Development, a roundabout and local politics proved to be the three most significant stories in Botetourt County in 2017.
While some proposed developments were being criticized others were welcomed with fanfare or open arms.
The often-bemoaned and at other times praised traffic conversion at Exit 150— The Roundabout— not only opened, it was completed in the waning days of the year.
And who in the Amsterdam Election District is likely to forget the flip that unseated the district’s Board of Supervisors incumbent and the district’s School Board incumbent?
Another political story— a bit of a political undoing— still has some Town of Buchanan residents scratching their heads while others are nodding in approval after the town manager announced her resignation and then the mayor stepped down.
It’s entirely possible by the time readers see this story, Buchanan Town Council may have agreed to hire an interim town manager. Council was scheduled to hold a called meeting last night to interview/discuss potential candidates for that fill-in until a permanent town manager is hired. Discussions about appointing a mayor will take a little longer.
These are among the many Botetourt stories The Herald covered as they unfolded over the past 12 months— some, like Lord Botetourt High School’s state volleyball championship and the success by the James River High School FFA Chapter, made us smile. Others left us with a sense of loss as several longtime active community members were listed among the obituaries.
Of course, there were many other events and activities in 2017 that made headlines— big and small— in The Herald. So, as is our custom, we’ll review some of them as 2017 comes to a close.
In this week’s edition, we review the first six months of the year. Next week, we’ll remember stories from the second half of 2017.
- The year started with the annual St. Mark’s Episcopal Church Charity Concert that benefited the Botetourt Food Pantry and the county’s Emergency Fuel Fund. Again, Robin and Linda Williams graced the stage at D. Geraldine Lawson Performing Arts Theater despite nasty winter weather.
- Buchanan Town Council seated four members for the first time along with the mayor after the town agreed to reduce the number of council seats from six to four.
- It was reported The Open Space Institute (OSI) Land Trust based in New York was now one of Botetourt’s largest private landowners. OSI purchased 4,672 acres near Oriskany in the western part of the county in December, according to land records in the Botetourt Circuit Clerk’s office. OSI paid $5 million for the property that had belonged to Gorgica Asessores SL, a Madrid, Spain-based limited liability company that was established in 2006. The organization would like to work with partners to see the land conveyed into US Forest Service hands.
- The first “Women Rock Botetourt” Ladies Business Expo was held in Troutville on January 14. The event was held at the Troutville Town Hall and Pomegranate Restaurant.
- In one of the more tragic emergency services calls for a hiker in 2017, Botetourt Fire & EMS spent several hours the afternoon of January 21 locating a man who had died on a remote trail between Solitude and Forest Service Road 812 near the Rockbridge County line in the Arcadia area. County emergency crews continued to have a busy year as more and more people found the mountain trails and at times the James River too challenging.
- Troutville Volunteer Fire Department named Cole Guidry Fireman of the Year at its annual banquet January 21.
- The Botetourt County Rotary Club held its initial organizational meeting on January 25 at The Glebe in Daleville. The remaining members of the Buchanan Rotary Club worked with the leadership of the Rotary District 7570 to transfer that charter to the new club.
- Botetourt Longbeards President Ned Honts was recognized with the Robert Shackleford Community Service Award by the Virginia Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF). The Botetourt Longbeards Chapter also was recognized with three state awards for its outreach programs in the community.
- The Buchanan Lions Club presented Michael Burton the Melvin Jones Fellow Award “For Dedicated Humanitarian Services through the Lions Club International Foundation.” The Melvin Jones Fellow is the highest honor provided by the Lions Club International Foundation. It is named after the founder of Lions Club International.
- The Christian Free Clinic in Botetourt reached a successful 10-year milestone. It opened for the first time Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2007 in Fincastle Baptist Church. The clinic is run by volunteers who come to help every Tuesday and enjoy giving their time to others.
- Russell Craig Anderson of Oriskany was featured in The Herald for being the recipient of the Mountain Castles Soil and Water Conservation District’s (MCSWCD) first ever Lifetime Achievement Award. The award was presented for his lifetime of farming the same land— and his efforts to protect the land and Craig Creek that borders part of the property.
- The special exhibit, “Finding What Has Been Lost,” opened at the Botetourt County Historical Museum. The exhibit features a collection of artifacts, documents and pictures that focus on the history of the Botetourt County African American community. Much of the information is about the schools and churches, since community life revolved around those important institutions.
- ABC’s weekday program “The View” featured Botetourt native Charles Follis on one of its Black History Month segments just before the Super Bowl. Follis is credited with being the first African American professional football player, and was nicknamed “The Black Cyclone.”
