By Alex Bridges
FRONT ROYAL - A state grant would improve boating access at Simpsons Landing on the Shenandoah River in Warren County, local and state officials say.
But the owner of the Simpsons Landing site told the Warren County Board of Supervisors the county could find a better way to spend the money.
Board Chairman Archie Fox received calls earlier this year regarding the condition and accessibility of Simpsons Landing, according to County Administrator Douglas Stanley. The county recently received a $10,000 grant through the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries for upgrades to the public boat landing. The county had identified public boating access to the river as a local need.
Skip Sims owns the 5-acre lot that, through a deal with the county, became Simpsons Landing. The landing lies at the end of Downing Farm Road, also known as Stoney Bottom Road.
Stanley told the board that the site is not the best access point.
"It's a difficult site," Stanley said. "I can't fault the Board of Supervisors of the time. They made that decision and we all, including Mr. Sims, have had to live with it."
The county has had the property surveyed, Stanley said. But after hearing concerns from Sims, Stanley said county officials promised not to move forward on the proposed improvements until Sims had a chance to express his views.
Sims gave a presentation to the board at a work session Tuesday outlining reasons he claims show why the county should not use the grant to upgrade the landing.
Sims claims the landing has attracted illegal activity. He showed a photograph of several videocassettes of adult films discovered by law enforcement at the landing. Sims also showed photographs of profanity-laced graffiti - censored for the presentation - etched into wood at the landing.
The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries manages the landing. The county is in the process of taking over the landing from the agency.
"Remember, this is a landing that the DGIF has expressed interest in abandoning," Sims said. "There is a $10,000 incentive for somebody else to come in."
Sims warned the county could take over a "money pit" because the cost to build the ramp as needed would far exceed the $10,000 grant received. Sims said he calculated the county could spend more than $330,000 over the 25-year life of the project for the Parks and Recreation Department to maintain the ramp area and to have law enforcement monitor the property, which is located at the end of a long road.
"Frankly, it's not on the way to anywhere," Sims said.
Although signs posted at the landing prohibit swimming, Sims advised such activity still occurs and the moment a person drowns as a result the county could face a legal fight.
In order to comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, the design of the landing may need to incorporate handicapped access. Such guidelines could require either a wheelchair lift or a much longer ramp. A design provided by Sims showed the required length and pitch of a landing given different circumstances.
The best-case scenario, according to Sims, shows a ramp longer than current plans as provided with the grant documents. The length grows under other scenarios with the worst case calling for a ramp that ends at the waterfront but begins in Shenandoah County. The 18-foot vertical bluff at the water's edge poses a challenge to any ramp built on the site.
Sims suggested county leaders ask river users where they feel the money should go. He noted river access remains an important issue for users who could offer input on other potential sites.
Supervisors made no comments about Sims' presentation or claims other than to say the board would take his suggestions under consideration.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org