By Ryan Cornell
STRASBURG -- Members of Strasburg Town Council have until the end of the month to decide whether to partner with the National Park Service in adding four signs on Interstate 81.
The signs would measure 120 inches wide and 30 inches high and would read "Strasburg Tourist Info Center" on a blue background. They would share frames with brown "Cedar Creek & Belle Grove National Historical Park" signs measuring 42 inches wide and 30 inches high. Two sets of signs would be located beside the north- and southbound lanes of I-81 before exit 298. The other two would be placed on the ramp from the interstate onto Route 11 with arrows pointing in the direction of each destination.
Economic Development Director Kimberly Murray, who presented the proposal at Monday's work session, said the signs would generate more tourists exiting the interstate and traveling through Strasburg. She said partnering with the National Park Service and sharing the same frames would cut the total cost of the signs by nearly half.
"My understanding was that a few years ago, the town had looked into putting signs on the interstate and it was quite expensive," she said. "My understanding was that it was around $50,000 or $60,000."
Through the partnership, the total cost for Strasburg's signs would be $32,115. Murray added that an $11,000 donation from Hometown Strasburg, divided into two fiscal years, would cut the figure to $21,000 the town would be responsible for paying. She said she approached the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation about financially supporting the signs, but that organization is temporarily unable to provide funding.
"The National Park Service has been gracious in waiting to get their signs up," she said. "They've given us until the end of January to give them a yes or no and then that's it, we've lost our opportunity.
"If we decide down the road that we want to pursue this and we turn it down now, it'll be back up to those numbers, because they have to put in another brand new frame structure."
Councilwoman Jocelyn Vena voiced concern over the future location of the visitor center.
"I can't see putting out this kind of money for a Strasburg tourist info center that right now, technically, is not in our ballpark," she said. "It's sort of like if the Bernsteins decided to put it on the market, we wouldn't have a visitor center anymore."
Murray said that if the visitor center were moved to a different location, it would still be south of the exit and wouldn't have any impact on the signs.
Councilman Scott Terndrup wondered if there was a better way to increase visitors other than spending money on signs.
"I guess my question is, is this the proper way to way contingency funds?" he asked. "But without that, is this the best use of bringing people into Strasburg? And maybe it is and that's fine."
Councilwoman Sarah Mauck supported the signs, noting that groups in Strasburg have discussed adding them for the past decade and said that it will send a message to the Bernstein family about their commitment to the center.
"We wanted it, we asked for it, we studied it, and the money that Hometown has put aside," she said. "So we've been asking for it guys, this is the opportunity, if you don't do it by the end of the month, we're gonna wait a lot longer."
Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org