Monday, May 17, 2021

Too Much?

Nelson County in central Virginia is the very definition of bucolic. Rolling, forested hills, the beautiful Rockfish and Tye rivers, farmland aplenty, and not a single incorporated town, the county seat, Lovingston, de-incorporated in 1938.

For a 14 mile stretch of Virginia State Route 151, Nelson County is home to many of the area's local wineries, breweries, a couple of cideries and at least one distillery. From its junction with US-250 to Devils Backbone, about 14 miles, is home to 15 businesses that produce and sell alcohol. Being in such a beautiful part of the world, many of the local wineries in particular have a sideline as events spaces, especially weddings, and local breweries also have live music. In more "normal" times, the area is positively heaving with visitors.

Now it seems that some of the local residents have had enough. Yesterday Mrs V and I went to Devils Backbone again as they currently have the latest iteration of Ein Kölsch on tap, and I noticed a sign on the side of the road, having just turned of US-250, that said, and I paraphrase:

"No more alcohol, event spaces, amplified music, and increased traffic in our rural areas."

I have to admit, and I realise there is a hefty dose of irony here, that I can sympathise with the attitude presented on the sign. Mrs V and I rarely bother with Route 151, other than to go to Devils Backbone, simply because the traffic can be crazy and many of the more popular spots, such as Blue Mountain Brewery and Bold Rock Cider, are often packed before lunchtime. Several places along the road have undertaken projects to increase their parking capacity, even so seeing cars parked along the verge is not entirely uncommon. When I think to when Mrs V and I first moved out here, there were only two breweries on Route 151, Blue Mountain Brewery and Devils Backbone, with about 12 miles of wineries in between, not a single cidery or distillery.

This got me thinking about the point at which all this development becomes a burden rather than a boon to a local area. In 12 years living in central Virginia, I can only remember a single major road works project on Rt 151, otherwise it is still a run of the mill, rural, one lane each way kind of road. According to the Nelson County Comprehensive Plan, this 14 mile bit of road sees an average of 8500 trips per day. Obviously the majority of the traffic is personal cars, though at weekends there will be literally bus loads of booze tourists visiting the area.

It's very easy for us to celebrate the fact that we have such a wealth of options on our doorstep, and very beautiful ones at that. As I mentioned last week, I love going down to Devils Backbone and enjoying superb beers in a frankly stunning location, but would I want to live on this little stretch of road that constantly hums to the noise of the infernal combustion engine? I also have to ask myself the question, how will I feel if the proposed breweries coming closer to my neck of the woods create something similar?

I am not going to propose any solutions, as a few jotted thoughts on a blog post are hardly a suitable substitute for the consideration, planning, and balancing of the needs of various stake holders. Though I can honestly say I feel a sense of understanding for the people putting out signs like the ones referenced above. It's a difficult question for rural areas, how do you balance economic development with maintaining the very idyll that makes an area such a draw in the first place? Is having ready access to excellent beer really worth the added strain on infrastructure, increased noise pollution, and a sense of your home becoming someone else's playground?

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