- Botetourt students won four first places in the Roanoke Valley Governor’s School 2017 Project Forum held at Patrick Henry High School January 28. A total of 264 gifted and talented students participated annual event. Eight other projects by Botetourt students also earned second or third places in the competition categories.
Benjamin Johnson, Tara Malloy, Gavin Oxley and Maria Parnell and Ainsley Swartwout won first places.
- Bob Smith has been recognized by Mountain Castles Soil and Water Conservation District with the Botetourt County Clean Water Farm Award. Smith owns and operates a 96-acre beef cattle farm in the Glade Creek area of the county.
- Jumana El Shenawy, an eighth grader at Read Mountain Middle School, won the Botetourt County Spelling Bee on February 7 at Lord Botetourt High School. Runner-up was Brayden Wells, a fifth grader at Cloverdale Elementary School. The winning word was “undulating.” Shenawy represented Botetourt County at The Roanoke Times Regional Spelling Bee in March.
- Word came during a School Board meeting that Botetourt Technical Education Center (BTEC) would become the first secondary school in Virginia to offer a mechatronic engineering program for high school students. School Superintendent John Busher said an amendment to the state budget included $310,000 that would provide funding for faculty accreditation and equipment for a pilot first-year mechatronic technician course at BTEC in cooperation with Virginia Western Community College.
- The James River girls won the Region 1A/2A West indoor track meet last Sunday at Heritage High School. The boys took fifth, and River will send a strong delegation to the state meet at Roanoke College on February 22 and 23.
- The James River girls won the Region 1A/2A West indoor track meet at Heritage High School. The boys took fifth.
- The third annual Gauntlet Business Program and Competition got under way and part of the focus this year was on building small businesses in Botetourt County. The Advancement Foundation sponsors the program that brings together entrepreneurs and potential entrepreneurs, puts them in working groups and then helps guide them through the process of developing their own business plans.
- The Lord Botetourt swimmer Olivia Bray had a big day in Richmond on February 18 when she won the100 backstroke with a time of 54.20, setting a new Group 3A VHSL record. She won the 100 butterfly in 53.62. She was competing in the Group 3A state swim meet.
- While a group of “stakeholders” were gathered in the historic Wilson Warehouse in Buchanan to hear updates about the Upper James River Water Trail on January 25, Gov. Terry McAuliffe was signing legislation that nearly quadrupled the length of the James River that’s been designated a Virginia Scenic River. The legislation became effective July 1, and 59 miles of the James from its headwaters at Iron Gate to downriver from Glasgow at the Rockbridge/Amherst/Bedford County line are in the Virginia Scenic Rivers System. That’s the entire part of the James in Botetourt and a portion in Rockbridge County.
- The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) issued the state’s first Small Renewable Energy Project (Wind) Permit By Rule for a utility-scale wind farm March 2. The permit allows Apex Clean Energy to take the next steps in developing the Rocky Forge Wind turbine project on North Mountain near Eagle Rock. The permit was Rocky Forge Wind’s last major hurdle for the proposed project. The company is in the process of finding an energy buyer.
- When Eldor Corp. recently finalized a construction contract to build its new high-tech manufacturing plant at Botetourt Center at Greenfield, Botetourt County officials breathed a sigh of relief. Not because it’s taken a year to get this point since the Italian-owned company announced it was locating in Botetourt— rather because it meant the county will not have to repay a $450,000 Virginia Department of Transportation industrial access road grant that was awarded in 2006 to build the International Parkway extension.
- Botetourt County officials’ efforts to “fertilize” the affordable housing field was the focus of Monday’s daylong Housing Summit at Greenfield Education and Training Center. Stuart Patz of Stuart Patz & Associates did a presentation on the recently completed housing study the Board of Supervisors commissioned last year to see how the county might help stimulate housing/apartment development to accommodate the people who will be filling the promised 1,200-plus jobs that will be available over the next few years.
- The slave quarters log building that has been the focus of attention at Botetourt Center at Greenfield may have more historical significance than first thought. The Herald reported that dendrochronology testing showed the historic kitchen dated to 1844 or early 1845, and the slave quarters were built in 1864. Mike Pulice, an architectural historian with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, said, “In many ways, this is more exciting than confirming our original hypothesis. These might be the latest constructed slave quarters discovered to date, and it really sheds some light on what was going on right before the end of the Civil War.”
