Fredericksburg, VA: Living Proof Good Community Planning Works

Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and

probably themselves will not be realized.”–Daniel Burnham

On my annual migration from Florida to Colorado this past June, I stopped in to see old friends in Fredericksburg where I lived in the mid-1980s.  It’s a wonderful small city that can make a valid claim to being America’s most historic—George Washington’s mother and sister lived there, James Monroe maintained a law office there and served on the city council, and Civil War cannonballs still protrude from landmark buildings.  What I saw did my heart good–my hat’s off to the community—you are looking great, a real tribute to years of smart, determined city planning and a lot of citizen initiative.

Fredericksburg will always have a special place in my heart and mind.  My son Ben was born there, and we renovated an old historic house just down the street from Mary Washington’s home and grave.

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Benjamin Campaigns For His Daddy Circa 1986
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The Old Homestead–1406 Washington Avenue

At the same time,I was fortunate to serve on the city council for a couple of terms under the steady leadership of community and civil rights icon, the Rev. Lawrence Davies.

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I was only 35 at the time and had lofty goals of implementing all the good land-use law and planning ideas I had soaked in since my law school graduation from savvy mentors like Richard Babcock (Mr. Zoning), Fred Bosselman (author of the ground-breaking book “The Taking Issue,” and Bill Reilly (my boss at the time at the World Wildlife Fund and later head of the U.S. EPA under H.W. Bush).  Indeed, some of the old experienced hands on city council called me “White Horse,” and I am sure looking back I could be a pain in the arse.  But they put up with me, and I learned a lot of about politics and how things really work in local government from these gentlemen.

Today it is heartening to see that the seeds we helped plant back then have sprouted and flourished thanks to successive enlightened city councils and hard work by hundreds of citizens.  Several things stand out.  First was the successful campaign to protect the scenic Rappahannock River that flows through the town and was my home water for canoeing and smallmouth bass fishing.

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The Scenic Rappahannock River On The Outskirts Of Fredericksburg

The City of Fredericksburg owned all the land on either side of the river for miles upstream, having obtained it from the Virginia Electric Power Company when its proposal for the massive Salem Church dam (which would have flooded all the property) was defeated.  The land was pristine and undeveloped, but we discovered some unscrupulous developers were chopping down trees along the river so they could sell lots with “river views!”  We put a stop to that on city council, and later the city dedicated an easement ensuring miles of city-owned shoreline–over 4,000 acres–will be preserved in perpetuity.  At the same time, local whitewater/canoe guru Bill Micks, Virginia House of Delegate member Bob Ackerman (a dedicated conservation advocate), and I formed a new group we called Friends of the Rappahannock (FOR) to act as the river’s advocate and protector.

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I was absolutely delighted to find that from these humble beginnings at a meeting at the Fredericksburg City Library attended by maybe 15 people, it has grown into one of the premier river protection groups in the United States with a dedicated, hard-working staff with an office right on the river.

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FOR Staff Outside Their Woodsy Office On The River

They have not only saved the river from development, but have made it fun and accessible to the public with great events and support for a wonderful trail system along the water.

That’s the second big achievement that boggled my mind.  When I was on council the city had a small trail system with scattered sections along the river and city water supply canal.  I started doing some exploring with my young toddler son Ben along some of the creeks that ran into the river and sections of the river itself with no easy public access.  The vision of a comprehensive city-side trail system was embraced in the city’s new comprehensive plan, but frankly it was little more than a pipe dream.  Fast forward thirty years and thanks to incredible work by the community, the results are nothing short of  spectacular.

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The City’s Trail System Includes A Water Trail On The Rappahannock River

My jaw dropped when I saw the hundreds of people of all ages using the extensive trail system on a weekday.  My friends told me they considered it to be one of the best, if not the best, community amenity in town.

