Scott supervisors decline to pursue ‘scenic river’ designation for Clinch

Holly Viers • Mar 11, 2020 at 8:30 AM

GATE CITY — Though few would deny that the Clinch River in Scott County is indeed scenic, it will not be officially considered so by the Virginia Department of Conservation & Recreation — at least not anytime soon.

At its regular meeting last week, the Scott County Board of Supervisors declined to pursue a scenic river designation for its portion of the Clinch. While the designation would not restrict development around the river, some supervisors expressed concern that it would give off that impression.

“It scares me,” said Supervisor Danny Mann, “because it’s more of something that could be used, some judge somewhere would say, ‘Well, the intent was that you don’t allow certain things.’ ”

About the program

Lynn Crump of the Virginia Department of Conservation & Recreation was on hand at last week’s meeting to give a presentation about the Virginia Scenic Rivers program, which was established in 1970. The program’s purpose is to “protect and identify significant river assets,” Crump said.

To be designated as a scenic river, the river must first be qualified, meaning it meets the necessary criteria to be considered scenic. From there, the river becomes designated after getting approval from the Virginia General Assembly. All this is done with the support of the locality in which the river is located, Crump said.

“The intent of the program is to have a commitment to the resource protection and also accommodate necessary use and development,” Crump said. “This is not intended to keep people from doing what they’ve normally done in their areas. It’s intended to make sure they do it in a way that it continues to protect the resources of the area.”

The only regulation the program imposes is that dams cannot be built on scenic rivers without General Assembly approval, Crump said. She added that the program does allow for project review and monitoring by the Scenic River Board, but that comments on such projects are recommendations and not requirements.

“In Loudon County, there was a cell tower coming in within view of the designated river,” Crump said as an example, “and they brought it to us, and we talked about it, and we actually made suggestions to move the cell tower out of the view shed of the river so that it didn’t impact negatively on the experience along the river.”

Response from county officials

Asked this week for her thoughts, Scott County Tourism Director Pam Cox said she sees a benefit to the designation.

“The Clinch River Valley Initiative (CRVI) has worked for many years to highlight the tourism potential of this river,” Cox said. “With a new Clinch River Park scheduled to open, the scenic river designation just enhances the efforts of CRVI and the ability to market this river as the hidden gem in Southwest Virginia.”

None of supervisors voiced support for the move at last week’s meeting, though. Supervisor Selma Hood said, “The cell tower comment was a red flag for me, because I’m a great supporter of getting cell phone service all throughout our county.”

Mann reiterated that he has not supported the designation in the past and continues not to, believing that it would be “used for the wrong reasons.”

“I love that river,” Mann said, “and this is not going to make it any more scenic.”

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