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Tourism efforts gaining steam, with state parks, rivers leading the way

South Boston News
Supervisors and Council members on Monday night thanked Del. James Edmunds for his efforts to get the Scenic River Designation for the Banister River. / October 24, 2013

Tourism is gaining momentum in Halifax County, supporters say, and efforts are ongoing to build up the county’s tourist assets.

“Halifax County has a wealth of things to do,” said Virginia State Park District Manager Tim Vest, speaking Monday before members of the Halifax County Board of Supervisors and South Boston and Halifax town councils. Vest thanked elected officials for their support of local tourism, which has helped the county’s two state parks attract a growing number of visitors.

Enumerating the various activities and historic treasures of Halifax County, Vest cited its three rivers — the Staunton, Dan and Banister — as well as the archeological site near Clover’s Staunton River Battlefield State Park, where visitors can join professional archeologists in unearthing historic Native American finds from thousands of years ago.

Vest also noted the appeal of the historic Berry Hill Plantation, The Prizery and the Crossing of the Dan site to outsiders visiting the county.

Much of his focus, however, centered around activities at Staunton River State Park and Staunton River Battlefield Park. He talked about the recent star gazing party at Staunton River Park, which this year attracted more than 300 people, from amateur star gazers to more advanced astronomers.

CHAOS (The Chapel Hill Astronomical and Observation Society) hosts star parties each spring and fall, with one night featuring a free public viewing. The crowds have grown from ten people who attended the first party in 2011 to 110 registered participants during the Oct. 1-6 event this year at Staunton River State Park, said Vest.

A group of youths from New York visited the park, Vest added, and for the first time ever were able to see the stars.

Vest said the Staunton River State Park location is one of the top sites on the East Coast for star gazing, and he urged governing officials to preserve the area’s dark skies by encouraging the use of incandescent or low wattage electric bulbs in construction projects.

Other popular features at Staunton River State Park are its recently-opened equestrian trail and Edmunds Lake, one of the largest fishing areas in the state.

Vest also touted the proposed creation of river trail system involving South Boston, Halifax, the Battlefield Park and Staunton River State Park. Local tourism officials are seeking a $10,000 grant for the trail from the Virginia Tourism Corporation, which require a local match of $10,000. He said Virginia State Parks has pledged $3,000 with Mecklenburg and Halifax County each contributing $1,500.

The remaining $4,000 would be sought from the Virginia Capital group, which supports non-profits, according to Halifax County Tourism Director Linda Shepperd.

Shepperd said the grant application was submitted to the Tourism Corporation on Monday and she hopes for an answer before Christmas.

The grant, she said, encourages a regional approach, which is favored by state officials. “We feel we have a strong proposal which includes not only the Staunton, Dan and Banister rivers, but also the Hyco. All told we have some 200 miles of navigable rivers.”

In other reports, Halifax Town Manager Carl Espy spoke on the 2013 Scenic Awards ceremony held in Richmond recently. Three newly designated state scenic rivers were recognized by Scenic Virginia, the statewide conservation organization with a particular focus on the preservation of significant views and vistas. On July 1, a 38.4 mile segment of the Banister River was awarded the scenic river designation, Espy said, with sections of the Dan and Meherrin Rivers receiving the same designation.

Supervisors and Council members presented Del. James Edmunds with a framed resolution thanking him for his continued dedication towards protecting and promoting the community’s natural resources. Edmunds was the patron of House Bill #2220 dealing with scenic river designations.

Supervisors and Council members also heard a report from Library Board Chairman Bee Edmunds Espy. She advised that representatives of the State Library have recommended that the local library board consider joining a regional library system with Campbell County, which is partnering with Lynchburg and Bedford County. With regional status bringing additional state funds, Espy said partnering with Campbell County would mean a bonus of $35,677 for Halifax libraries. The state formula for funding, she explained, is based on basic state aid — 40 percent of local expenditures plus 30 cents per capital and $10 per square mile.

The state formula for regional libraries is 40 percent basic state aid, 30 cents per capital or 60 cents if combined with Campbell, Bedford and Lynchburg and $30 per square mile.

In addition to the increased financial support, Espy said other benefits includes having a greater source of materials to offer patrons, as well as having only one director for the entire library region. But the process can be complex and lengthy and could take as long as two years to complete.

She said the Library Board will continue to evaluate the recommendation and work with the Joint Library Committee to come to some decision on the feasibility or regionalization.

Following the joint session with the towns, County Supervisors approved a resolution for the irrevocable election not to participate in the Virginia Local Disability Program and named County Administrator Jim Halasz and ED-4 Supervisor Doug Bowman to serve on the Lake Country Development Corporation’s Board of Directors.

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