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The Crooked Road has ended its effort to achieve National Heritage Area status, after Tea Party groups alleged that the move would put local land use decisions under federal control. The trail that includes the Twin Counties would have been eligible for federal grants to promote mountain music.
Landmark News Service and Staff Reports
The Crooked Road announced last Thursday that it has given up its attempt at National Heritage Area designation, after three separate county boards of supervisors voted not to support the effort.
Washington, Wythe and Russell counties had recently voted against it after public hearings in which residents spoke of concerns about zoning issues and property rights.
People had voiced the same concerns in public meetings that Crooked Road officials hosted. Members of the Abingdon/Bristol/Southwest Virginia Tea Party had been most vocal, linking the National Heritage Area designation to the United Nations’ Agenda 21, which the Tea Party has said in public meetings and on its website is an effort to control international land use.
But for Crooked Road officials, the county supervisors’ votes held the greater weight, Crooked Road president and board chairman Woody Crenshaw said.
“We were prepared to debate the issues with our critics,” Crenshaw said after a news conference in Abingdon on March 14. “But when local governments started to withdraw their support, it put us in a position of having to move forward with some communities in and some communities not in. And that was not a position we wanted to impose on anybody.”
The Crooked Road, Virginia’s official heritage music trail, winds about 300 miles through 19 counties that have contributed much to the nation’s musical and cultural heritage. Running from Rocky Mount to Breaks, it includes Ferrum, Floyd, Stuart, Hillsville and Galax. It does not touch Wythe or Russell counties, though both localities host Crooked Road-related events.
It runs through Washington County, where supervisors on March 12 voted 5-2 to write a resolution of nonsupport, according to the Bristol Herald-Courier. Supervisor Bill Gibson told the Herald-Courier that the board “did the will of the people,” and that “with federal dollars come federal strings.”
Bristol officials voted in favor, as had Rocky Mount, Galax, Fries and Floyd, among others.
It was a bipartisan effort, as well. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va) and U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-9th District) had both worked for the NHA designation.
Griffith said that he had planned to draft a bill that would alleviate critics’ concerns. The designation would not affect private property rights; no eminent domain moves could be undertaken; and the Crooked Road could not request any zoning changes, Griffith said.
“I never drafted the bill because I had promised folks that before we actually got to introducing the bill or drafting it, that I was going to have three town hall meetings of my own to make sure that those people who were concerned got a chance to tell me what language they thought ought to be in the bill,” Griffith said. “We’ll never get to that now.”
Delegate Israel O’Quinn and state Sen. Bill Carrico — both Republicans from Crooked Road districts that include parts of Galax, Carroll and Grayson — have not supported the designation, saying the potential risks outweigh the potential benefits.
The country’s National Heritage Areas, which the National Park Service administers, include the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District and the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area. Most of the latter is in Virginia and features what the park service calls “the greatest concentration of Civil War battle sites in the country.”
The Crooked Road stood to gain about $200,000 per year via federal matching funds from the National Heritage Area designation, Crenshaw said. That money would have supported, among other things, the road’s youth music education program, tourism marketing efforts, festivals and administrative costs.
“It will be difficult for us to raise that money elsewhere,” he said.
Communities along the Crooked Road have funded it, as has the state and the Appalachian Regional Commission.
“Those sources of revenue are becoming more and more difficult to draw from, particularly local communities,” Crenshaw said. “A lot of the small communities of Southwest Virginia are really stretched. And this was a way to create a sustainable funding source for us.”
Harmony, not discord
On March 14, Crooked Road Executive Director Jack Hinshelwood issued a press release in which he said the music trail sought to promote “harmony, not discord” by discontinuing its effort to become a National Heritage Area.
“On an icy day in January 2003, a small group of volunteers from throughout Southwest Virginia sat around a pot-bellied stove at the Carter Family Fold and planned The Crooked Road. Lunch was prepared and a fervent blessing said by Jeanette Carter. The Crooked Road has always been, and continues to be, about the traditional music of Southwest Virginia,” Hinshelwood wrote.
