By William Sellers
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area, which stretches from Rt. 15 in Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, through Maryland and down to Monticello in Virginia. Loudoun’s segment of the 180-mile long corridor is one of the most beautiful and best preserved.
What is the purpose and value of a National Heritage Area and a National Scenic Byway? It of course is to preserve its intrinsic qualities—scenic and historic—that the National Park Service, Congress, and the President agreed in 2008 are important assets to the United States. The vehicle used to accomplish this goal is the JTHG Corridor Management Plan, which provides the structure for encouraging economic development and tourism marketing and supporting necessary road improvements. The resulting prosperity along the corridor provides a strong impetus for preserving its unique qualities.
Few sections of the corridor have surpassed Loudoun’s in building on these historic and scenic qualities to promote economic vitality, and the 12-mile-long section of Rt. 15 north of Leesburg has the most concentrated cluster of small businesses that showcase this success. Tourists and day-trippers coming to visit the historic crossroads villages of Lucketts, Waterford and Taylorstown, National Register properties such as Morven Park, Temple Hall, and Rockland also enjoy this agricultural area’s farm stands, nurseries, cafes and fine restaurants offering local food and locally produced crafts, antiques markets, vineyards, wineries, breweries, pick-your-own farms, and equestrian facilities on Loudoun’s historic rural road network. This area’s three parks (with the new Springdale Park being added soon) and two boat ramps into the Potomac River provide a number of recreational opportunities.
Recent state tourism figures reflect that vitality, with a 4.6 percent increase in visitor spending, and a 4.8 percent increase in jobs and wages last year. The economic impact of the four-state Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area is $703 million annually, with $460 million of that coming to Virginia.
It is vital for Rt. 15 to be safely and easily accessed by visitors in order for that economic benefit to continue, and its current problems must be addressed. Like all who use Rt. 15, the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership looks forward to a safer, less congested road north of Leesburg. Improved function of the highway meets the goals of historic preservation and heritage tourism as well as of commuters and residents. We support efforts by elected officials as well as county and state transportation staff to develop corridor-long improvements that improve its function as they preserve and enhance its qualities.
We have grown increasingly concerned, however, that the designs proposed by the county’s transportation planners, which do not follow the guidelines of the existing Corridor Management Plan, will result in the degradation or destruction of a number of historic and economic assets along the corridor—whose owners have relied on the plan in investing millions of dollars in businesses that depend on maintaining the historic and scenic features that draw their visitors and customers. Moreover, the county’s recent congestion report acknowledges that the currently proposed improvements will merely push congestion farther north, and that the concepts proposed will sharply reduce access to businesses and sites along the corridor.
The streetscape and road design improvements in the county’s proposals would destroy many existing natural and historic features and structures, such as fences and tree lines, instead of preserving and enhancing the natural landscape and built environment. The proposed improvements would also seriously impinge on several of the area’s historic properties of national significance, whose faithful stewards have requested our assistance in preserving them.
We presented to the Board of Supervisors and county planners on Aug. 31 the first steps toward a better approach to congestion relief and safety improvements. It will relieve the problems, preserve scenic and historic assets and property values, and promote the increased economic growth of Loudoun’s rural economy.
To create that alternative approach we engaged nationally known transportation engineer Ian Lockwood, the designer many successful highway projects across the nation and of two rural highway projects in Loudoun—the award-winning Route 50 Project and the new Hillsboro Traffic Calming Project, which broke ground this summer.
His approach will best balance the needs of residents, commuters, and visitors, and can be built more quickly and for much less money than the current alternatives being considered. We encourage Loudoun’s citizens and all who value Loudoun’s scenic and historic beauty as well as its rural economic vitality to support this effort.
If Loudoun County adopts this approach, we can look forward to a safer, less congested, beautiful Rt. 15 that residents, visitors, and future generations can enjoy.
[William Sellers is president and CEO of the The Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership.]