting on their fall colors last week.

Fall also is time for SNP’s weekly Fall Color Report, updated every Friday with observations from around the park online, or listen to them on the park’s main phone line in English or Spanish at 540-999-3500 (option 6). The park’s Mountain View webcam is at

October is the park’s most heavily visited month of the year.

As night falls more quickly toward the end of October, park facilities will begin closing for the season. This year’s closing dates include: Skyland Resort, Nov. 30; Big Meadows Lodge, Nov. 2; Dickey Ridge Visitor Center, Nov. 30; Byrd Visitor Center, Dec. 1 (change to weekends only); Mathews Arm Campground, Oct. 26; Big Meadows Campground, Showers/Laundry, Nov. 16; Lewis Mountain Campground, Nov. 2.

Va. deer collision odds twice national average

Virginia drivers are more likely to hit a deer in the coming year than drivers in most other states, with odds of 1 in 88, compared to the national odds of 1 in 169.

The white-tailed deer migration and mating season runs from October through December, causing a dramatic increase in movement among Virginia’s deer population. One result is an increase in collisions during those months, with the heaviest amount in November.

Virginia is ranked ninth nationwide for number of deer collisions. In 2013, Virginia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company had 2,971 claims related to vehicle collisions with deer, out of 103,708 personal and commercial auto policies. The claims led to more than $7.56 million in losses, with an average loss of $2,547 per claim. The national cost per claim average is $3,888, up 13.9 percent from last year, when the average was $3,414.

“During the fourth quarter of each year we see a significant increase in the number of vehicles striking deer,” said Rick Mattox, VFBMIC vice-president of claims. “Almost 28 percent of the total auto claims handled by Virginia Farm Bureau during the months of October, November and December are related to vehicles striking deer.”

In the coming months, motorists should be more mindful of their speed and aware of their surroundings. Deer are most likely to be seen at dusk and dawn near tree-lined roadways and areas that transition from open fields to forest or water. Drivers must remember that deer are wild animals and often exhibit unpredictable behavior when on or near roadways.

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