From my office window at ELK HILL, I can monitor the Rockfish River trail head activity. It is both surprising and gratifying to see usage grow so fast. We must focus on completing the community grant projects so that the information provided at that trail head will be more complete. Please understand that Charlotte Rae is an integrall part of our success. She is determined to get our files organized and motivates me to get the administrative detail accomplished. A lot of our progress is due to the fact that she and I meet and work 3 hours a week in my office. She also does countless other things at home and recently has been facilitating things with people like Kinkos and Staples. It’s so important to have her support ..as was underscored by a Trustee in March, she is way underpaid.
Signage still remains inadequate. However, the Camille Historic Marker is now installed by the parking area and soon DGIF will provide birding trail signs north and south of the trail head. No definite word when VDOT will put the base stone on the parking area, but drainage problems were reduced during the renovation of the compacted construction roadway in the fields which adjoin the trail.
TRAIL BRIDGES. Recent trail improvements include the decking of both Reid Creek bridges. Matthew Wood and his crew did fine work. David Morris, a retired UVA professor of engineering, contributed structural advice and visited the bridges after completion. I am happy to say we structurally overbuilt the bridges and the completed bridges have made the loop trail accessible to anyone. Funding came from the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund.
INVASIVES. The river restoration project unleashed invasive plant populations including garlic mustard, thistles, lespedeza and spotted knot weed. The Central Blue Ridge Master Naturalist Chapter volunteers have spent nearly 50 hours eradicating invasives. I have spent an additional 50 or more hours doing the same. The job will take several years but work continues. Invasives crowd out native plants along the Rockfish and Reid’s Creek. They are also a problem in the warm season grass project. Some additional effort seems required in that area.
BIRDING. This is our number 1 success story. Our birding committee consists of Tim Hodge, Allen Hale, Paul Davis, Jeff Trolinger, Marshall Feintich, Millie Collela and myself. We are developing a bird walk schedule for the fall. Bird walks have taken place; Marshall’s fabulous photos are posted on his website and will be linked to the RVF website; and a list of species that have been sighted is posted on the kiosk. Guest bird hike leaders and enhanced habitat are all in the works. Paul Davis and his blue bird boxes were featured in Nelson County Life. It is a great committee and we have a very important birding trail.
Additionally, the birth of over 100 birds in the 42 Blue Bird trail boxes has been a success that will surely be exceeded. You have not seen anything until you see the face of a youngster who is shown the babies being tended by their mothers.
Less, you think the birding committee does not have enough going on, there is discussion about creation of a bird sanctuary in the Valley. Not only are we interested but we have the support of several adjacent neighborhoods. It is safe to say this will happen. It just takes time and energy.
PASTURE COMPACTION. Unfortunately, heavy equipment during the river restoration compacted the soil inside the sheep pasture and upstream along the Rockfish River. Renovation has been completed with rock removal and soil additions but the upstream trail is currently closed to allow the new seed mixture to take hold. When the trail is re-opened, dogs may be allowed only on a leash upstream of the bridge or with specific permission. Dogs will continue to be allowed off leash downstream even though that impacts birding. That too may change.
EAST HAY FIELD RENOVATION. The Reid’s Creek trail borders the 43 acre field. This field is being renovated through a series of crop plantings. Recently the first crop – winter wheat – was harvested. It was a bumper crop of 181 bales of wheat and 35 bales of fescue/orchard grass. Sudan grass will be planted next and harvested in July. Later a hay mix of orchard grass, timothy, clover and rye will be planted in early fall. We have had the advice and support of Augusta Farm Co-op and several laboratories for soil sampling and plant study. We expect the hay field to become the best it can be with the first crop in 2009. After that crop is cut, we will consider adding a one mile loop around that field and connect it to the trail head at the bridge. This field is also an option for the proposed spring 2009 kite flying event. Planning will begin for that once a committee is formed.
