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Input sought on Monument lighting

By Staff | Jun 11, 2010

Rumsey Monument, lit during a 2009 celebration File photo by Michael Theis/Chronicle

Officials with the Corporation of Shepherdstown are seeking comments from residents about a proposal to illuminate the monument at Rumsey Park during certain hours of the evening.

The proposal, designed to create an attractive portal into West Virginia, is associated with a broader effort to revitalize Shepherdstown’s Potomac waterfront.

Mayor Jim Auxer and outgoing Town Councilman Howard Mills, chairman of the Shepherdstown Parks and Recreation Committee, in an interview on May 28, discussed the pros and cons of lighting the monument. They said that it could help to cut vandalism at the graffiti-scarred park and create a beacon for tourists driving across the Potomac River to West Virginia on the James Rumsey Bridge while also noting that light pollution and the impact on wildlife could be an issue.

“It would only be lit during evening hours,” said Auxer “We’d shut it off around 10 p.m. or so every night.”

The plan comes in the wake of the 2009 Labor Day festivities at Rumsey Park, during which the Rotary Club of Shepherdstown lit the monument with a generator and a bank of mobile construction floodlights. Since January 2009 the Shepherdstown Rotary Club has been at the forefront of an effort to improve and revitalize Rumsey Park, located off North Mill Street.

The club’s efforts to improve the park are part of a broader effort underway by a coalition of government and local business groups to develop an interconnected park system along Shepherdstown’s Potomac waterfront, linking hikers and bikers on the C&O Canal with Shepherdstown’s green spaces.

Rotarian Hank Walter headed up last years effort to illuminate the monument with the goal of generating feedback from the community. He says that feedback was mostly positive, though officials with Shepherd University expressed concern that nighttime illumination of the monument could generate light pollution which could interfere with the operations of the University Observatory, located atop the Byrd Center for Legislative Studies on King Street.

To overcome the astronomical concern, Walter says that any lighting system installed at the monument would be rigged to a timer, shutting off the lights around 10 or 11 p.m., in addition to having the ability to be turned off by request.

“The intent is to create as little impact as possible and create a beautiful gateway into West Virginia,” said Doug Alexander, president of the Shepherdstown Rotary Club. “You have the Bavarian Inn, Shepherd University, and this beautiful monument.”

“The ‘Portal to West Virginia,’ having an illuminated monument as you enter West Virginia, is a big draw,” said Councilman Mills.

Walter said, in an interview on Tuesday morning, that the Shepherdstown Rotary Club is offering to pay for the lighting system to be installed, an $8,000 expense according to Mayor Auxer.

Mayor Auxer also speculated that an illuminated monument could deter vandalism. Police Chief Tim Johnson, while admitting that he was not completely in the loop on the plans to illuminate the monument, also cautiously speculated that lighting could help drive vandals away from the monument.

“If that happens, then we’d be all for it,” Johnson said.

Mills said if lighting is installed, he’d like to see security cameras installed as well, noting that an illuminated monument would become a night-time destination and might necessitate a change in the hours that the park is officially open. Currently, the park is closed from dusk till dawn.

“We’re trying to shed some positive light on what we’re doing,” said Mayor Auxer in an interview on May 28.

Residents interested in voicing their opinion over the proposal to light the Rumsey Monument are asked to send emails to Shepherdstown’s Town Clerk Amy Boyd at Clerk@Shepherdstown.us.