Snowflakes greeted us as we entered Douthat State Park near Clifton Forge for the annual retreat of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources. Although it was a little late in the season and rather chilly, it was an absolutely beautiful time to be in the mountains for the wonderful fall leaves. Whatever the conditions were this year that made it possible, the color was spectacular.
Douthat State Park was Virginia’s first state park, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression. The cabins are charming, each with a stone fireplace, and well-equipped for family visits. The park features many trails, some quite long and rugged, so much so that you are supposed to let the park office know when you embark on a long hike. Boats are available for rent to use on the lake and there is a large swimming area – to use when it’s warmer!
Of course, the committee members didn’t get to do any of these recreational activities at the park as we had full days of informative sessions to attend.
We began with Preston Bryant, Secretary of Natural Resources, who spoke about Governor Kaine’s environmental priorities. First among them is a goal to preserve an additional 400,000 acres of land by 2010. It’s an ambitious effort but this year’s numbers give encouragement that it can be achieved.
We then turned to comprehensive reports on the state of the Chesapeake Bay. While the budget this year has more money for cleanup of the Bay than ever before (one highlight in a year of disappointments about transportation), it is clear that we will not meet the 2010 goal that the Commonwealth set some years ago.
However, much progress will be made with the new funding in cleaning up point source pollution from water treatment plants and industrial sites.
More needs to be done to implement best management practices (BMPs) in agricultural areas (planting trees and grasses along waterways; keeping animals out of streams; fertilizing appropriately, etc.).
The best investment appears to be more staff to work directly with farmers to educate them and help them implement these practices. More money for cost-sharing is also needed.
We spent quite a bit of time discussing the thorny issue of poultry litter. House Bill 1207 passed in 1999 requires poultry farmers to dispose of the litter responsibly. Often it is sold to nearby crop farmers for use instead of chemical fertilizer but a weakness in the law does not require the receiving farm to do soil testing or have a nutrient management program.
At the end of a long day of meetings, we were treated to a visit to the Rockbridge winery, a small operation with excellent wine, including one that won the Governor’s Gold Medal this year. Dinner was served in a historic home at Wade’s grist mill, founded in 1759, and still operational. Naturally I had to buy some of their cornmeal and scone mix to bring home.