 

That trail system has helped link the historic downtown to the rest of the community, and that downtown is so vibrant and lively today compared to the early 1980s when a new outlying shopping mall was sucking life out of the central business district.  At that time, the city had a weak preservation ordinance that did not protect any structure built after 1870 and then only with delay periods when someone wanted to demolish an historic landmark.  Several had already fallen to the wrecking ball, replaced by ugly modern buildings or parking lots.  Having served on the Frank Lloyd Wright preservation commission in Oak Park, Illinois, while a young lawyer, I ran on a platform to strengthen the local preservation law and protect all buildings eligible for the National Register of Historic Places (then pre-1935).  There was vocal opposition from the local downtown business association, but after the election and with stalwart support of the Historic Fredericksburg Foundation, we passed the new regulations.  Soon progressive local business people embraced the downtown’s unique character as its economic ace-in-the-hole, and the rest is, as they say, history.  Today the handsome historic downtown is booming thanks to their advocacy over the years since.

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The Downtown Is A Vibrant Focus Of The Community

Another feature of the downtown that brought a smile to my face was the old train station.  Unused and crumbling back in the 1980s, it was given new life when city council successfully pushed,  along with then-governor Gerry Baliles, for commuter rail from Fredericksburg to Washington, D.C., and regular train service from Richmond through Fredericksburg to the nation’s Capitol.

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Saved From Neglect and Demolition, The Historic Station Has Trains Rolling By It Again

The commute I used to do several days a week to Washington, D.C., on the interstate was an absolute nightmare back then.  Today city residents have the luxury of train service thanks to successive city councils staying the course and backing it with tax dollars.

The other piece of good news played out on the outskirts west town across from the old Spotsylvania Mall, which as noted above had drained life from the downtown and sales tax dollars from city coffers like outlying shopping centers had done in many other communities across the country.  To counter this, in the early 1980s, the city had annexed a large area of undeveloped property across from the mall, but had no comprehensive plan for this large tract.  Already there were proposals for helter-skelter strip commercial centers, some massive projects along the river, and poorly designed housing.  But starting in 1984 the city council sprang into action, appropriated funds for a major planning effort to ensure the newly annexed area would be developed in a well-designed manner, and then over the years worked closely with the major property owner, the Silver family.  The result today is a booming, handsome well-landscaped business park with over 250 firms in well-designed buildings linked by sidewalks and parkways and some housing mixed in.

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Central Park Helped Save The City Financially

And I’ll have to admit a bit of devilish delight that the Central Park area, as it is now called, has far eclipsed the old, tattered mall in the county just across Route 3.  It stands in stark contrast to the ugly mess that continues to creep out into the county and as a reminder of the value of good community planning.

I came away so proud of the citizens of Fredericksburg, and what they have accomplished working for over three decades with city officials.   All of these major areas of progress are monuments to thoughtful city planning and community involvement.  I hope they keep up the good work there in Fredericksburg.  It’s inspiring.

On The Road Again…In Search Of America

“So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner pies

And walked off to look for America.” 

America…Simon and Garfunkel

It’s time for my annual migration to Florida and warmer climes.  The late fall and early winter weather in the Colorado mountains has been positively pleasing, allowing extra sunny days to explore remote canyons and chase wild trout.  But now the cold is seeping in, so I get ready to hightail it to the subtropics.

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On The Road Again…Goodbye Winter

I like to take the back roads when pulling my travel trailer (aka mobile fish camp) on the long 2,000+ mile journey, avoiding the big trucks roaring by on the interstates with their big backwash that sets my rig to swerving back and forth on the hitch.  Anyway, it’s lots more fun, relaxing, and enlightening to get off the straight-as-an arrow highways and see the real America.  Back in the 60’s the Simon and Garfunkel tune “America” was my generation’s anthem….they’ve all gone to look for America.   I continue to do so.  More and more it seems like a country and place I don’t always understand.  When I served as a city councilman in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in the 80s I always felt that if citizens got the facts they would eventually make the right common-sense decisions in the country’s and fellow American’s best interests.  Now I am not so sure.  But each year I come away from my peregrinations around the country feeling hopeful, optimistic.  So here we go…

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Florida Keys Fishing Sans A (Motor) Boat: Bridge, Wading, and Kayak Angling Along Highway 1

Hello From Florida….When you say Blizzard, we think of Dairy Queen!