- The Dabney S. Lancaster Community College Educational Foundation Board of Directors has appointed its new president, Donna Vaughn of Eagle Rock, for a two-year term. Vaughn, a 10-year veteran of the Foundation Board, is a retired educator and guidance counselor.
- Botetourt County Administrator Gary Larrowe announced a broad reorganization and reduction in force (RIF) as a money-saving move that’s based on the county’s five-year budget projections. The move reduced the number of county positions, but only one person lost a job— the Economic Development Project Manager,
- YMCA Corporate Board Member and long-time supporter of the YMCA Bill Kirk upped his original $300,000 pledge to $450,000 if the Botetourt YMCA capital campaign reached $8,850,000 by August 1.
- Botetourt Technical Education Center (BTEC) was one of 16 schools that received $37,500 grants to upgrade or purchase career and technical education equipment (CTE) through the state’s Career and Technical Education Competitive Innovative Program Equipment Grant program. BTEC used the grant for five MecLab Training Systems for its new mechatronics program.
- Members of the Botetourt County Bar got a look at the new video hookup that’s now available in the circuit courtroom in the county courthouse. The $30,000 system will allow attorneys to show video evidence during criminal and civil trials, and, when a camera is installed, it will allow the judge to hold arraignments without having to transport prisoners from other localities where they may be held in jail.
- The Botetourt Board of Supervisors added a new tax rate line to the proposed 2017-18 fiscal year (FY18) budget last week. Along with real estate, machinery & tools, mobile homes, personal property and motor homes, there’s now a rate for wind farms. The supervisors set the rate for wind farms at 99 cents per $100 of valuation with the expectation that if the Rocky Forge Wind Energy Project goes up on North Mountain, it will generate about $1 million in local taxes.
- Botetourt County’s success in helping businesses locate here was featured as part of a 23-page spread about the Roanoke Valley that was in the April edition of “Sky” magazine, a Delta Air Lines publication the company says landed in front of 5.4 million readers who travel around the world on the airlines each month.
- New Freedom Farm in Buchanan hosted its first annual “Spring Fling” on April 1. It included a variety of activities and information about the farm’s dedication to helping veterans.
- Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits held a Hiring Event April 9-11 as it prepared to open its restaurant at the new brewery in Botetourt Center at Greenfield.
- Caleb Beckner was a Lord Botetourt High School senior and one of the four high school students that were on the Virginia Western Community College (VWCC) Robotics Club competition team that placed 18th out of 51 teams at the 2017 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Southeast Conference hardware competition in Charlotte, N.C. on April 1.
- Read Mountain Middle School sixth grade English teacher Angela Myers received a $1,000 prize as a finalist in the 18th annual 2017 McGlothlin Awards for Teaching Excellence. The winners were announced at a ceremony at Radford University. Myers was one of three finalists in the Secondary School Division.
- Sixth graders at Read Mountain Middle School turned into teachers when they shared what they’d learned about 63 different countries with first and second graders from Cloverdale Elementary School. The International Fair was a project for the sixth grade English classes where they worked in teams to develop interactive booths about the different countries.
- Sarah Hamblin’s “Operation: Easter Bunny” provided over 360 Easter baskets for area children. The then Central Academy Middle School seventh grader Sarah started her charity when, for her fifth birthday, she asked her friends, family and neighbors to bring her an Easter basket instead of a birthday gift. She’s continued that tradition each year since.
- The Botetourt fire and rescue volunteer captains and chiefs, along with about a dozen career officers and crew members, were introduced to the county’s new Chief of Fire and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Matthew Britt on April 17. He came on the job May 22. Six months later, in November, he stepped down from the position.
- The Botetourt School Board voted 4-0 at its April meeting to implement a new way of recognizing seniors’ academic achievement when they graduate. The school division is dropping valedictorian and salutatorian designations effective with the Class of 2021— next fall’s freshman class. Current high school students— through the Class of 2020— will continue to have valedictorians and salutatorians. When the new academic recognition goes into effect, the two county high schools will use a multi-tier program similar to what colleges and universities use, similar to summa cum laude, magna cum laude and cum laude.
- Read Mountain Middle School dedicated the Cloverdale community’s first Little Free Library, a project done by the school’s sixth graders. The dedication was during a Reading Celebration with Cloverdale Elementary School kindergarteners and Blue Eagle Credit Union, whose company employees provided $500 and collected over 1,000 books for the group of Little Free Libraries its supporting around the Roanoke Valley.
- The Botetourt Board of Supervisors approved a $95.12 million budget for the FY18 fiscal year that starts July 1. The budget includes 1.3 percent and 1.5 percent county employee raises, and the school budget provided a 1-step increase in the teachers’ pay scale and a 2 percent salary increase for administrative personnel.
