On a pleasantly wet Wednesday evening in late April, 60-odd people congregated at Trinity Presbyterian Church for the third public meeting about the Ragged Mountain Natural Area and its future. One of the many issues to be decided is who gets to use the park, now restricted to hikers and fishermen. Will mountain bikers, runners, horses and/or dogs get to join in the fun?
The public feedback meeting was called a map session with table exercises. Eight tables filled with maps and other research materials were used to garner opinion and gather information about whether Ragged Mountain would remain a natural area or become a recreational area.
Chris Gensic of Charlottesville Parks & Recreation explained that “if a consensus was reached tonight,” it would be passed on to the Parks & Recreation Advisory Board and City Council for approval.
The first speaker of the night was Peter Krebs, a master’s candidate at UVA School of Architecture. Krebs had compiled a comprehensive fact sheet of other similar municipalities and what they had done with reservoirs.
Roanoke and Lynchburg stood out as comparable, although Krebs explained there is nothing exactly like Ragged Mountain. According to a handout, “Other cities’ actions are not a decision factor, only to inform land use expectations.”
Devin Floyd with Charlottesville’s Center for Urban Habitats said he and an army of volunteers have mapped and documented all flora and fauna at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir. He has counted more than 300 different species, including 53 tree species, 19 ferns, six orchids and 147 birds. He has teams assigned to track mammals as well as butterflies, aquatics and non-native exotics.
“It’s quite a treasure,” he said.
The proposed trail map has a little more than seven miles for walking and a three-mile stretch wide enough for a car. Floyd’s map shows areas of ecological sensitivity, native habitats, evidence of previous land use and exotic flora not native to this region. Although eradication of non-native species is a current hot-button issue, it was not discussed at this meeting.
When the floor was opened to questions, one attendee asked, “What actually constitutes a natural area?” This prompted several other audience members to suggest that with all the diversity, maybe trails should not be carved out. Several participants admitted to not feeling qualified to make decisions regarding the natural area, and asked for leadership from their elected officials, with one woman stating, “This is an exercise in futility.”
Gensic then took control and suggested everyone put these concerns on paper that he would, in turn, deliver to City Council. In kindergarten style, starting with the first row, he had everyone say a number from one to eight so the tables would have a greater diversity. As people obliged and then settled down to their task, the future of Ragged Mountain Natural Area remained undecided.
Another public meeting will be held May 24, and the issue will go to the Parks & Recreation Advisory Board in June, which will have 30 days of public comment before it makes a decision. City Council could vote in September on whether Ragged Mountain remains a natural area or becomes a recreational space.