Winter 2017

Want to catch a monster barracuda or maybe a big snook, hefty grouper, or gigantic shark in the Florida Keys?  Maybe a mess of snapper?  Got to have a big boat, right?  That notion was being firmly dispelled as I watched Mark Resto of Miami, with the help of a fishing buddy, fight a big barracuda on the Seven Mile Fishing Bridge near Marathon.  His rod bent double, Michael was on the edge of exhaustion.

The four-foot-long cuda was churning in the fast current 20 feet below, threatening to snap his line at any moment. Arms aching, Michael finally brought the fish to the surface, quickly passed the rod to his buddy and threw a bridge net down in the water next to the barracuda, corralled it, and slowly winched up the prize.

Shore-fishing is one of the great delights of the Florida Keys. Starting at the Tea Table Bridge, Mile Marker 79, and heading southwest on Highway 1 towards Key West there is accessible, exciting fishing right near the road.  Numerous bridges, wadeable nearshore flats, and close-in hotspots easily reached by kayak or other cartop vessel offer access to good fishing.

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Wading And Kayak Angling Opportunities Abound Along Highway 1 In The Keys

Not that this fishing is a snap.  Ferreting out the honeyholes can take a little sleuthing and successful bridge fishing is an art, not for those who  like to lollygag in lawn chairs! The article below reveals some of the best nearshore spots and offers tips from experts at local bait and tackle shops who specialize in bridge fishing and wading and kayaking to stalk their quarry.

CLICK ON THE LINK TO VIEW A PDF COPY OF MY NOVEMBER 2016 FLORIDA KEYS DRIVE-IN FISHING ARTICLE FROM FLORIDA SPORTSMAN magazine.

FS Keys Article 11-16 reduced pdf

Sitka Salmon Spree–Day 3

September 16, 2016 

It’s the last day of my Sitka salmon spree trip, and the forecast is for a steady rain all day.  I toy with the idea of calling my guide Tad Kisaka and begging off.  My idea of a good day fishing doesn’t include water dripping off my nose.  But miraculously, after breakfast I look out my hotel window and see the rain has stopped, and the sun is making a valiant attempt to break through the clouds shrouding Baranoff Island where Sitka is situated.

So I suit up in my warm neoprene waders, pull on 3 layers on top, and descend downstairs to meet with Tad.  Our destination today is the Katlian River, only a short half hour run to the northeast.

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Katlian Bay With The Katlian River On The Right

Like the first two days, the boat ride in is spectacular.  As we motor into Katlian Bay, we see rugged peaks lining the shoreline that is cloaked in a mist, conjuring up images in my mind of the Tlingit (p. Clink-It) war chief Katlian leading his fierce warriors into battle against the invading Russians just over two centuries ago.

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SITKA SALMON SPREE–DAY 1

September 14, 2017

There are few things in an angler’s life more devilishly delicious than being able to piggyback a fishing trip on an all-expense paid business trip, especially to Alaska.  I was treated to just such a moveable feast in September when retained to work with the City and Borough of Sitka.  My assignment was to conduct an audit of their development codes and advise on how they might be revised to promote the community’s sustainability goals.  I had a great time working with a very able group of community and tribal leaders.

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Sustainable Code Workshop
When that was done, I was fortunate to tack on three days to my itinerary to explore some wild backcountry lakes and rivers.  A week later after returning home to Colorado, I was still nursing a severe case of salmon elbow as a result of scrapping with too many muscular fish….but was getting little sympathy from my local trout fishing chums.

Sitka’s setting is spectacular, nestled on two islands with rugged mountains, peaks piercing the clouds, jutting up dramatically from the ocean.  It’s a small town, only 9,000 or so folk, but is the largest municipality by area in the United States—almost 3,000 square miles!  As might be expected in such a remote location reached only by boat or airplane, its inhabitants include many characters that remind me of Colorado mountain towns.  Funky and eclectic are two words that come to mind to describe both the local buildings and populace.  Twenty-five percent of the population is Native American, most from the Tlingit tribe (pronounced Clink-It).  The so-called Oceanic climate and temperate rainforest can be accurately described as wet!  233 days of rain, 132 inches annually, plus a little snow.  But thanks to the nearby ocean, the temperatures are moderate, though on the cool side.  The average high temperature in August is only 62 degrees.  In other words, bring your best rain gear and some warm jackets!

