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County residents applaud proposed Monroe trail

The Westmoreland public enthusiastically embraced county government’s latest James Monroe birthplace development proposal. When the Oct. 12 hearing ended, the Westmoreland Board of Supervisors delivered a vote authorizing staff to apply for a Virginia Department of Transportation enhancement grant to fund the project.

Prior development initiatives resulted in creation of access roads, parking area and a visitor center that offers interpretative displays and is open to the public during the summer weekends. A portion of the publicly owned 80-acre property is leased to the James Monroe Memorial Foundation and the Foundation has its own plans to build a replica of the Monroe family home.

Cost estimates associated with the latest development proposal were provided last Wednesday when Zoning Administrator and Planning Director Robert Fink delivered an updated briefing to the county supervisors. Projected costs brought forward in a 2001

Monroe Park master plan required adjustment. Instead of the 10-year-old master plan’s anticipated $234,000 cost.

Fink anticipates a cost of no less than $279,000 or even $341,000. Westmoreland would fund 20 percent of the project’s cost. The locality’s dollar or in-kind contribution would range from $20,000 to $85,000, according to Fink’s revised cost estimates.

The centerpiece of the project is a timeline trail connecting the portion of the tract that fronts Route 205 to the property’s rear on the shore of an upper reach of Monroe Creek. A canoe launch and hard surface road to the shore are part of the proposal.

The grant application excited some members of the public who attended the Wednesday evening meeting. County resident Bill Alverson asked the Supervisors if access could be provided to accommodate larger boats. He suggested that the Monroe Creek channel be dredged in order to accommodate larger motor boats.

Fink immediately advised Alverson that Monroe Creek’s “shallow, picturesque and meandering” upper reaches are best suited for canoe and kayak exploration, that “access for large boats is limited” and the county has no plan to make the channel deeper.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Woody Hynson agreed with Fink, advising Alverson that “outboard motor noise right behind the birthplace” is not the kind of image the development proposal intends to generate. Hynson additionally noted the muddy character of upper Monroe Creek. He warned that larger motor boats “would get stuck in the mud. But,” Hynson then stated, “it’s a great place for kayaking and canoeing.

It’s shallow water and it’s muddy, with a lot of wetlands. Actually, it would be a great place for a duck blind,” the Supervisor quipped.

Aside from providing water access, the timeline trail will detail key events in the life of the Westmoreland native. At approximate 215-foot intervals, mown paths with benches and printed interpretative materials will intersect the trail. The timeline will include Monroe’s birth on that property in 1758, his 1774 departure to enroll in the College of William and Mary, the native son’s Revolutionary War service and the singularly extensive list of public offices he held, along with events occurring during Monroe’s two terms as President of the United States.
The proposal is tied to already designated Potomac River water trails and Fink announced that the Town of Colonial Beach shares interest in providing access to the set of water trails. “The landings,” Fink related, “will offer a place to land canoes and kayak. People can stop [and go ashore] for several hours.

Fink additionally explained that the transportation grant is being sought because the project the county is proposing would connect previously designated bicycle and other land trails to the nearby waterway.

“It would connect the roadway to the waterway,” he said. “Since adopting the master plan ten years ago, it has been the county’s objective to go forward with this part of the proposal,” said District 2 Supervisor Russ Culver. “The timeline trail and canoe launch would be a catalyst, adding to the overall site. It will be a wonderful project if we can get the grant.”

“For too many years James Monroe has been overlooked,” said Hynson. “He really was a great president, and I’m always amazed when I think of how many different hats he wore. I can think of no one who served in so many offices. The federal government and others didn’t become involved when they were invited to help do something with this president’s birthplace site.

It really appears they didn’t want to help because the Monroe family only had a very modest house. When we look at it now, there isn’t any reason to hide that fact. This is a very worthy endeavor,” he explained.

Resident Bob Quinn asked if county officials envisioned having canoe clubs from Washington, D.C. and Richmond use the site, but Hynson was skeptical and suggested that the creek’s shallowness and the shore’s extensive wetlands may not provide large groups with the kind of accommodations they’d expect.

Resident Steve Bryant questioned why the Department of Interior hadn’t developed the site as it developed the George Washington birthplace property a short distance from Monroe Hall. The official response was that the federal government has never been interested.

Resident Butch Foutz immediately urged the Supervisors to try to interest Congressman Rob Wittman in soliciting help from the federal government.

Kennon Morris agreed. “That’s a great idea,” he told the members of the Board.

County residents and officials all agreed that the Westmoreland schools should provide students with field trips to the county’s historical destinations. Hynson advised that funding already is in place to subsidize such trips.

District 1 Supervisor Darryl Fisher was the last Board member to address the Monroe birthplace proposal.

“I’s not many places in the U.S. that had two of the nation’s premier presidents come from their locality,” he said.
“What we do with the Monroe birthplace property should be a major priority. If the federal government and the state don’t think it’s worthy to do something with this site, it’s up to us. I put James Monroe right up there with George Washington.

“I’ve always thought it was a travesty to ignore the fact that one as great as James Monroe could come from such humble beginnings. If Monroe had had a great estate, he’d have been remembered differently. This is something all of us must do,” Fisher told Board colleagues and the group of county residents.

A unanimous vote authorized Fink to apply for the enhancement grant. Application materials must be submitted to Virginia Department of Transportation no later than Nov. 1.

 

Betsy Ficklin

 

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