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Tourism grant sought to promote secret treasures

Tourism, one of Halifax County’s well-kept secrets, soon may be getting a boost as Halifax County and Mecklenburg County have teamed up to apply for a Virginia Tourism Corporation marketing grant to develop a river trail system mapping out area rivers.

Virginia State Parks District Manager Tim Vest told members of the Halifax County Board of Supervisors and Halifax and South Boston town councils Monday night that if the grant is successful, the towns of South Boston, Halifax, the Staunton River Battlefield State Park, Staunton River State Park and Occoneechee State Park would serve as anchors for the trail.

According to County Administrator Jim Halasz, the grant would be comprised of $10,000 in state tourism money to be matched with $10,000 in local funds, $1,500 from Mecklenburg Tourism, $1,500 from Halifax Tourism, $3,000 from Staunton River State Park and $4,000 from another entity.

“If that grant goes through, I can immediately turn that $3,000 the state park is putting in, into $20,000,” he said. “That’s a pretty good investment.”

“I think the potential is there,” Vest said, thanking supervisors and council members for having foresight to promote tourism in the county.

“I know that took some courage to do that,” Vest said.

Referring to the people who may view tourism as “a waste of money,” he said, “The pieces for Halifax have always been here. What you have done now has enabled us to put that final piece together.”

For the naysayers who always question what tourism has to offer in Halifax County, Vest pointed to boating and recreational opportunities along the Banister, Dan and Staunton rivers, Kerr Lake, the largest lake in the state, where the state, record large mouth bass was caught, Staunton River Battlefield State Park which not only offers Civil War history but also a national archeological site for Native Americans, Berry Hill Plantation, one of the original state parks built in 1936 - Staunton River State Park that offered the first public swimming pool in the state and now offers an equestrian campground and soon will offer Edmunds Lake, the largest area in Virginia devoted to youth fishing, two world class race tracks, Revolutionary War site at the Crossing of the Dan, Tobacco Heritage Trail from South Boston to Berry Hill, The Prizery and two first class restaurants.

“That’s just off the top of my head,” Vest added.

He commended supervisors and council members for funding the Visitor Center which makes all of the county’s tourist attractions available to visitors in one convenient place.

“You have put the pieces in place to keep visitors in this area longer,” he added.

 

CHAOS

Vest also said The Chapel Hill Astronomical and Observational Society (CHAOS) returned to Staunton River State Park to host the fifth Staunton River Star Party Oct. 1-6, with a public viewing night held that Saturday.

According to the state parks district manager, Staunton River State Park is located in one of the darkest spots along the eastern seaboard, offering an ideal location for viewing the night sky.

CHAOS is the local astronomy club in Chapel Hill, N.C. The club welcomes as members everyone interested in astronomy, from beginners to professional astronomers. 

CHAOS sponsors the Staunton River Star Party each spring and fall. Additional sponsors include Vixen Optics, Software Bisque, Explore Scientific, Orion Telescopes and Astronomy magazine. 

Star party activities included vendors and speakers, and attendees were be able to set up and camp in either tents or RVs next to their equipment in the field near the visitor center. 

A total of 20 participants registered for the fall 2011 event, and that number increased to 110 registered participants this fall, Vest said.

The Saturday night event that was open to the public attracted 367 this year.

“It’s one of the largest star-gazing events held in the U.S.,” Vest added. “With ya’ll’s help, we can make this thing grow and grow.”

He urged supervisors and town council members to continue protecting the county’s dark areas from light pollution by replacing lights with “dark-sky friendly fixtures” as bulbs are changed. 

The “dark-sky friend fixtures” don’t cost that much more than incandescent light bulbs, Vest said, and it will save the towns and county money on electricity because the bulbs use lower wattage to light the area.

The Town of Halifax adopted a lighting ordinance in 2006 that permits the town to use “dark-sky” lighting as it replaces fixtures, Halifax Town Manager Carl Espy said.

“If you look up at night, you see the stars,” Espy said. “It’s a pretty unique thing because there are not a lot of places on the eastern seaboard where you can do that. “I think that allows a great quality of life issue here, and we are already beginning to see economic development brought into this.”