SPRUCE CREEK PARK DEVELOPMENT. Louie’s Place, a dog park, has two hurdles to overcome. The first is zoning which the County says must be changed to allow a dog park. The second is funding. Initial efforts to seek a commitment for a challenge grant were not successful. This status and future options will be discussed by the Dog Park committee. A Croquet Court development is underway. Stan Driver has been improving the site, and Hank Gibb and I visited a court in Charlottesville and discussed turf and nutrient options with the owner and his grounds’ keeper. A plan should be determined in the next weeks and play on the court start in the near future. Work is currently being done to make the turf better and to build interest.
CAPACITY BUILDING, PUBLIC RELATIONS and EVENTS. Our first Starry Night was held on May 16th and the efforts of Charlottesville Astronomical Society were much appreciated. They are good teachers and have incredible equipment. A second event will be planned for the fall. Thanks in particular go to local residents David Miller and John Avallone. We learned a lot during and after – in particular that publicity is critical and that there is much interest in regular star watch events in the Rockfish Valley. Michael McConkey contributed camp fire music. This should become a signature event for the community.
Charlotte Rae and I are working hard to create a publicity template for events. It will be used for the bird walks and starry night program in the fall and the kite event next spring. In the interim we will seek a major story on Rockfish Valley Foundation in the local press.
MASTER PLAN AND BROCHURE. We are so fortunate to have McKee Carson providing certain pro bono services for development of a Master Plan and for laying out a much needed brochure with a trail map. We are indebted to Hunter McCardle and Eugene Ryang for their guidance and work. We must also acknowledge with deep gratitude a recent unsolicited gift of $1000 which will help defray printing of a 6 panel brochure. This will be included in the mailing for the Fall Community Fund Drive. It will also be available, hopefully by September, for visitors to the trail.
FALL COMMUNITY FUND DRIVE. A request to the community to support operations, events and trail development is necessary. The bridges provide naming opportunities to bring in funds to support events, operations and trail development. For example, the pedestrian bridge could be named by a donor of a $5000 gift and the vehicular bridge named with a $10,000 gift. The cost of the two was nearly $10,000. Kiosks can be named, trails can be named. We are also considering an annual party at ELK HILL for donors of more than $250. I will need your input on how to design and undertake this campaign. Specific projects will be identified and funds sought to complete them.
OTHER ITEMS. Picnic tables are being delivered as a gift to the Foundation. The web site is being refreshed and redesigned by Bluewall LLC. No grant filings are planned until 2009 but hopefully, the master plan will prioritize and identify that direction.
FUTURE PLANS. The feasibility of a Community Water Summit is being considered. I am meeting with several other non profits and foundations to consider this. The concept would be a community facilitated workshop focused on both ground and surface water issues in the Rockfish Valley. Several desired outcomes have been identified and we will have a discussion with potential partners in the next several months. The Community Water Summit would be held in late winter.
Our ability to reach out to others and to partner in our undertakings is important and has been successful. Earl Swift , Stephan Bechtel, our local supervisors, geologists and environmentalists, heads of other Nelson groups – we have been and we need to continue working with all of them. An example of this is our intention to dedicate the Camille historic marker on August 19. Please mark it on your calendar. We may keep it low key or we may bring in someone to speak from the VA Dept of Historic Resources to comment on the area and our plan for an historic district in the South Rockfish Valley. Already our committee of Russ Reid, Bob Carter and Elizabeth Richardson has done research, viewed the area and put the concept into an action plan.
We are proud to be one of the initiating partners of the The Central Blue Ridge Master Naturalist Chapter. Through its volunteers and programs, more environmental activities will take place on the Foundation lands. In August we will apply for a DEQ grant for water monitoring equipment. It will permit us to continue our education on water quality in the Valley.
In closing, we must seek operation and development funds from the community in order to accomplish our mission to enhance the trails, the website, the programs and events we know are important. Capacity building is the key, volunteers are critical to all our efforts, and the growth of Rockfish Valley Foundation dictates that we seek financial support from the community in order to grow our success.
As usual, we appreciate your comments and suggestions.
Peter A. Agelasto III
Founding chairman, Rockfish Valley Foundation