“Over the last 10 years, The Crooked Road has sought to unite the communities of Southwest Virginia through their shared musical heritage. The unified nature of this initiative has also been its strength, allowing the region to establish and benefit economically from having an internationally known brand for authentic traditional music.”
He said the organization believes it can best serve the region as a unifying entity. Although a significant number of localities have supported it, the proposed Crooked Road National Heritage Area designation “has not unified the entire region.”
Without that unity of purpose, Hinshelwood said, The Crooked Road has decided instead to “focus on other important programs such as traditional music education, marketing of venues, strengthening travel industry connections, and development of a branded Crooked Road radio program to name a few.”
He said the organization remains convinced that a National Heritage Area would be of great benefit to the region.
“Critics of the designation have made numerous claims of adverse effects, most notably that Heritage Areas are a threat to property rights. The Crooked Road diligently researched these claims and could not find a factual basis for them,” Hinshelwood said.
“The independent and well-respected Weldon Cooper Center researched these claims on behalf of local government and could not find a factual basis for them. We are not aware that critics of the designation have provided anyone with a factual basis for those claims, either.”
Hinshelwood said the most compelling evidence that Heritage Areas do indeed benefit communities can be found by looking at such areas in North Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.
He said local leaders there report that Heritage Areas have not impacted property rights in any way. “Far from having adverse effects, these Heritage Areas are providing their regions with valuable support for cultural tourism and economic value through promotion of their cultural assets.”
The Crooked Road has an obligation to seek out opportunities that can benefit the region, Hinshelwood said, “especially when it involves revenue sources that can help stretch local funding.”
In the big picture, The Crooked Road is supported and operated by its localities in Southwest Virginia, and the organization feels those localities should decide whether to pursue the Heritage Area designation.
It became obvious that not all these localities agreed. “That decision should be made with as much unanimity as possible. That unanimity of purpose does not currently exist,” he said.
Hinshelwood appreciates the many localities and other stakeholders who provided letters and resolutions of support.
Now, the job is to look for alternative forms of sustainable funding.
“The Crooked Road looks forward to finding new and exciting ways of assisting the communities of Southwest Virginia in celebrating their unique musical heritage.”
Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) also issued a statement last week saying he respected The Crooked Road’s decision.
“It was never the intent to have any local jurisdiction placed into an NHA without its approval. No matter what you think about NHA, the Crooked Road has been and will continue to be a great asset to our area. It provides a good opportunity for folks to visit numerous sites that embrace our musical heritage across the district.”
Tea Party celebrates victory
The Southwest Virginia Tea Party — which represents Abingdon, Bristol and Washington County — called Washington County’s vote against the Heritage Area “a major win for property rights activists” in a press release on March 13.
The statement claimed the designation would have effectively put the 9th District under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service and U.S. Department of the Interior.
The conservative group blasted Griffith and Sen. Mark Warner (who the group calls a “Marxist” on its website) for “fast-tracking” the “scheme” through Congress with no debate and providing local governments with little information about the designation.
A subsequent press release from the Tea Party group on March 15 further attacked Griffith’s statement that “I do not support any legislation that does not respect the private property rights of individuals.”
“After ignoring repeated requests for private meetings with the same liberty groups to whom he pledged personal access, Congressman Morgan Griffith today made the ambiguous claim to be a ‘respecter of private property rights of individuals,’” the March 15 statement said.
The Tea Party statement said the Heritage Area designation had been “rigorously opposed” by the liberty groups that Griffith sought support from in his 2010 congressional race.
“You cannot claim to ‘respect property rights’ and ignore what is happening to your district under these grants,” said Catherine Turner of SAV NRV (Sustain Authentic Values, New River Valley). “And you cannot claim that these federal land grabs don’t harm property rights. I’ve documented thousands of victims. I don’t give a damn how Jack Hinshelwood and his Weldon Cooper Center spins it — it’s documented fact.”
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