Shenandoah County plans to seek inclusion in a state-run program that would designate a section of the Shenandoah River’s North Fork near Woodstock, including a segment located within Seven Bends State Park, a “scenic” river.
The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday gave Jenna French, the county’s director of tourism and economic development, the green light to continue working with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation in pursuit of the Virginia Scenic Rivers Program. The program was formed in 1970 with the General Assembly’s passage of the Scenic Rivers Act with the intent to “identify, designate and help protect rivers and streams that possess outstanding scenic, recreational, historic and natural characteristics of statewide significance for future generations,” according to the DCR’s website.
French noted during Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting that the county’s quest for inclusion in the program began in September 2019 when she sought supervisors’ approval to proceed with an initial study, performed by the DCR, required to determine if a waterway qualifies for a scenic river designation. That study has since been completed, French said, and the county is prepared to proceed with the next steps that include the passage of a resolution of support at the county level and state legislation.
Shenandoah County’s proposed scenic river section is an 8.8-mile stretch of the Shenandoah River’s North Fork that runs from Chapman’s Landing in Edinburg to Lupton Road in Woodstock. Encompassed in that segment is approximately four miles of river that flows through Seven Bends State Park.
During her update to supervisors, French said scenic river designations encourage the promotion of tourism as well as the protection and preservation of natural resources and prompt closer review of projects that may be taking place along the river by local and state agencies.
French further noted that such designations provide for the continuation of the existing use of riparian land (that which is situated on the riverbank); eligibility for land-use tax considerations, if locally adopted; the framework for a local Scenic River Advisory Committee, if the county wishes to form one; and, most importantly, funding opportunities. On that last point, French said scenic river designations support land conservation through the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation and conservation land tax credit.
French said that with a scenic river designation often comes the public misconception that it will “drastically prohibit what you can and cannot do along the river bottom.” According to French, such designations do not authorize the county to take over any land for public river access, nor do they impose any additional land-use controls, affect rights of riparian landowners or allow for public use of private property along the river.
“Private property owners still have the same rights that they would have without the designation as they would with the designation,” French said.
She added that scenic river designations do not enact any federal controls, rules, or regulations and do not affect tributary streams.
While scenic river designations don’t directly promote an increase in recreational use, French said having such a title on the proposed section of the Shenandoah would be a “feather in our cap” that could appeal to visitors.