Charlottesville Breaking News

Shenandoah secrets: Pork, propaganda, and the creation of a COOL national park

A lot can change in three quarters of a century. Walk along the Hughes River in Madison County in a place called Nicholson Hollow, and there's little trace that this was once a thriving village.

Now heavily wooded, the hollow was a lot more open then because trees had been cut since the late 1700s to build houses, barns, and fences, and the land left open for gardens, orchards, and pastures for cattle and horses. Seventy-five years ago, the hollow became part of the East Coast's first national park when it opened after heaps of controversy.

Jim Lillard's grandfather, W.A. Woodward, owned a 154-acre farm in Nicholson Hollow. Lillard pulls out a plat that shows not only the location of the frame farmhouse but also identifies the owners of neighboring farms, as well as the sites of the school, church, mill, and road.

"If you look at that, you could see a community thrived," says Lillard. "It really was a civilization, not a bunch of hillbillies."

But 75 years ago, the residents of Nicholson Hollow were indeed portrayed as hillbillies, even successful, educated farmers like Woodward. Photo captions in the Library of Congress mention a man with a "rude sled" and describe one child as a "half wit."

In the winter, stone chimneys and foundations can be spotted here, but in late June, unless you're sharp-eyed, there's no evidence that people lived here for generations. And that's what the creators of the Shenandoah National Park intended.


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Batesville Store to re-open?

Two weeks ago, a story in the Crozet Gazette enthusiastically suggested that the Batesville Store, a popular music venue and country store that was forced to close when the Health Department cited the owners for more or less running a restaurant without a permit, might re-open. However, when we spoke to store owner Cid Scallet on July 13, he was cautious about such pronouncements.

"Apparently there's a rumor floating around that has taken on a life of its own," he says. "Yes, there's a possibility we might re-open, but the key word is 'maybe.'"

Since 2007, Scallet and his wife had been running the store under guidelines from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Safety [VDACS], which monitors all grocery and convenience stores. But according to local health department officials, when a case of foodborne illness was reported, agents investigated and discovered that the store was operating as a restaurant with as many as 40 seats, something Scallet does not refute. On June 10, health department agents ordered them to stop their restaurant operation. By June 12, t...

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Controversy veers: Belmont Bridge fence could pose bike hazard

Controversy has erupted again on the Belmont Bridge, and this time it's bicyclists who might be getting the short end of the sidewalk, as a new fence– designed as a safety boon– could be creating a safety hazard.

"That pushes the bicyclists further out out into the traffic," says safety expert Dean Sicking. "That would be a concern for me."

Sicking explains how the fence, erected in late May to keep pedestrians from walking over the Bridge's crumbling eastern sidewalk, has been located so close to the vehicular lanes that the natural tendency of a passing bicyclist is to steer away from such an obstacle– and out into motorized traffic.

Belmont Bridge has two vehicular lanes on its eastern side but no lanes dedicated exclusively to bicycles. And that's why Sicking, who directs the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility at the University of Nebraska, isn't sure the fence was a good idea.

"The concern I would have," says Sicking, "is that it might make a biker shy away from the fence and be more likely to be hit by a car."

Researcher Sicking provided safety tips in the wake of a group of fences built inside tunnels in Boston's "Big Dig." There, the fences were blamed for deaths and grisly, dismembering injuries that might not have happened with horizontally-oriented bars.

He says the Belmont Bridge fence might...

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Water down: Lots of rain but still below average

After a dry winter that brought less than half the average precipitation, fears of a drought à la 2002 have been averted by a very wet spring and what's been, to this point, a wetter than average summer season, according to state climatologist Jerry Stenger.

Those spring showers "made nothing short of a huge and very welcome difference," Stenger says, noting that 17 inches fell between late March and late June, bringing groundwater levels up from "disturbingly low" to the normal range throughout most of the area.

With June bringing 90 percent the average precipitation and a soggy, thunderstormy July hitting 150 percent of average rainfall at mid-month– measured at the McCormick Observatory– Stenger says the Charlottesville area ground water is in good shape and overall rainfall for the year has rebounded to reach 10 percent above average.

That's not the case in other places around the state, where rainfall hasn't been so plentiful.

In the Tidewater area, for instance, certain localities have already implemented water use restrictions to stave off supply problems, Stenger says, noting they're now "at the mercy of hit or miss thunderstorms."

But if this area's groundwater's in good shape, there are a few downsides to the ample rainfall.

"Lawns are overgrowing with reckless abandon, and with plenty of areas that don't dry out, mold spores are having a field day," says Stenger, suggesting that rain may actually be somethin...

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Feeder bear

This bear visited the yard of John Clem in the Key West neighborhood.

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