New Neighborhood Planned in Fort Chiswell

Helping Overcome Poverty’s Existence (HOPE), a Wytheville based organization, recently acquired over 36 acres of undeveloped property, located approximately three miles south of Interstates 77 and 81 in Fort Chiswell, Virginia.

Speaking from his Wytheville, Virginia, based office, Andy Kegley, Executive Director of HOPE stated that his organization plans to develop the 23 parcels of land, set to be known as Long Meadows, in an effort to provide affordable homeownership to qualifying individuals.

HOPE’s Homeownership Program is geared toward assisting lower-income families in achieving their dream of homeownership.

Qualifications to be eligible for the 33-year mortgage include a credit score of 640 or better, a maximum income no greater than 80% of the median income of the area, required financial counseling attendance. Monthly mortgage amounts are expected to be no greater than 30% of income.

Additionally, the program requires homebuyers to invest a minimum of 200 hours in ‘sweat equity.’ Sweat equity can include keeping the lot clean during construction, landscaping or some other form of specialized labor.

The program has already seen success in Wytheville’s Deerfield community, where HOPE supplied well nearly thirty families with affordable homeownership.

When asked of the benefits of purchasing a home through HOPE, Kegley answered, “Our ability to work with a first time homebuyer has remained the same, whereas credit has largely dried up with traditional lenders in recent years.”

Kegley also referenced the fact that homeownership loans require no down payment and that interest rates are as low as 1%.

To help expedite the process, Wythe County officials have agreed to run waterlines to the community.

“County tax payers stand to benefit greatly from the development of this new community, as the developed land will dramatically increase the real estate values associated with the properties,” stated Jeremy T.K. Farley, Wythe County’s Public Information Officer.

Once the entire neighborhood is developed, the county projects Long Meadows to provide over $10,000 in additional real estate tax revenue each year.

Wythe County Begins Major School Renovations

In 2011 the Wythe County School Board contracted OWPR, an architectural and engineering firm based in Blacksburg, Virginia, to perform a facility study on public schools in Wythe County.

The study’s goal was to identify and pinpoint the individual structures that stood in the greatest need of repair.  The report deemed Sheffey Elementary School and Rural Retreat Middle School most in need of renovations.

Dr. Wesley Poole, Director of Facilities and Operations for Wythe County Public Schools, says the findings were based upon “a number of qualifiers.”

Following the study’s release, the Wythe County Board of Supervisors authorized $9 million to be spent in updating the two buildings.

Soon afterwards, the Wythe County School Board named R.L. Price Construction, Inc. the winning bidder on the Sheffey Elementary project and Clark Brothers Company, Inc. the winning bidder on the Rural Retreat Middle School project – both companies are Virginia based.

Poole says the renovations are extensive and include stripping large sections of the schools down to their outer shell in order to properly meet new standards.

“Construction includes replacing the existing plumbing system, electrical wires, windows and flooring in sections of the schools with more modern versions.”

Contractors are also installing an entirely new heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system that will prove to be more efficient in terms of cost and comfort.

Poole says the schools will also be getting an external facelift.

“Both schools will receive a new canopy entrance to give some character and identity to the buildings.”

Phase one of the project began last month when demolition crews began work inside the two schools, with the most extensive work being carried out at Sheffey Elementary School.

Once the new school year begins, officials at Sheffey Elementary plan to relocate certain classes to the school’s auditorium – gymnasium, while some Rural Retreat Middle School classes may be moved to the high school while construction projects continue.

Additionally, workers at the Sheffey Elementary School will soon begin construction on the multi-purpose Sheffey Community Center, which will serve as both a gymnasium for the school, as well as an afterhours community center for the county.

With the vast majority of the project set to be completed by August 2014, county officials say the new improvements are part of a greater long – term strategy aimed at enhancing the overall education experience of Wythe County students.

Elevated Water Levels Creating Roadway Ponding

The heavy rains which have fallen on our area in recent days have caused elevated water levels to saturate certain local roadways. This saturation has created instances of roadway ponding.

Though most, if not all of these roadway ponding areas have since been cleared of water, the county wishes to remind local motorists to exercise caution when approaching these areas.

According to the National Weather Service, “Most flood-related deaths and injuries could be avoided if people who come upon areas covered with water followed this simple advice: Turn Around, Don’t Drown.”

The county, in collaboration with VDOT is monitoring known roadway ponding areas in order to establish a plan to alleviate this problem in the future.

Should local residents know of specific areas prone to roadway ponding, the county is encouraging them to contact officials by calling (276) 223-4500 or by emailing the county at [email protected].

