By MELINDA WILLIAMS
The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail would like to be designated as the nation’s 50th National Heritage Area, so it’s seeking the endorsement of the governing bodies of member jurisdictions.
Convincing Pulaski County Board of Supervisors that it’s a good idea may take some extra work though. Some aren’t too keen on the idea of getting the federal government involved, even if the legislation states that the designation can in no way infringe upon property rights.
Massie District Supervisor Andy McCready said he’s afraid inviting the federal government to get involved will bring with it the same kinds of restrictions the Historic District designation brought in Pulaski. He explained that repairs to some tornado-damaged homes were unnecessarily delayed because they were within the historic district and there were a lot of steps involved in getting the repairs approved.
The board Monday night approved a motion to table an endorsement request from Crooked Road Executive Director Jack Hinshelwood until March.
Before the vote, McCready said that while he appreciates all Hinshelwood has done to make The Crooked Road what it is today, “reasonable people sometimes differ on an issue. I’ve not heard anything yet to pull me to the other side.”
In addition to providing another source of funding, Henshellwood said, the heritage designation would increase national awareness of The Crooked Road region, which includes 19 counties, four cities and over 50 towns. The town of Pulaski and Pulaski County are both members, but the town of Dublin is not.
Hinshelwood said the organization’s board of directors didn’t want to pursue federal legislation to seek the designation until giving all member jurisdictions a chance to comment. While some have endorsed the measure, Pulaski town and county have not yet done so. They have until spring to make a decision.
Supervisors Chairman Joe Sheffey noted none of the 19 counties are on the endorsement list. Hinshelwood said Giles County gave its support after the list was made.
Draper District Supervisor Dean Pratt asked if the National Park Service (NPS) would be involved if the heritage designation was approved. Hinshelwood said NPS would provide some funding and technical assistance as needed.
Any funding received from the federal government through the heritage designation would require a match, according to Hinshelwood. He said there is a single “pot” of money for national heritage sites and it is divided among the number of sites. Right now there are 49, but adding The Crooked Road would require the pot to be split 50 ways. He estimated the amount of funding available could be as little as $150,000 each and as much as $670,000.
McCready made a couple of observations that make him leery of the proposal.
First, he said, “Washington has problems with money and there’s a possibility the (heritage area) money could be gone or cut.”
Second, he asked, “What if the park service decides to regulate The Crooked Road? The only recourse we would have is to take them to court if we feel like they’re impacting our property rights.” He added that he has “a real problem with that” because our opinion of what infringes upon property rights and the park service’s opinion may differ.
McCready questioned whether there are any areas of The Crooked Road that are being “neglected” due to a lack of funding right now.
Hinshelwood said that while The Crooked Road has been “very successful,” he “wouldn’t say it’s financially stable … That’s why we’re looking for more funding sources. The initiative receives funds from the Tobacco and Appalachian Regional commissions, but he added that “you have to be entrepreneurial” to keep financially solvent.
McCready said it seems the region has a lot to be proud of and to share with others. However, he noted Southwest Virginia was settled by a people who wanted to enjoy their rights and be left alone.
“There’s a lot of those same (types of) people still here. They don’t want the federal government involved. I’ve not had a single person approach me in support of (the heritage designation),” he said.
Hinselwood acknowledged we’re “in a climate where the federal government is at the bottom” when it comes to approval. However, he said he thinks people would know if there had been past problems with government interference with property rights in areas designated as National Heritage Areas.
“None of us can predict what crazy things may come down the pipe, but as a business, I can’t sit back and say ‘I’ve done enough,’” Hinselwood added. He pointed out the entire state of Tennessee is a National Heritage Area, so “I think if there would have been problems, we’d be aware of them.”
Pulaski County resident Genie Zunic expressed skepticism that the designation wouldn’t result in government interference with property rights. “It takes an act of Congress to establish a National Heritage Area. “If it takes an act of Congress to get in, how hard do you think it’ll be to get out?” she asked.
Assistant Pulaski County Administrator Robert Hiss, the county’s representative on The Crooked Road board, recommended the supervisors endorse the measure, saying he thinks it will help market the area. He said there are thousands of major historical sites in the country, but only 49 with the National Heritage designation.
Hiss said he sees it as a budget stabilizer for The Crooked Road because federal funding is more stable than state or jurisdictional funds. With the heritage designation having a “30-year track record” and The Crooked Road and NPS already are partners, “so there shouldn’t be any surprises because any legislation passed is a partnership” of both, he said.
However, Hiss told the board there is no rush for a decision, so there is no harm in tabling the matter for more study.
Pratt made the motion to table and it was seconded by Robinson District Supervisor Charles Bopp.
McCready urged citizens to make their opinions known to their representatives before the March 25 meeting so the board can make an informed decision.
Hinshelwood said it will give him time to request supporters to come to the March meeting.