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River group meets, talks goals

By Staff | Jan 28, 2011

Members of the Riverfront Revitalization effort met Tuesday to discuss the progress of the project and plan for the future. Short-term goals, transparency and community involvement were among topics of discussion.

A group of 10 to 15 people met over several hours Tuesday morning at the Shepherdstown Train Station, the first meeting of the group since October of last year.

In October 2009, Shepherdstown leadership announced its plans to pair with the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program in an effort to revitalize the local waterfront area along the Potomac River in Shepherdstown.

The project was to commence immediately and operate in phases, the first of which was to develop a comprehensive plan for how to achieve the group’s goal.

The group’s goal is to preserve and protect the historic landmarks along the riverfront, while enhancing the area’s recreational appeal.

This plan would include potentially renovating existing structures located along the riverfront, like the historic Tobacco Warehouse and developing new trails and pathways to connect the riverfront to other historic recreational locations, like the C&O canal.

The RTCA has since began meeting with leadership on the town’s Parks and Recreation committee, representatives from the Shepherdstown Rotary Club and other affiliated groups, as well as any community members interested in the project.

Chris Niewold of RTCA presided over the meeting that included brief presentations from the various focus groups or subcommittees associated with the project.

Niewold explained that the group had experienced a three-month hiatus due to personal health issues and saw the meeting Tuesday as an opportunity to “re-engage” in the project.

According to Niewold, the RTCA, which assists in planning and development of projects associated with rivers and trails, generally commits to a 24-month partnership. In this case, he explained that partnership would end early next fall.

For the group which is adamant about getting the project off the ground, the expiration date of the partnership with RTCA has become a real motivator.

David Humphreys, Rotary member and program coordinator for the group, suggested at the meeting that the group consider attempting small “short-term, complementary projects,” which could contribute collectively to the overall goal of revitalization.

Humphreys explained that this idea had garnered some support from Mayor Jim Auxer, though the Shepherdstown Town Council has yet to vote on any aspect of the project. He suggested that going after “low-hanging fruit” might be a way to generate more public support for the project and could be accomplished prior to the fall RTCA deadline. An example of such “fruit” would be the restoration of the Rumsey wall.

Niewold agreed.

“Maybe the win is that we get some small project done,” he said and suggested that smaller undertakings could perhaps be completed with help of volunteers from the local community, university or organizations, like Job Corps.

As the group continues to concern itself with developing its far-reaching plan, they also took ample time Tuesday morning to consider what seems to be their major issue at the moment: public relations.

The revitalization effort has reportedly caused some confusion among group members and other citizens of Shepherdstown.

Karen Valentine, who attended the meeting Tuesday and is active in various town organizations, stressed the importance of generating a “positive public image” for the project.

For now the group hopes to increase its transparency and visibility by reaching out to the local newspapers and better utilizing the Corporation of Shepherdstown’s homepage to advertise meeting times and encourage feedback for the project, which is still in the planning stage.

A public meeting announcement was not sent out to area newspapers for this past week’s meeting though a small announcement appeared on the effort’s page on the town’s website, shepherdstown.us/home/riverfront-revitalization-partnership.

The next meeting will be held Tuesday, Feb. 1 at 10 a.m. at the Shepherdstown Train Station.