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Virginia's Retreat Request

CUMBERLAND – The chair of Virginia's Retreat recently requested that the Cumberland County's Board of Supervisors reconsider and continue its membership in the regional tourism consortium.

During the just-completed budget process, the board, on a split vote, decided to eliminate the funding of several services, including the $4,500 worth of funding to Virginia's Retreat.

According to Chair Beverly Hawthorne, Cumberland was one of the original Virginia's Retreat founders.

She spoke to Cumberland's Board of Supervisors during the July 10 meeting.

“I do, however, want to make you aware of some of the things…that you will be not a part of,” she said.

But before Ms. Hawthorne could inform the board about the changes that would be made in Cumberland, Supervisor Lloyd Banks, District Two, interrupted her presentation by issuing a warning.

“For the sake of the people here, what we're discussing is the Virginia Retreat signs that are located throughout our county that are somewhat historical markers…,” he said.

“That's one of many services,” Ms. Hawthorne corrected.

Banks continued, “At our budget session and with this year's approval it did not include the $4,500 for this Virginia Retreat so she's here to discuss that aspect of our budget.”

The signs, Ms. Hawthorne picked up where she had been in her presentation, are sponsored by Virginia's Retreat and are also marketed by Virginia's Retreat for all of the member counties.

The Civil War History Trail, the Lee's Retreat driving tour and Wilson-Kautz Raid Civil War driving tours, as well as the Civil Rights in Education Heritage Trail are all a part of Virginia's Retreat's benefits.

Virginia's Retreat also prints travel guides promoting the different activities in each locality that participates in the consortium.

“In addition, we've advertised in the Virginia Travel Guide, we've advertised in the Civil War traveling magazine, and this year we're advertising in AAA World magazine and in Better Homes and Gardens,” she noted. “We've got inserts in quite a few of the larger newspapers and we've been mentioned in many articles in The Washington Post as well as the Richmond Times-Dispatch for the Civil War activities that took place in this area.”

Their mission is to “increase tourism, economic activity, preservation, enhancement and education about the region's natural, recreational, and historic resources.”

It was organized in March of 1993 to “explore ways that the counties of Amelia, Appomattox, Buckingham, Cumberland, Dinwiddie, Nottoway, and Prince Edward, and the City of Petersburg could work together to promote the region's rich abundance of natural and historic resources.”

Since its conception additional jurisdictions have joined, including Brunswick, Charlotte, Halifax, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, and Powhatan.

Because Cumberland was a founding member of Virginia's Retreat, Hawthorne noted, “and we want you to return at your earliest possible time,” the consortium will not remove any of the signs located in the county.

“They will remain intact,” she offered to the board.

“Your mentioning of Cumberland County in the brochure will continue on those two trails but the rest of the brochure, however, is where we're going to have to remove Cumberland's name,” she said while pointing to a whole host of yellow tabs in a brochure. “All of these yellow tabs are spreads that have Cumberland's name on them-sites where there are outdoor activities, the state park, the state forest, all of these different things.”

Ms. Hawthorne gave Cumberland one last chance to reconsider during her request before the reprinting of the brochures.

“We're getting ready to go to press with a new Virginia's Retreat guide and we decided at the last meeting, not because of this or to put any pressure on you, but the cover will be the High Bridge. The new travel guide is absolutely beautiful and we'd love you all to be a part of it and I think if you really look at how we've spent the $4,500 for the county it has leveraged itself beautifully. I doubt you can get that much use out of $4,500 in many places.”

The High Bridge Trail State Park is marketed in the brochure and on the Virginia's Retreat website, according to Hawthorne when asked.

“Along with the other outdoor activities,” she said. “The state parks is a non-voting member of Virginia's Retreat. They are very active in what we're doing…It's one of the many trails that we encourage people to come to this part of the state to visit…”

According to the discussion, there are five historical trail signs located in Cumberland.

Even though the group decided to leave the trail signs in the county the cost to maintain those signs would now be Cumberland's responsibility.

“Then maintenance on those from Civil War Trails would be billed to you all,” she said. “That's not up to me…but currently Virginia's Retreat does take care of that for all member counties.”

It averages, for Civil War Trails, about $500 a site per year, she said.

“They check the microphones and they check the condition of the signs and they make sure that there are batteries and that everything is working so that when someone gets there they are learning what they are suppose to learn at that particular site,” she offered.

The Civil Rights in Education Heritage signs are lower maintenance because they do not have any batteries, she offered.

“They don't have nearly the maintenance as the others,” she said.

Supervisor Banks, at the point during the discussion when the board was tossing around the idea of rejoining, asked, “My question is where is the $4,500 going to come from?”

He didn't receive a response.

“One thing is for sure…if we do nothing to attract them to Cumberland County they certainly won't spend any money here,” offered Supervisor Parker Wheeler, District Five, at one point during the discussion.

After hearing statistics related to tourism in the county, Supervisor Kevin Ingle, District Three, said, “I think tourism for Cumberland County helps support those jobs…”

“How much is the maintenance if we take the signs down?” asked Banks.

“If there's no signs there's no maintenance,” responded Ms. Hawthorne.

“If I see a bill here for maintenance of signs that are just sitting there I'm going to ask to take the signs down,” responded Banks.

Ms. Hawthorne noted that she'd pass that along to the Virginia's Retreat full committee.

At the end of the lengthy discussion, Ms. Hawthorne left without an answer.

Cumberland did not commit to continuing its membership in Virginia's Retreat for the current year but did, however, request that additional data be provided for consideration correlated to the benefits Cumberland receives as being a member.