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Banister qualifies as a ‘Scenic River’

A 38.4-mile segment of the Banister River has qualified as a Virginia Scenic River based on a field evaluation conducted July 7-8 by the Department of Conservation and Recreation with support from the Virginia Tech Community Design Assistance Center.

Town Manager Carl Espy made the announcement during the planning commission meeting Wednesday night.

The evaluation was conducted on the segment of the Banister River that stretches from the Anderson Bridge at Route 640 in Pittsylvania County to the river’s confluence with the Dan in Halifax County.

Espy said background research for the study started during the spring of 2012 and continued through the month after staff traveled the river.

 Department of Conservation and Recreation and Community Design Assistance Center staff along with local government representatives and citizens paddled the Banister River study corridor during the field evaluation.  

According to Espy, those who participated at various times during the fieldwork included staff from Halifax County, the Town of Halifax and citizens from all involved jurisdictions, including adjacent landowners who served as guides on the expeditions.

Individuals and organizations who participated included Brad Ballou, Kirby Saunders, Dwight Waller, Tom Brown, Steve Schopen, Ned Strange, Bee Edmunds Espy, W. P. Billy Johnson, A. J. Nuckols, Timothy Wagner. James Wagner, Marshall Molliver, Bob Batman, Kendall Sydnor, the Dan River Basin Association, the Roanoke River Basin Association, Southside Planning District, Tobacco Heritage Trail, Halifax County Tourism, Halifax County Historical Society, and Preservation Virginia.

The town and county began exploring the opportunity to designate a portion of the Banister as a scenic river with Department of Conservation and Recreation following the adoption of the 2004 Halifax County Trails, Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan in which the potential blueway on the Banister was identified, Espy said.  

The Department of Conservation and Recreation assisted the town and county with Scenic Byway designation of VA 360/344 in 2008, and VA 57 to Chatham was deemed eligible but required participation from the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors, Espy noted. 

According to Espy, In April 2008, Lynn Crump, an environmental programs planner with Department of Conservation and Recreation, made a presentation at the joint board of supervisors meeting on the State Scenic River Program.

“A change in county administrative staff that same year and an immediate focus on the construction of the Banister River Bridge along with securing grant funds for the Banister River Gateway Project kept seeking this designation a priority once those projects were well under way,” he said.

To better inform the public and the localities in greater detail about the scenic river designation, the town and county plan to invite Lynn Crump to make a presentation at the joint board of supervisors meeting in October, Espy said.  

Delegate James Edmunds is keenly aware and supportive of the designation as is Delegate Don Merricks for the Pittsylvania County section, he added.  

“It shouldn’t be difficult to coordinate the presentation and adoption of the resolution by the governing bodies in time for the delegates to introduce the legislation for the 2013 session,” he said.

 “I understand the tendency by those who are taking a slant on the uranium mining controversy and who are speculating that the timing of this designation has been ‘politically’ motivated which is their prerogative,” Espy said Wednesday.

According to Espy, well before the Coles Hill deposit re-emerged under the ownership of Virginia Uranium Inc., seeking this designation was identified through a host of planning initiatives.

More recently the Roanoke River Basin Association-Upper Reach Paddle Trail has addressed future recreational opportunities in tandem with cultural, historic and natural resource preservation along the entire Banister River corridor as part of a sustainable economic development strategy that enhances quality of life for the town and region, he added. 

“From the town’s viability perspective, this designation is a high priority regardless of the uranium issue, although realistically, given the recent evaluation by DCR staff that the Banister is eligible for scenic river status, the assets of the watershed have now been identified, evaluated and qualified whereby some significant measure is given to the risk that may be imposed should the moratorium be lifted,” he said. 

“Citizens and elected officials can then weigh in on the issue and make their own determination,” he added.

In the meantime, the Town of Halifax plans to pursue the designation process to have the Banister declared a scenic river, and council is expected to take action at the October joint meeting with the board of supervisors.

For more information on the Banister qualifying as a scenic river, visit http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/recreational_planning/srmain.shtml.

“The program effectively raises the bar for citizens, localities, public and private entities and invites all stakeholders to participate as long-term stewards of the watershed,” the town manager concluded.