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Sitka has a rich and varied history that adds to the fishing pleasure and time in between streamside endeavors.  The Tlingit ruled the area for nearly 10,000 years before the Russians came looking for sea otter pelts and other wealth.  The Russian American Trading Company set up an outpost in 1790 and soon thereafter a trading post called New Archangel.  The enterprise had been chartered by Tsar Paul 1.  Clashes with the Tlingit followed soon thereafter, and the warriors under the leadership of their brave chief Katlian drove off the Russians in 1802, destroying their fort (We’ll fish the Katlian River on Day 3).  Governor Baranoff (upon which his namesake island Sitka sits) returned in 1804 with more firepower and eventually reclaimed the fort.  An uneasy peace ensued.

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Katlian Leads Fight Against Russians
The Russians built churches and other impressive buildings, one of which served as the site of the transfer ceremony for the Alaska Purchase in 1867.

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Sitka Has Dozens Of Historic Landmarks
Sitka served as the capitol of the territory until 1906 when it was transferred up the coast to Juneau.  Growth based on gold mining and fishing.  Famous authors like Richard Dana in Two Years Before the Mast, and Louis L’Amour in Sitka used the area for background in their novels.

Today tourism and commercial fishing drive the economy.  Big cruise ships disgorge hundreds of tourists periodically during the summer months, and the salmon, halibut, and cod fishery make Sitka the sixth largest port by value of seafood harvest in the United States.  The harbor, with almost 2,000 boat slips and fish processing plants, is a beehive of activity 24-7.

On my way in for the workshop, my plane from Denver to Sitka via Seattle and Ketchikan descends below the scudding clouds, I put down my book by famous local mystery author John Straley, The Woman Who Married A Bear, which gave me a taste of the peculiar town to come.  Soaking in the scene, I swear I can see the salmon jumping!

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Day 1:  Redoubt Lake and River 

I am up early, finishing off a hearty and excellent breakfast atimg_2623 the Westmark Hotel in downtown Sitka that’s my base for the week.  You won’t find much “health food” in the restaurants here, where flapjacks and reindeer sausage reign.  Then it’s back to my room to get suited up for my first day on the water.  I walk out of the hotel, somewhat self-conscious in my neoprene waders, wading boots, rain jacket, and fishing vest, but no one gives me a second look.  My guide, Ted Kisaka (pr. Kee Socka), wants me to be ready to hit the water.  We shake hands, exchange a few pleasantries, then jump into his pickup and head to his boat in the close-by harbor.  Fish await.

img_3101Our destination is Redoubt Lake and River, about a thirty minute boat ride to the south.  Tad’s twenty-five foot rugged aluminum boat has a nice warm cabin.  Amazingly it’s not raining and the sun is actually threatening to poke through.  We navigate out of the protected harbor into the big water outside, which is only a little bumpy this morning.  I am surprised to learn that we will have to anchor the boat and wade ashore when we reach our destination, then portage our gear into the lake where Tad has a small motorboat boat awaiting.  Redoubt Lake is huge, long and narrow—nine miles by one.  It’s 870 feet deep and has an odd mix of fresh and saltwater.  The lake is fresh to 330 feet then has a dense saltwater layer to the bottom.  The Russians used to harvest up to 50,000 sockeye salmon per year, but that run has declined dramatically.  Our quarry today is fighting silver salmon as well as chums and humpies (also called pinks). Truth be told, since I haven’t caught a salmon in a half-dozen years, I’ll be happy with anything that bites!!

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The scenery is breathtaking all the way, then we round a point and see the Redoubt River plunging over a small waterfall into the bay, which lies before us like glass.  I hop out of the boat into the freezing water, thanking the fishing gods for my toasty neoprene waders.  Tad hands down a bunch of gear to me, and I navigate cautiously through waist deep ice-cold water to the shore.  Tad guides the boat out to deeper water—it’s high tide now, but will fall six feet or more later in the day so he has to anchor further out where we won’t get marooned.  In a few minutes he’s paddling back in a kayak that was strapped to the top of the boat cabin.  We organize our gear, load up, and begin the short trek through the rain forest to Redoubt Lake.

