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By SHAINA STOCKTON, Staff
The Crooked Road, Virginia’s heritage music trail, has proposed that its coverage region of 19 counties and four cities in Southwest Virginia be designated as a National Heritage Area, “based on the region’s unique musical heritage and its significant role in the formation of American music,” according to a press release provided by the organization.
Opponents of this plan were concerned that the federal designation would threaten personal property rights and interfere with local land use regulations, but a recent study has refuted those claims.
The Crooked Road initially began with 10 counties and three cities that the trail passes through, including Galax and the counties of Carroll and Grayson. Some of its local venues and affiliates include the Rex Theater, the Blue Ridge Music Center and the annual Galax Old Fiddlers’ Convention.
Later, the driving trail expanded to include nine additional counties and the city of Radford.
The Crooked Road said that the National Heritage Area designation would help bring recognition to the area as the birthplace of traditional American music, and make the trail’s surrounding localities eligible for some types of 1:1 matching federal funding.
The funding could take the form of public-private partnerships, leveraging funds or long-term support for projects that support historic preservation, conservation, recreation, tourism and education.
“In general, this is an opportunity to take our efforts to a whole new level with regard to successfully promoting the heritage music of this region,” said Crooked Road Executive Director Jack Hinshelwood. “This music is a national treasure and the musicians, families and communities that have preserved it are very deserving of the recognition. For communities that want to get the most economic development using our natural and cultural assets, this is an excellent way to do that.”
Opponents of the plan — most notably the "Tea Party"-affiliated Liberty Confederation — said last year that the federal designation "is bearing down on [citizens’] right to use, enjoy and make their livelihoods in the manner in which they are accustomed on their own land."
Crooked Road officials said they were concerned that some opposition towards the heritage area proposal could be the direct result of faulty information regarding land use regulation and personal property rights.
“There are three good examples of communities in North Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia that are successfully promoting their regions as National Heritage Areas,” said Hinshelwood. “Heritage areas are helping their communities with marketing, creating driving trails, doing tourism research, and creating exhibits to tell their nationally important stories.
"Local government leaders who actually live in those three heritage areas that we spoke to have verified that being in a heritage area has had no effect on property rights, zoning or had any effect on the governmental authority at any level — local, state or federal.
“We have also proposed very plain and simple language to be included in the designation that would prohibit these effects by law,” he said.
Per the request of local governments along the music trail, the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service — a research organization formed through the University of Virginia — conducted an in-depth, independent review of the designation.
First, the review found that National Heritage Areas do not threaten personal property rights. “Individual rights protected by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution continue to stand,” their findings state.
Included with the response was a direct quote from the Fifth Amendment: “No person shall be..... deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”
Secondly, the review found no evidence of interference in the administration of local government land use regulations within National Heritage Areas by the federal government.
According to a fact sheet from The Crooked Road, the music trail is proposed as a heritage area because "the musical traditions of Southwest Virginia have had an indelible impact on American music."
That musical heritage reflects the mix of cultures brought to the region by settlers of European and African ancestry, and shaped over hundreds of years by life in the Appalachian mountains.
“Some of the greatest names in American music are from the region," including the Carter Family, the Stonemans and Ralph Stanley.
"Just as important is the manner in which the musical traditions are interwoven into the everyday fabric of life for the region's residents."
Ultimately, creation of a Crooked Road National Heritage Area will require a vote in the U.S. Congress.
Trail officials have released an estimated timeline of completion for the establishment of the heritage area. They hope to submit an updated feasibility study to the National Park Service for comment sometime in May, address the comments they receive in August and complete work with congressional representatives to draft legislation and solicit public reviews and comments by December.
The Crooked Road is also accepting letters of support or resolution for the federal designation from localities, organizations, businesses and individuals, the news release said.
To date, the trail has received a long list of responses, including letters from U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-9th District) and the City of Galax.
• Letters may be sent to The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail, One Heartwood Circle, Abingdon, VA 24210. For more information, call (276) 492-2409.