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Another portion of Banister qualifies for scenic designation

A 25-mile segment of the Banister River between U.S. Route 29 and State Route 640 in Pittsylvania County meets criteria of the Virginia Scenic Rivers Program, according to results of a recently completed study.

An adjacent section of the Banister already has garnered scenic recognition.

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

As with this year’s legislation for a section of the Banister in Halifax County, Pittsylvania representatives, with the support of Del. James Edmunds II and Sen. Frank Ruff Jr., plan to introduce the bill in the 2014 Session to increase the existing Banister Scenic River from the current 38.4 miles to 63.33 miles.

Halifax Town Manager Carl Espy 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 could earn a section of the Banister River scenic designation.

The intent of the Virginia Scenic Rivers Program is to identify, recognize and provide a level of protection to rivers with significant scenic beauty, historical importance, recreational value and natural characteristics.

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation manages the program.

Last summer the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, in collaboration with the Virginia Tech Community Design and Assistance Center, conducted a similar study on nearly 40 miles of the Banister that run through Pittsylvania and Halifax counties, and the town of Halifax. 

This year the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors formally requested the Banister be studied to determine whether it qualified as a scenic river.

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.

The program began in 1970 after the General Assembly passed the Virginia State Scenic River Act.

The process to designate a scenic river typically begins as a grassroots effort by citizens.

To receive the designation, a river must undergo a months-long study and evaluation process. Each is evaluated on the same criteria, including: water quality, historic features, natural features, visual appeal, corridor development, quality of fisheries and opportunities for recreation and land conservation.  

Local governing bodies must support scenic river designations in their communities. 

The final step in the designation process is the General Assembly’s passage of a bill — sponsored by local legislators — that designates a river as a state scenic river. 

State scenic river designation does not impose land-use controls or regulations. It does not affect a riparian landowner’s rights to use the river or its banks for grazing, irrigation, hunting or fishing. 

The designation also does not give the general public the right to use privately owned riparian lands. Recommendations in the 2007 Virginia Outdoors Plan, the state’s comprehensive planning document for outdoor recreation and land conservation, call for numerous rivers and streams to be evaluated for state scenic river designation, including the Banister. 

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.