- Several groups of children and visitors had many questions and thanks for the Buchanan veterans from VFW Post 5895 and American Legion Post 93 in Buchanan when they visited the Korean War Memorial during a trip to Washington, D.C. on April 26. The veterans made stops at several other memorials, including Arlington National Cemetery.
- The Botetourt Prevention Coalition (BPC) implemented Project Sticker Shock, a Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) prevention program, at five area stores in April. Sticker Shock is a community event aimed at raising awareness about the dangers of purchasing or providing alcohol for a minor and using a fake ID.
- Botetourt Farmers Market opened for the season at Daleville Town Center with the first of monthly, free live music concerts called Live & Local and underwritten by Lumos.
- The Botetourt County School Board will use an expected $7.6 million in energy and operational savings over the next 15 years to make nearly $6.3 million in improvements to all of the school buildings over the course of the next year. The School Board and Board of Supervisors approved a contract with Johnson Controls to manage energy projects at all county school buildings.
- LBHS seniors Kaelyn (Katie) Dooley and Erin Bohannon and JRHS senior Sydney Gordon were the first Botetourt County STEM-H Academy students to distinguish themselves by earning associate’s degrees in Health Sciences Specialization.
- Dr. Megan Seibel has been appointed Virginia’s Deputy Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry by Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
Seibel, who owns a beef cattle and wine grape operation in Blue Ridge with her family, has been serving as Assistant Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry since last fall.
- The 2017 Gauntlet Competition top prize went to the Wingman Outfitter. The company that is owned by Austin Bousman and Drew Arney was among a number of new or newly forming businesses to receive financial and in-kind awards at the conclusion of the competition. Wingman Outfitter received $13,000 in cash and $8,885 in in-kind prizes that will help Bousman and Arney grow their fledgling outdoor-related business that has developed an outrigger system for canoes and kayaks that uses coolers.
- Lord Botetourt High School presented diplomas to 224 seniors during May 22 commencement exercises at the Salem Civic Center. Caleb Beckner led the Class of 2017 academically and was valedictorian, and Emily D’Arpa was salutatorian.
- Weather pushed the 2017 James River High School commencement inside on the evening of May 23. Diplomas were presented to 120 seniors. Benjamin Johnson was the Class of 2017 valedictorian and Sydney Gordon was salutatorian.
- Eagle Rock firefighter Roger Johns, 63, died tragically May 19 while helping as a ground guide at a single-vehicle accident on US 220 near Catawba Creek Road south of Eagle Rock.
- Chris Shaffer, Computer Systems teacher at Botetourt Technical Education Center (BTEC) in Fincastle, was named the 2017 Aerospace Teacher of the Year by Roanoke Chapter 285 Air Force Association. Shaffer, who teaches Computer Systems I, II and III, has been teaching at BTEC for three years.
- FFA teams from James River and Lord Botetourt started what would become a series of national trips when they competed in the 2017 National Land Judging and Homesite Evaluation Career Development Events in Oklahoma City, Okla. Before competing in the national contest, each team had to qualify in the Virginia FFA State Soils Judging Career Development Event to earn one of five spots in the national competition. The team from Lord Botetourt placed first at the state level with the James River team placing fifth.
- The Lord Botetourt girls soccer team completed their second straight undefeated regular soccer season.
- Habitat for Humanity in the Roanoke Valley relocated a home that was built in conjunction with Botetourt Technical Education Center (BTEC), Botetourt County Public Schools Education Foundation (BEF), and Bank of Botetourt this week. The house traveled from BTEC on Poor Farm Road in Fincastle to its permanent location on 4th Street in Buchanan. The initial construction began in the fall of 2014 and was facilitated by the Botetourt County Public Schools Education Foundation. Students at BTEC, with guidance from Building Trades Instructor Phillip Simmons, completed the three-bedroom, two-bath home that Daniel and Ashley Albright and their two children were able to move into in October.
- Team Off the Grid not only won the High School Division in the 2017 National KidWind Challenge in Anaheim, Calif., the five Lord Botetourt and James River High School students also earned a reputation for being respectful and helpful to the other participants in the national event. The five-member team of Jacob Leonard, Tucker Grimshaw, Jonathan Leonard, Josh Grimshaw and Thomas Laughridge provided the judges with some extraordinary work. The team scored 95.27 out of a possible 100 points in six categories, 34 points better than the second place team. On May 23, Team Off the Grid took an improved version of the small-scale wind turbine they designed and built for the Dabney S. Lancaster Community College Regional KidWind Challenge that they won in April to qualify for the nationals.
