Build­ing bridges

Rappahannock News - - COMMENT -

The ques­tion of the bike trail il­lus­trated a cri­sis in our com­mu­nity. The Board of Su­per­vi­sors voted to re­turn funds to VDOT, putting an end to dis­cus­sion of that par­tic­u­lar project. How­ever, what is left is the clear pic­ture of di­vide among var­i­ous groups within the county.

One pos­si­ble out­come of this cri­sis is that we will be­come in­creas­ingly dis­trust­ing and dis­or­ga­nized, con­flict will in­crease and con­tinue. The al­ter­nate and hope­ful out­come is that op­pos­ing groups will learn to see this as an op­por­tu­nity to work to find ways of com­mu­ni­cat­ing and to learn more about each other, to find com­mon goals and work to­gether.

Among the speak­ers who op­posed the trail, some were “Been Heres” rep­re­sent­ing fam­i­lies who have lived in the county for many gen­er­a­tions. They ex­pressed anger about the process that gen­er­ated the trail. This in­cluded Hodge Miller, Kim Estes Baader and Me­lanie Kop­jan­ski, whose un­for­get­table “I feel like this bike trail was shoved down my throat” was rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the depth of anger of many. A theme ex­pressed re­peat­edly was frus­tra­tion that so many es­sen­tial ser­vices need at­ten­tion in Rap­pa­han­nock that a bike trail was friv­o­lous. This in­cluded:

➤ The health de­part­ment is an old build­ing that serves so many

➤ Gov­ern­ment build­ings need re­pair

➤ We still need a com­mu­nity cen­ter for kids of all ages to hang around in af­ter school and on week­ends.

➤ Fire and Res­cue squads al­ways need sup­port.

➤ Em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties and af­ford­able hous­ing are needed.

On the other hand, the board had been pre­sented with a pe­ti­tion from 165 peo­ple who sup­ported the trail. Lead­ers of the trail ef­fort pre­sented fi­nan­cial data that they be­lieved met the cri­te­ria needed to pro­ceed and ex­pressed a will­ing­ness to ob­tain ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion re­quested by speak­ers dur­ing the evening. Speak­ers iden­ti­fied ben­e­fits to the school and com­mu­nity Com­mit to be Fit pro­gram that reaches adults and chil­dren from ev­ery age and so­cioe­co­nomic group. Oth­ers stressed the need for a safe al­ter­na­tive to rid­ing on the roads

and the ben­e­fits to the trail as a school con­nec­tion. The trail pro­po­nents re­peat­edly pointed out that the funds they have do not take away from any other pro­gram.

Both sides of­fer valid per­cep­tions of this ques­tion. But does this is­sue rep­re­sent a deeper ques­tion in our com­mu­nity? Does it il­lus­trate the search for an an­swer of how to re­main the same, how to keep the charm of Rap­pa­han­nock and not stag­nate from lack of growth . . . how to in­te­grate the old with the new?

Lis­ten to the con­text in which these opin­ions are voiced. Some of the old fam­i­lies clearly felt dis­re­garded and dis­re­spected by the process. Some of my “Been Here” friends have said that they be­lieve that they — the “Come Heres” — want all of them (the Been Here’s) to move over the moun­tain into Lu­ray and that it feels like it did when their an­ces­tors were pushed out of the moun­tains to make a park for tourism.

This in­cludes folks who feel their fam­ily val­ues threat­ened be­cause they can’t af­ford to buy land for their chil­dren to build a home near them some­day. It in­cludes hard work­ing peo­ple who have a day job, clean homes, do yard work, pro­vide home health care, etc. It in­cludes peo­ple sit­ting on the Board of Su­per­vi­sors who see their mis­sion to pre­serve a way of life of a ru­ral com­mu­nity. The Come Heres are of­ten de­scribed as peo­ple who come here be­cause they love it, and then want to change it.

The Come Heres, that in­cludes me, fall in love with Rap­pa­han­nock County. Many of us are week­enders who be­came full time res­i­dents as soon as we re­tired.

We be­gin to find friends and some open busi­nesses, of­ten tourism re­lated. Ray and I op­er­ated a va­ca­tion rental home in Sperryville for 12 years. It was op­posed by some who feared that those “city peo­ple” would come here for the week­end and dis­rupt our lives. That never hap­pened, not even once.

Of­ten new­com­ers put en­ergy into sup­port­ing non-prof­its and the arts. For ex­am­ple, they sup­port RAAC, Benev­o­lent Fund, Food Bank, Head­wa­ters, Scrab­ble Foun­da­tion, Rapp at Home and the Child Care and Learn­ing Cen­ter. Peo­ple bring their pro­fes­sional ex­per­tise, set up non-prof­its and help fund pro­grams that ben­e­fit the com­mu­nity they love.

It is my be­lief that the anger ex­pressed by so many peo­ple against this bike trail stems not only from the real, con­crete is­sues iden­ti­fied by op­po­nents, but also be­cause it sym­bol­izes some of the changes in the county: gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, in­come dis­par­ity, lack of em­ploy­ment and af­ford­able hous­ing, ques­tions about fu­ture life style in the county. What do we want to stay the same? What do we want to change? What fears are raised as the county de­mo­graph­ics evolve?

One dear woman of whom I am most fond said that she op­posed the trail be­cause of the chil­dren — her fear for their safety be­cause the trail would bring in out­siders who might hurt them. An­other woman that I know and re­spect was op­posed to a va­ca­tion rental home near her house be­cause of the fear of strangers com­ing into a home next to her back yard. We could an­swer those ques­tions with log­i­cal ex­pla­na­tions, but we would miss the point. What is rel­e­vant is that we all have our opin­ions and an­swers. What is im­por­tant is that we learn to lis­ten to each other and work to­gether to find so­lu­tions.

I hope that the bike trail dilemma opens the door for dis­cus­sion about build­ing bridges. Can Rap­pa­han­nock County be­come the model for us­ing con­flict to build a bridge to move to­ward un­der­stand­ing and build­ing com­mu­nity?

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