Ferrum Forward’s Annual Meeting Covers New Change and Old Tradition

Main focus was a public park proposal
Bethany Worley, Director of Blue Ridge Institute and Museum presents details of the 50-year anniversary of the Folk Life Festival in Ferrum.
Bethany Worley, Director of Blue Ridge Institute and Museum presents details of the 50-year anniversary of the Folk Life Festival in Ferrum.
Kyle Markowitz

At Ferrum Forward’s annual meeting Sept. 12, Friends of Ferrum Park proposed a public park to Steve Sandy with the Department of Development in Franklin County.

The property in question shares a border with the college’s property.  The trails behind the Norton Fitness Center (YMCA) lead into those of the property.

“We wanted to propose a space to the community that’s public,” Executive Director of Friends of Ferrum Park Rebecca Saunders said.  “People can use the pavilion for birthday parties or family reunions, the hiking trails would be available to everyone, two and a half miles of them, dog parks, tent camping, and RV spots are things we proposed as well. Ultimately what we hope to do is provide the community with a space that’s their’s because we don’t have that.”

The land proposed to use by Friends of Ferrum Park does not have an address but covers West Franklin Drive.

Friends of Ferrum Park is proposing land covering 84.17 acres, and the land has been unused since 1996, when the Pinkards–a local Ferrum family, owned the land.

The Pinkards portioned the property with the intention of turning it into a sub-division, but only one, five-acre plot in the middle of the land sold, which is now owned by Friends of Ferrum Park.

Charles Thompson and T. Shively bought the five-acre plot in 1994 for $1,200.

Thompson and Shively sold it to the county for $135,000 of taxpayer money in 1996. The intention was to turn the area into an industrial park and eventually bring jobs to Ferrum.

“The park never materialized, which is honestly not surprising, because that property would need entirely too much work to level and build large warehouses or production facilities,” Saunders said.  “The community was, understandably, not happy about their tax money being used that way.  The county doesn’t encourage folks to use it, but it is public land, so it often is used by ATVs, riders, and hikers.”

Friends of Ferrum Park, is a new non-profit organization.

“Given the scope of our project, we will be able to qualify for grants that address community and park development, preservation, attainable housing, and more,” Saunders said.  “We anticipate working with Virginia housing to apply for the grants they offer, including one for infrastructure and another for innovative housing solutions.  We are also looking to pursue grant opportunities through the local nonprofit Community Foundation.”

On Oct. 21, a haunted trail fundraiser will be hosted by Friends of Ferrum Park on the county land proposed to the Department of Development.

“The trail is more psychological than jump scare, and we would love to have student actors and student participants be a part of the fundraiser,” Saunders said.

One other proposal was given to the Department of Development, but Friends of Ferrum Park doesn’t know what the competing proposal is.

“Unless the other proposal addresses things like a community park or any other aspects of the Ferrum master plan, which is about making Ferrum as a whole better.  If it’s all about housing or making a profit for someone, we definitely feel we have the better option,” Saunders said.  “We’re really looking at the full picture and trying to help as many people as possible.”

Director of Friends of Ferrum Park, Rebecca Saunders presented her proposal at Ferrum Forward’s annual meeting. (Kyle Markowitz)

Even with two proposals, the county doesn’t have to choose either one.

“The most impactful way anyone can help is to show up at the Franklin County Board of Supervisors meeting,” Saunders said.  “Having the community speak out helps to encourage the Development Department to at least put our proposal in front of the Supervisors for review.”

The meeting is at the Franklin County Government Center, 1255 Franklin Street, at 6 p.m., Sept. 19.

“If folks can’t show up that night, emailing is another great way to have their voices heard,” Saunders said.

The county offers an easy submission form that will go directly to all of the supervisors.

Friends of Ferrum Park will know whether their proposal is accepted or declined after Sandy and four other county employees review the two proposals and grade them against a rubric they designed.

If neither of the proposals is chosen, the property will be sold in the open market.

“Ferrum is unzoned. Literally anything could go in there. The biggest concern for those of us who live here is clear-cutting,” Saunders said.  “Wood is going for a premium right now, so someone could easily make twice as much as they’d paid for it by cutting down all the old-growth trees here. It is beyond heartbreaking to think of that happening.”

If accepted, Friends of Ferrum Park has a phase plan in place.

“Our first phase is to put in a pavilion, to make walking trails good and hosting events to get community members using the property,” Saunders said.

Bethany Worley, Director of Blue Ridge Institute and Museum, and guest speaker at Ferrum Forward’s annual meeting, spoke about the fiftieth anniversary of the Folk Life Festival hosted on campus.

“Attending the festival is a tradition in itself, and it has been going on for half a century,” Worley said.  “It’s here because the college, community, and county have worked together to do it.”

The Folk Life Festival will start at 10 a.m. on Oct. 28.

“This festival is our time to shine.  This is nowhere else. This is in Ferrum,” Worley said.  “I just think it’s great it has been going on for a half a century.”

Last year’s Folk Life Festival had 17,000 attendees. A crowd Worley said was the largest they’ve seen in a decade.

“Our hope with the festival is that people are inspired about our continued traditions,” Worley said.

Because of its support for the Friends of Ferrum Park proposal, Ferrum Forward has placed other issues on the back burner.

“Once we know what’s happening with that, because we have all put our energy in over there, we will all be saying, ‘What are the next steps for Ferrum Forward?’”  Chair of Ferrum Forward Jennie West said.

Ferrum Forward is looking to set a focus on making the county work more downtown.

“We want some sidewalks and park benches, and how we monitor if this culvert (in front of the old mercantile) is going to get fixed, because that property there we have some ideas for,” West said.  “We would love to see some kind of a co-op.  We have all these Farmer’s Market people who come, and it would be great if they can sell their stuff more than one day a week.”

Ferrum Forward has not spoken with the college yet about this idea, which owns

“We are here for the community, but we need citizens and Ferrum students to claim these ideas as their own,” West said.  “We can only be as good as people’s ideas are, and we are super open to all kinds of ideas.”

To help Ferrum Forward, or with any ideas for the community, people can reach the group at its website.

“Several of our members taught at the college for many years,” West said.  “I was a social work professor, so I was used to getting my students out to certain things for agencies.  This is different.  This is what we think of as real grass roots where anyone and everyone needs to have their voice heard.”

Ferrum Forward also discussed the election of officers, but a unanimous vote was agreed upon to keep the existing officers in their current positions.

The organizations’s next meeting will be Tues., Oct. 12 at 6 p.m. at the Ferrum Faith Assembly, with guest speaker Kevin Tosh, Franklin County Director of Tourism.


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