- Sharon Coleman, a 1978 graduate of James River High School, was inducted into the Knights of Distinction Hall of Fame on May 16. The award is designed to recognize former students, teachers, and staff who have brought distinction to the school through their service to the school and community, contributions to society, personal character, honesty, and accomplishments in or out of school.
- American Pickers TV show stars Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz didn’t do any picking in Botetourt County for their popular History Channel TV show, but they did spend the afternoon of May 25 filming fill-in and other segments for the show. The 10-member crew was sequestered in a stone barn hide-a-way on Beaver Dam Farm south of Buchanan where the Wickline family served as “hosts,” so to speak. After filming, they wandered the streets of Buchanan for a while to the delight some surprised residents and business people.
- Jerry Jacobsen, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1841, was inducted as the next District Commander, District 6 of Virginia. Jacobsen assumed command on May 21 and will replace outgoing District 6 Commander Frank Ware, VFW Post 5895.
- Buchanan American Legion Post 93 inducted Sarah Ware as Post Commander on May 24. The gavel was passed by outgoing Commander Charles Montgomery during the Post Induction Ceremony. Ware will serve as the first female Commander in the Post’s 86-year history.
- The community honored Sheila Proffit on June 4 at James River High School where she spent 45 years of service to student-athletes as a teacher, coach and athletic director. She retired at the end of the school year.
- James River sophomore Will Miller won the 3200 meters by over seven seconds with a time of 9:41.09 at the Group 2A state track meet in Elton, and Lauren Ogle won the 300 hurdles with a time of 46.26 in the girls part of the state meet. Katelyn Wiley was third in that event at 47.80. Miller was also third in the 1600 at 4:29.89, less than three seconds behind the winner. Miller combined with Daniel Holter, Noel Preece and Will Fowler for a fourth place finish in the 4×800. Ogle also finished sixth in the triple jump and ran on two relay teams that placed, as did Wiley. The 4×400 team of Ogle, Katelyn Wiley, Kerri Wiley and Erin Walker was third. The 4×800 team of Ogle, Katelyn Wiley, Walker and Abigail Link took sixth.
- For the third year in a row the Lord Botetourt girls saw their only loss end their soccer season. This year it was Western Albemarle who ended LB’s undefeated season with a 2-0 win over the Cavaliers at Western Albemarle High in Crozet in the Region 3A West semifinal.
- “The Disney World of Botetourt County.” That’s the way County Administrator Gary Larrowe described the new Ballast Point Brewery when the California-based brewery opened its Tasting Room and Kitchen for a crowd of more than 200 people who hoped to have lunch there on the restaurant’s first official day June 12. The restaurant— the seventh one the brewery is opening— may be known at first for the 96 brew taps at the bar and the California-meets-Botetourt menu. But word will spread about the stunning views of Botetourt Center at Greenfield where it is located.
- Botetourt Technical Education Center’s (BTEC) team of three criminal justice students took a trip to the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference in Louisville, Ky. June 19-23. Ashley Denney, Kasey Tolley and Scotia Haxton won the SkillsUSA Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) Virginia competition in April in Fredericksburg. That win followed their district win in the winter. The three are 2017 James River High School graduates.
- Buchanan area volunteers turned out again Saturday to package 13,608 meals for the annual Rise Against Hunger (formerly Stop Hunger Now) event at the Buchanan Firehouse. About 52 people gathered for just under two hours of assembly-line work to package the meals that will go to Haiti.
- Botetourt was swarming with bicyclists June 23 when several hundred Bike Virginia riders peddled from Buena Vista to Buchanan and Fincastle as part of the annual six-day summer tour that that is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. As many as 1,500 bicyclists were on the tour that started Friday, June 23 and ran daily through Tuesday, June 27.
- Virginia Western Community College’s Women in STEM program earned the 2017 post-secondary Creating Excellence in Education Programs Award for efforts in promoting academic and professional excellence in young women interested in a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) field. Amy White of Buchanan is Dean of STEM at the community college.
- The Herald reported a Sheetz fueling station and convenience store was being proposed for the corner of Roanoke Road and Catawba Road in Daleville. A rezoning and special exception permit (SEP) application for the corner lot and three other small parcels on Catawba Road has been submitted to the Botetourt County Planning and Zoning Department. A decision on the rezoning and SEPs is scheduled for the Board of Supervisors’ January 2018 meeting.