A year-and-a-half after Purcellville town staffers and officials were prohibited from hunting and fishing on the town’s reservoir and springs properties after nearly 100 years, they might soon be allowed back in.
The Town Council last week discussed the possibility of allowing the general public to bow hunt and fish on the 189-acre Aberdeen property and allowing town officials and staffers, along with their guests, to fish and hunt with bows or firearms on the 1,272-acre reservoir and Cooper Springs property—something they were previously allowed to do.
Public Works Director Buster Nicholson said the impetus behind the discussion centered primarily on the Town Council’s desire to give residents a chance to hunt and fish on the reservoir and springs properties and to help thin out the overcrowded deer populations.
Nicholson noted that the presence of town staff members on the reservoir property would also help to keep trespassers away without costing the town any additional money.
Since the late 1920s, active and retired town staff and Town Council, committee, commission and board members were allowed to hunt and fish on the reservoir and springs properties, which include six parcels that feature the J. T. Hirst Reservoir and three springs that sit 4-5 miles north of Round Hill and abut the Virginia-West Virginia line. That privilege was revoked in December 2017 when the Town Council voted unanimously to terminate the program following equitability and liability concerns after discussions of allowing residents to hunt and fish on the properties.
In August that year, Fonda Craig, a senior safety consultant with VML Insurance Programs, encouraged the town to not open the property to the general public.
“I’m not aware of what borders this land or what type of precautions will be taken to limit the area for hunting,” she wrote in an email to the town. “Accidents do happen and the town does not need the extra liability.”
Mayor Kwasi Fraser last Tuesday said that when the council took that vote, “it was not meant to be indefinitely.”
“We said that we wanted to go back to the drawing board and come up with a solution that would be equitable,” he said.
If town officials and staffers are eventually allowed back on the town’s reservoir and springs properties, that access might be for them and only one guest. Residents by themselves still might not be granted open access.
That’s because the reservoir and springs provide the town with about 40 percent of its drinking water. “The town is very careful to ensure that any recreational use of this property does not interfere with the safety of our watershed,” the draft hunting rules and regulations read.
Town Manager David Mekarski said that when he interviewed all 85 town employees when he was hired last April, “there was one single message that resonated from the majority of the employees”—to reopen the reservoir property for them.
Councilman Tip Stinnette said the idea to allow staffers and council members to bring one guest with them onto the reservoir property “intrigues” him because it could turn out that only residents who are friends of town staffers and officials might gain access via the tag-along program.
To ensure that doesn’t happen, Stinnette said the town could implement a program that would require those with full access to bring a resident “from the public at large.”
“Then you begin to solve that equitability issue,” he said. “I’m not entirely sure you’re making any hay with the committees, commissions and boards by including them into the calculus, nor do I think you’re making any hay by bringing the council members into that.”
If town staffers, officials and their guests are eventually allowed to hunt and fish on the properties, they would not be allowed to fire a gun within 100 yards of the reservoir or within 50 yards of the property line. Additionally, only six people might be allowed on the property at any given time.
The access rules could be less stringent on the smaller Aberdeen property, where bow hunting may be allowed. Under the proposal, hunters would be required to pass a criminal background check and an archery proficiency test. They would be able to apply for the hunting program during August and would be selected on a first-come-first-serve basis.
They would also need to follow a list of town-implemented rules and regulations. Violators could be temporarily or permanently suspended from hunting on the property and would not be allowed to appeal the town’s decision.
“It would not be a free for all—this is a very serious program,” said Jake Jansen, a member of the town’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board who has been working with the town since January to develop the Aberdeen program.
Per Fraser’s request, the staff will work through the proposed hunting and fishing programs to find ways of better opening the reservoir and springs properties to all residents.
Mekarski said his staff would provide the Town Council with more information at its July 9 meeting. “I don’t want to lose the momentum on this because I know how important it is for both the employees and the public,” he said.
Nicholson said he might request the Town Council’s permission to create Game Management and Pond Management committees made up of a staffer, council member and resident to better review all options.