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As Tad readies the small fishing boat, I see salmon cavorting at the far end of the little bay where he has secured the craft.  The water is dead calm, and we decide that we’ll need to sneak up on the fish and make some long casts to avoid spooking them.  So we opt to start with spinning gear—light/medium 6 ½ foot rods and reels with 15# test line.

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Tad creeps us slowly, quietly towards the rising fish, and when we are within range, I flip a bright Mepps spinner into a deep hole at the outlet of the bay into the lake.  On the third cast my rod is nearly jerked from my hands, and I’m onto a good silver salmon.  But just as quickly he’s off.  Dang!  When I reel in, I check the hooks and find they are dull.  Aarrggh!   Rookie mistake.  I sharpen up, and several casts later connect again.  Another good-sized silver that puts up a terrific battle.  A quick photo, and he’s off to his girlfriends.  For the next hour we have steady action around the little bay fishing to surfacing fish that innocently give away their position.

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My arm is getting tired, so I magnanimously hand the rod to Tad, who at first declines as a good guide will do.  But I insist, so he makes a cast and of course hooks another good silver immediately!  Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be a gentleman!  Tad will turn out to be an excellent, hard-working guide, always attentive and looking to put me on fish, giving me tips and guidance in a gentle fashion.  At the end of the three days, he will become a good fishing buddy.  Highly recommended!

 

It’s approaching noon, so decide to explore the main body of the lake, motoring almost  five miles to the upper end where the Redoubt River runs in.  Tad hasn’t been up there for a while, so it’s a crap shoot as to what we will find.  It’s getting late in the season for chums and humpies.

The 25-horse motor scoots us along the lake, and after a scenic 30-minute cruise, we anchor up at the river mouth.  Enticingly, salmon are surfacing where the current eddies out into the lake.  We switch to fly rods and tie on some big pink salmon streamers, wade out waist deep, and before long both of us are onto some nice bright fresh humpies.  They only go 3-5 pounds, but look and fight ever so much like rainbow trout.  Who can complain?!?  Again, steady action for an hour or so then we gobble a quick lunch.

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I ask Tad if we can bushwhack our way upstream.  He says there is some good water above, but the going is tough because of a big landslide up there last year.  The slide actually took out a U.S. Forest Service cabin, but fortunately the three anglers who were staying there were out fishing when the cabin was buried beneath tons of rocks and mangled trees.  I’m game, so we motor to the opposite side of the mouth and wade ashore.  Now I can see what he meant.  Scaling the rocks and big downed trees is an adventure especially for an AARP member, but we finally make it…and are rewarded.

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The “Trail” Around Slide Rapids!
I flip my fly into a pocket behind a big boulder and let it drift, then suddenly a big chum is on it.  Chums may not be big jumpers, but are bulldog fighters.  The big boy comes to Tad’s big net very reluctantly.  The action is non-stop for the next hour or so, with four or five pinks alternating between some hefty chums.  In one pool above the rapids the water is slow and clear, so we can watch the salmon stalk and inhale the flies.  What a treat!!

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Nice Chum Salmon From Slide Rapids

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Guide Tad Fishes Slide Rapids With Slide In Background
Finally we decide to head back to the little bay down the lake and catch a few more silvers before the portage out.  They don’t disappoint.  We explore a couple of shallow
fingers off the bay and score silvers in each one.

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Big Silver Caps Great Day
Now it’s almost 3 p.m. and time to portage back the mother ship.  While Tad kayaks out to get the big boat, I wade deep and loft some long-distance casts into the water just below the falls.  Something whacks my spinner hard, and I have another nice chum, then a humpie.  What a great way to the end the day.  Tad gets to see my rod bending as he motors back around the point 15 minutes later.

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Redoubt River Falls Pool
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Homeward Bound!
The trip back is smooth, and it won’t be long before I am downing some suds and a big hamburger at the Bayview Pub overlooking the harbor.  Up tomorrow is the Nakwasina River where we will be wading and fly fishing for silvers, humpies, and chums.  I’d better ice my elbow tonight!