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South Boston News / November 21, 2013

Fresh off a successful effort to designate a portion of the Banister a state scenic river, local proponents are hoping for more.

Their goal is to nearly double the length of the Banister receiving the scenic river designation — 66.33 mile stretch is proposed for inclusion — with the aim of spurring heightened interest in the Banister among outdoors enthusiasts.

“There are several locations along the expanded stretch that would be great places for canoeists and kayakers to launch their boats,” said Halifax Town Manager Carl Espy, who is working with Halifax and Pittsylvania officials to promote use of the Banister.

Their work this year to have a 38.4 mile stretch of the Banister declared a state scenic river earned kudos from Scenic Virginia, a statewide conservation organization that focuses on the preservation of significant views and vistas. Local officials were invited to a Scenic Virginia banquet in Richmond last month to draw attention to the inclusion of three rivers into the Virginia State Scenic Rivers program, established by the General Assembly in 1970. In addition to the Banister, portions of the Dan and Meherrin were added to the state’s inventory of scenic rivers.

There are 31 rivers in the Commonwealth that bear the designation, spanning 677 river miles. Virginia has approximately 49,000 miles of rivers.

Officials in Halifax and Pittsylvania plan to approach the General Assembly in early 2014 to press for legislation to extend the designation to a full 66.33 miles of the Banister. Local delegates James Edmunds of Halifax, Danny Marshall of Danville and Don Merricks of Pittsylvania carried the 2013 bill that initially brought the Banister into the program; Edmunds and Marshall will return to the House in 2014, although Merricks chose not to seek re-election this fall. Pittsylvania County will ask its legislators to sponsor the follow-up bill, with the support of Halifax.

While the scenic river designation has little impact on permissable development along the river, the honor is highly valued as a tourism and marketing tool.

To gain the designation, advocates of the Banister joined with members of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Community Design Assistance Center of Virginia Tech to document the river’s attributes. The resulting study lists the Banister’s most compelling features: rapids, primitive areas, islands, rock formations and a variety of plant and animal species. A member of the Virginia Tech center praised the Banister for offering abundant views of spring wildflowers, shrubs, interesting rock outcroppings and cliffs and banks lined for miles with forest.

The river’s most notable assets are two old mills dating back to the 1700s, as well as the birthplace of frontierswoman Rachel Donelson Jackson, wife of President Andrew Jackson.

In designating rivers as “scenic,” the program recognizes and provides a level of protection to rivers with significant scenic beauty, historical importance, recreational value and natural characteristics.

The scenic river designation fits hand-in-glove with the Banister River Gateway Project, an initiative to bring new signage, river access, and parking to points along the river. The Town of Halifax and other groups are working to develop a regional canoe trail system that will tie the Banister in with the Roanoke River Basin Association-Upper Reach initiative in Mecklenburg and neighboring Virginia and North Carolina counties, with the aim of marketing the blueway trail to paddlers in the region spanning from Richmond to the Research Triangle in North Carolina.

The section of the Banister that currently carries the scenic designation begins at Route 640 in Pittsylvania County and stretches into Halifax County for a total of 38.4 miles. The additional section being sought for inclusion in the program is 27.9 miles.

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