HARRISONBURG — The future of the Blue Hole public swimming hole may be circling the drain.
At Wednesday’s meeting, the Rockingham County Board of Supervisors heard the recommendations put forth by Supervisor Bill Kyger — whose district is home to Blue Hole — over what to do with the popular, but troublesome, Rawley Springs attraction.
Kyger, who has made frequent visits to the spot to talk with neighbors and visitors, and has received numerous telephone calls and emails on the issue, presented the county with six options, as well as their consequences.
The options put forth by Kyger include: selling the property; transferring the land to surrounding landowners; donating the property to a third party, such as the federal or state government, a civic group, or charity; try to obtain an easement from adjacent landowners to provide on-site parking and possibly develop the area as a park; post the property as no trespassing and ensure active enforcement of that policy; or keep the status quo.
Kyger noted that, despite whatever policy the county pursues, police would continue to respond to the area to enforce noise and trespassing ordinances.
In 1973, the county acquired Blue Hole and the 4.5 acres surrounding it through a donation from the previous owners, Bill and Barbara Neff. But the swimming hole, long popular with residents and college students alike, has frequently been the subject of excessive noise, littering, illegal parking and trespassing complaints from nearby residents.
In addition, the only public access to the property is down a steep 50-foot embankment from the shoulder of U.S. 33. Despite posted “No Parking” signs — which are frequently knocked down or stolen — visitors continue to park along the narrow shoulder on the busy highway.
Some of the concerns Kyger received from residents include tales of young children, eager to reach the swimming hole, jumping out of parked cars onto the road.
“It’s not a matter of ‘if,’ but a matter of ‘when’ someone will get hit” stepping out of their vehicle at Blue Hole, Kyger said.
Possible gang activity, such as graffiti tagging, also has been spotted at the location.
The county has raised the question of Blue Hole’s future three times, and in all instances the county has decided to retain ownership after public outcry.
“It’s not like the county hasn’t tried to appease everyone,” Kyger said.
He also said that, in addition to locals who wish to keep the swimming hole open, he received calls from many former college students who have fond memories of the area, but have since moved away and may not be aware of the public safety concerns involved.
During the meeting, the board inquired of Donald Komara, residency administrator of the Virginia Department of Transportation, whether it was possible to install a guardrail along the shoulder of U.S. 33 to mitigate the dangerous parking situation.
“I would need to further assess the situation,” Komara said.
However, that wouldn’t prevent visitors from parking along even narrower strips of shoulder, or in local residents’ driveways.
“We have to think about the people who live there,” Kyger said, citing instances where local residents were blocked from entering or exiting their driveways due to illegally parked vehicles.
A short distance away from the swimming area, access into Lower Rawley Lane has been blocked at timesdue to parked vehicles of Blue Hole visitors.
Rockingham County Administrator Joe Paxton noted that most warnings identified by the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office have been related to parking and traffic issues. So far this year, maintenance and patrols in the area have cost $2,200.
At the suggestion of Supervisors Pablo Cuevas and Rick Chandler, the board tabled the issue until its July 9 meeting. County staff will take a closer look at the options that Kyger put forward, as well as call for more information from VDOT and the sheriff’s office, and return with a recommendation.
If the county decides to declare the area as surplus property, a public hearing must be held at a subsequent meeting before action can be taken.
Contact Bryan Gilkerson at 574-6267 or firstname.lastname@example.org