 

Scenic awards

On a related tourism subject, Espy updated supervisors and council members on the recent award of scenic river designation for a 25-mile segment of the Banister River between U.S. Route 29 and State Route 640 in Pittsylvania County that met criteria of the Virginia Scenic Rivers Program.

“This year for their annual Scenic Awards Ceremony at the Virginia State Capitol on Oct. 11th, Scenic Virginia’s Trustees recognized that a wonderful collaborative effort for our region had taken place since the river segments evaluated by DCR included a portion of the Banister in Pittsylvania County several miles upstream of the Halifax County line as the river flowed through Halifax to the confluence with the Dan. 

“In addition to the Banister, the Dan River (City of Danville and Pittsylvania County) and the Meherrin River (Mecklenburg County and Brunswick County) were also recognized for those localities’ partnership throughout the scenic river designation process to help protect for future generations these Southern Virginia waterways that ‘possess outstanding scenic, recreational, historic and natural characteristics of statewide significance.”’ 

Earlier this year, the General Assembly designated the 38-mile stretch between State Route 640 in Pittsylvania County and the confluence with the Dan River in Halifax County.

Edmunds who attended the joint meeting Monday evening said the river is special to him because it runs along his property.

“It is a beautiful, beautiful river, and I was glad to have a part in it,” the delegate said.

The Halifax town manager was part of the group involved with the river fieldwork led by DCR Environmental Programs Planner Lynn Crump and Lara Browning of the Community Design Assistance Center.

Rock formations, rolling rapids and a connection to one of America’s early first ladies are some attributes that earned the section of the Banister River scenic designation.

A site evaluation conducted by the Department of Conservation, in partnership with the Community Design Assistance Center at Virginia Tech, revealed several characteristics worthy of scenic designation: rapids, primitive areas, islands, rock formations and a variety of rare and endangered plant and animal species.

In addition, the river segment has little encroaching development and few parallel or crossing roads and wires that could spoil scenic views.

The aesthetics are complemented by cultural heritage sites, including two mill sites from the late 1700s and the birthplace of frontierswoman Rachel Donelson Jackson, wife of President Andrew Jackson.

A total of 30 river segments totaling 677 river miles have been designated as state scenic rivers.

There are approximately 49,000 river miles in Virginia.

 

Regional library

In other action, Halifax County Library Board Chairman Bee Espy updated supervisors and council members on the potential for joining a regional library system.

Last week Public Library Consultant Kim Armentrout and Carol Adams, assistant director of the Library of Virginia, gave a presentation exploring the regional library concept for the county library system to members of the Halifax County-South Boston Library Board. 

Presented to the board were possible financial gains and advantages of becoming possible library partners with Pittsylvania County, Campbell County and Charlotte County, Espy said. 

Using the state aid formula, Armentrout was able to provide the possible state aid eligibility for joining with each county. 

The state aid formula includes 40 percent of every local dollar expanded by the political subdivisions in the system, $10 per square mile, a per capita grant based on population that states 30 cents for the first 600,000 persons served plus 10 cents per capita for each additional jurisdiction in a region. 

Pittsylvania County, which has a headquarters, four branches and a bookmobile, has state aid eligibility as a regional library of $527,825. 

Charlotte County, which has a headquarters and three branches, has state aid eligibility as a regional library of $314,888. 

Campbell County, which has a headquarters and three branches as well, has state aid eligibility as a regional library of $510,607. 

In order for a library to consider becoming a regional library, both the local government and the existing library boards must be involved and agree to establishment of a regional library, Espy explained. 

“There are benefits to our creating a regional library system,” the library board chairman said. “For example, the system would receive more financial aid from the state. The system would enjoy a greater source of materials available to patrons throughout the region area. There are cost savings in having one director for the entire library region, as well as savings from sharing our library automation system software, Polaris.”

However, she told supervisors and council members the process of creating a regional library system is time consuming and complex and could take up to two years, if not more, to finalize.

She explained the library will be reviewing this information and will continue to work with the joint library committee to study feasibility of regionalization.

 

Other matters

After adjourning the joint meeting with council, supervisors reconvened and adopted a revised resolution opting out of the VRS Local Disability Program. 

They also appointed ED-4 Supervisor Doug Bowman and County Administrator Jim Halasz to serve on the Lake Country Development Corporation Board of Directors.