The big­gest loser in the bike trail de­bate: The cit­i­zens of Rap­pa­han­nock County

Rappahannock News - - COMMENT -

This news­pa­per has not taken an ed­i­to­rial opin­ion on the mer­its of the Schools Con­nec­tor, and we will not. But, sadly, we feel Rap­pa­han­nock County and its cit­i­zens are huge losers from the tenor of the de­bate sur­round­ing the project. Sim­ply put, dis­in­for­ma­tion, fear mon­ger­ing and anger played far too large a role in the trail con­tro­versy.

We re­spect the many fine peo­ple on both sides who voiced ernest opin­ions against and for the Schools Con­nec­tor. But we re­ject the loud­est voices of a small group of trail op­po­nents who stoked un­nec­es­sary fears that di­vided the com­mu­nity.

For in­stance, at both pub­lic hear­ings, one cit­i­zen spoke with heart­felt con­cern that the trail would take part of her sis­ter’s yard. No pri­vate land would have been seized to make way for the trail, which would have run through VDOT right of ways and school prop­erty.

And there was re­peated in­sin­u­a­tion that the grant money in­volved could be used for other gen­uine needs in the county, such as fire and res­cue fund­ing. While this and other needs are real, it was an ap­ples and oranges ar­gu­ment. The VDOT money was specif­i­cally des­ig­nated for a Schools Con­nec­tortype trail, ei­ther here or else­where in the state. It couldn’t have been used for other pur­poses.

Could the Rap­pTrails group and its sup­port­ers have done things dif­fer­ently? Yes, of course. Seek­ing more com­mu­nity in­put from the out­set might have made the project feel more in­clu­sive.

But left un­said — though quite ap­par­ent — is that some of the most vo­cal trail op­po­nents sim­ply didn’t like the source of the trail idea. For them, this quickly — and pur­pose­fully — be­came an “us” and “them” is­sue, where these di­viders sought to split the com­mu­nity by stok­ing a class schism. The tired “come here” vs. “been here” rhetoric also popped up again.

There was too much anger in the high school au­di­to­rium dur­ing both bike trail hear­ings. The self-ap­pointed van­guards of the com­mu­nity are loud, and they are good at whip­ping up a frenzy. Sound fa­mil­iar? Funny, it seems to be hap­pen­ing a lot in re­cent years.

But is this how we want our pub­lic dia­logue to tran­spire? Hope­fully not.

Be­yond the nat­u­ral beauty of Rap­pa­han­nock County, a defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic of our home is a gen­eros­ity of spirit, where neigh­bors re­ally do help their neigh­bors. Peo­ple from vastly dif­fer­ent life ex­pe­ri­ences live and work to­gether for the good of their fel­low cit­i­zens, from the vol­un­teer fire and res­cue squads to the Food Pantry.

We’re not a com­mu­nity at each other’s throats. Let’s de­bate the mer­its of ideas and leave be­hind the ug­li­ness that tainted the bike trail de­bate. We’re too good of a place to go down this path again.

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