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Not so much to ask

SoVaNow.com / December 10, 2020
If we’re all going to be honest with ourselves, there’s no denying the sadness in leafing through the pages of the newspaper and seeing photos of everyone wearing masks over their faces. Especially with the usual assortment of Christmas photos — children, parents, sometimes Santa Claus himself all masked up, their smiles and cheery expressions hidden by garb more appropriate for the hospital ER. You know what’s even sadder? Seeing people die. As the tagline goes in the TV commercials, our current predicament, it’s not complicated.

Please, folks, wear those masks — simple acts of personal responsibility and kindness can save someone’s life, including your own.

On a related note: Ever since the school year began, critics of the School Board’s stay-at-home policy for students have pointed to neighboring localities that have kept their schools open (more or less), and said, “Why can’t we do that?” None of our neighbors has been more aggressive than Mecklenburg County, which reopened its elementary schools on a four-day schedule (that’s four full days in class for everyone, not some two-by-two hybrid schedule to educate rotating halves of the student body). The Mecklenburg school board did opt to keep students in grades six-12 at home, with the exception of small subgroups such as high-need special education learners, but Mecklenburg trustees have repeatedly expressed the desire to bring back all students to school facilities, sooner rather than later.

So much for all that. This week, Mecklenburg Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols (formerly an assistant superintendent in Halifax) closed all county schools until at least Jan. 19. Whether you want to call it prudent decision-making or bowing to the inevitable, this action by Nichols is unquestionably the right thing to do with the exploding spread of the virus.

There’s no doubt our kids and our country are suffering tremendous harm from the shutdown of schools and other impacts of the pandemic — the damage is severe and perhaps incalculable. Yet this is the world we have made for ourselves with the stubborn refusal by way too many people to heed the guidance of public health experts and scientists. No one is more responsible for this dismal state of affairs than our current president, with his non-stop blatherings about hoax illnesses and bleach injection cures, but none of this means that individuals are absolved from their own responsibility to act in concert to defeat this plague. America is barreling towards half a million people dead, maybe more, with hundreds of thousands if not millions of others doomed to suffer irrevocable damage to their physical and mental health. The idea that we can just go about normal daily life without modification amid these grim times is sheer fantasy.

The silver lining here is the sacrifices we need to make won’t last forever and really don’t have to be too drastic — wearing a mask isn’t the worst thing in the world to ask of someone, after all. Simple preventative steps, such as social distancing and crowd limits (which go hand-in-hand) can carry us through the darkest of these pandemic times until mass vaccination kicks in and we can protect the most vulnerable among us. (And yes, I will line up for the vaccine in a New York second.) Let’s do the right thing for the sake of everyone, family, friend or otherwise. If America cannot unite around a message of protecting our friends and neighbors from deadly disease, it’s hard to know what hope of unity can exist in this country. Enough already with the wedge politics and junk science. It’s way past time for all of us to get with the program.

***
Turning to some good news, Virginia State Parks has laid the groundwork for the purchase of Falkland Farms, the 7,362 acre Scottsburg land tract that once reigned as one of the largest hunting preserves in Virginia. The plan is to eventually incorporate Falkland Farms into Staunton River State Park, thus creating Virginia’s largest state park and one of the largest parks of its kind on the East Coast. Falkland Farms and Staunton River State Park (approximately 2,400 acres) sit at the headwaters of Kerr Lake, at the confluence of the Dan, Staunton, Banister and Hyco rivers. The location makes this project not only a massive win for Halifax County but for the region as a whole.

The Department of Conservation and Recreation (parent agency of VSP) is purchasing the land from Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney, the man responsible for unleashing Fortnite on the world. (A lucrative responsibility indeed). Sweeney, of course, bought up Falkland Farms last year around this time for the tidy sum of $11.5 million. The property sits next door to Staunton River State Park, and when and if it is incorporated into SRSP, Falkland Farms will open up waterfront access to the Dan, Banister and Kerr (Buggs Island) Lake. You know what would be really cool? If there’s a way to build a marina on the Halifax County side of the lake. Could happen — and what a world of possibilities that would open up.

More immediately, being a hunting preserve, Falkland Farms features trails and woodland cut-throughs that shouldn’t be too hard to add to the existing trail system at SRSP. In fact, the park could be the connective hub for a long-envisioned, multi-county recreational trail in Halifax, Charlotte and Mecklenburg counties. The point is, the expanded state park (and the Falkland Farms grand lodge) potentially are tremendous assets for Halifax County to capitalize on. State Parks officials, notably Halifax County’s Tim Vest, have done great work to put this project on the drawing board. They’ve laid a clear path for turning potential into reality.

So what needs to happen to make that happen? One thing, obviously, is for our local lawmakers to make the case for state funding to bring these aspirations (and others) to fruition. It may not be the easiest sell at the General Assembly. In a Viewpoint letter on the facing page, Willie Buck Herman of Virgilina makes a well-stated argument that the Commonwealth can’t afford to go forward with the Falkland Farms acquisition amid all the other problems we’re dealing with right now. I disagree with his overall point but there’s no question Mr. Herman is articulating the case for doing nothing that we are sure to hear from others, including budget makers in Richmond. More generally, as the influence of Southside Virginia wanes at the Capital, it becomes harder all the time for our local delegation to gain the attention, much less the money, of the statehouse powers-that-be.

It would help tremendously if our elected Republican leadership in Southside would cut out the fan service claptrap and stop doing stuff like making vaguely seditious statements on Facebook about seceding from the rest of the state. A more constructive approach would be to seek out common ground with Democrats in Northern Virginia and other urban locales in securing a natural resources asset that would have statewide, even national value. Aside from the economic potential with an expanded, 10,000 acre Staunton River State Park, let’s not forget the other incredible benefit of this acquisition: conservation of an ecosystem that among other things serves as a massive, climate-regulating carbon sink There are obvious ways for members of Southside’s legislative delegation to enlist allies in a shared cause of environmental and economic value, but all such approaches will demand creativity and willingness to compromise, including on points of party dogma such as (cough, cough) climate denialism.

Speaking of which: next Monday, the Electoral College will certify the victory of Joe Biden as America’s 46th president. From the time the outcome of the election became crystal clear, many Republicans — from the top rungs of the party down to low-level functionaries like our own state Sen. Frank Ruff — have questioned the legitimacy of Biden’s victory, with zero evidence of wrongdoing and negative good faith. It’s been a disgraceful display. No less than a federal judge appointed with the strong support of the far-right Federalist Society tossed a Trump campaign lawsuit to overturn Biden’s victory in Pennsylvania, describing it as a “Frankenstein’s monster” riddled with “strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations.” Alas, there’s apparently no shaming the shameless. This disgusting abuse of the court system isn’t just about or even mostly about Joe Biden — it’s an exercise in trashing democracy and subverting the will of the people. Some folks may look upon the mockery and disrespect being heaped on the Republican politicians who promote these dangerous and destructive lies and think it’s all too much. On the contrary, the argument is far stronger that it’s not nearly enough.



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