I have been a visitor to the Fauquier, Culpeper, and Rappahannock county area since the mid-1970s when I was 15 and I became enchanted with Shenandoah National Park.
To me, Lee Highway, west of Warrenton, with its rolling countryside and wooded median, has always been the gateway to the park. It is the point at which I really get into the vacation mood. So, imagine my dismay this week when, coming home from the park, I noticed the great gash in a wooded downslope east of Rixeyville Road that is slated to become Stonehaven (formerly Clevengers Corner)—a shopping and residential megalith.
Over the past 45 years, there have been only modest changes along Lee Highway, and I guess it was wishful to hope this would never change. Indeed, one of the great things about Skyline Drive is that I can count on it being the same year after year.
I don’t want to make Stonehaven’s developers out to be bandits. Nor do I fault Fauquier, Culpeper, and Rappahannock residents for wanting shopping and restaurant options closer to home. But an outsider can see that this is the thin end of the wedge.
People are also reading…
I know that there are “enough” country miles in Northern Virginia and many locals probably feel they don’t need to preserve this “grand entryway” to Shenandoah National Park. This is misguided thinking. Fauquier, Culpeper, and Rappahannock are part of the attraction. If you don’t think so, just pay a visit to Pigeon Forge, TN, where unbridled development significantly degrades the Great Smoky Mountains National Park experience.
Stonehaven will not be the last of its kind to push onto Lee Highway. The growth pressures from Route 66 and the Beltway have become enormous. On this trip to Shenandoah, the A/C in my car was broken, so, windows down from Washington, DC, to Warrenton, I breathed in thick smog and exhaust and listened to high-decibel truck and auto noise. Highway temperatures were an average of 94 degrees.
With functioning A/C, most of us are insulated from these extremes, but wildlife and our natural environment are not. Indeed, invasive species, egged on by warmer temperatures, are destroying much of the native ash and eastern hemlock in Shenandoah National Park. As I looked out from Stony Man peak, brown patches extended from valleys to mountain peaks.
It is time to rethink traditional development such as Stonehaven. It’s true, the developers are preserving some forest in exchange for their permits to build, but the result is a net loss.
We need a new style of development with carbon offsets, renewable energy, and forest and meadow reclamation. Northern Virginia is wealthy enough and smart enough to do it.
Otherwise, sure enough, that highway nightmare I described from Washington, D.C., to Warrenton is coming to Fauquier, Culpeper, and Rappahannock. And as your counties go, so goes Shenandoah National Park.
Tony Hagen is editor of The Jersey Sierran, the official newsletter of the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club. He lives in Florence, NJ.