Heavy Rains Do Not Dampen Spirits At Dixie Youth All-Star Tournament

WYTHEVILLE, Va. – Despite what were at times torrential downpours, Wythe County Parks and Recreation officials remain honored to be hosting this year’s District 1 Dixie Youth All-Star Tournament.

The ongoing event at Ager Park is now entering its fourteenth day and has been delayed numerous times by inclement weather.

Just hours after the most recent flashflood watch had expired, a very resolved Wythe County Parks & Recreation Director, Gary Cody, stated, “We’re excited to be hosting the tournament. It’s given us an opportunity to showcase Wythe County to hundreds of people throughout our region.”

Sixteen teams total have been competing in the event, participating in one of two tournaments – the AAA tournament for those aged 9-10 and the OZONE tournament for players 11-12 years-old.

Winners of these tournament games will advance to a regional and then state championship tournament.

According to Cody, the economic impacts of hosting these coveted tournament games are huge.

“Each of the sixteen teams has twelve players and three coaches, which when you begin to add up parents, spouses and fans it’s plain to see that this tournament is spurring several hundred additional transactions for local businesses each day.”

Praising field crews and volunteers who have dedicated countless hours in readying the fields after each deluge over the past two weeks, Cody said, “It has been a collaborative effort between volunteers and staff members to make this event a success,” adding, “Our field crews have done a phenomenal job to ensure each time players take to the field, the playing surface is as good as it possibly can be.”

Barring any additional rain delays, the tournament is slated to end this Saturday.

-Jeremy T.K. Farley

County Launches Inmate Litter Pick-Up Program

At the request of the Wythe County Board of Supervisors, a greater number of inmates from the New River Valley Regional Jail will be spotted picking up litter alongside county roadways.

According to Keith Dunagan, Chief Deputy for the Wythe County Sheriff’s Office, the Board has secured as many as eight inmates from the regional jail to work six hours every Saturday along county roads.

In the past, inmates from the regional jail have typically worked in Wythe County only one day each month.  Dunagan says, “If the weather holds up, local residents can now expect to see inmates working every Saturday – year round.”

“In the days to come, as new inmates become qualified to work outside the jail, we hope to expand the program to include additional litter pick-up days.”

The program began this past weekend, when inmates collected over fifty bags of trash beside Fort Chiswell Road.

County officials are encouraging local residents to offer their input, regarding roads which stand in most need of clean up.  Concerned citizens are asked to contact their district’s Supervisor or email the county at [email protected].

Board of Supervisors Meeting Notes from June 28, 2013, Meeting

IMG_0010On the morning of June 28, 2013, the Wythe County Board of Supervisors held its bi-monthly meeting inside the Wythe County Administration Building.

Following citizen’s time, the Board voted to adopt the proposed tax rates for calendar year 2013. The rates leave real estate, merchants’ capital and machine & tools taxes at their present rates. The personal property tax rates, however, were slightly increased from $2.08 to $2.27 per $100 of assessed value.

Sam Crockett, Wythe County’s Treasurer, gave his monthly report to the board.

“Overall, our collection rates are fairly good this year,” says Crockett.

Board members then discussed ongoing issues within each of their districts.

Joe Hale, representing the Fort Chiswell District, stated that he has received complaints from residents who say motorists are driving too fast on Fox Mountain Road. Hale requested the Sheriff’s Department to increase patrols in the area.

Afterwards, Sheriff Doug King updated the board as to his department’s latest news.

King announced that an automatic call attendant has been added to the sheriff’s telephone number (223-6000) that handles administrative calls.

According to King, the number has continued to receive emergency calls and the automatic call attendant will direct emergency callers to dial 911. He states that individuals wishing to contact the sheriff’s department with non-emergency calls are still encouraged to call 223-6000.

The Sheriff also stated that his department has received the outcome of a recent law enforcement and critical needs assessment.
The study, funded by the Wythe–Bland Foundation, was performed by a consultant that is recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Department of Criminal Justice Services.

The Sheriff requested the Board of Supervisors accept the report as presented.

The Sheriff closed his report to the Board of Supervisors by speaking of a new Virginia law requiring county sheriffs and municipal police chiefs to issue permits to junk metal “dealers.”

Sheriff King says the law requires individuals who “regularly engage” in selling scrap metal to purchase a permit from local law enforcement.

The Virginia law requires said individuals to be fingerprinted and subjected to a background check, which cannot yield a felony conviction within the last three years.

According to King, homeowners removing materials from their own property, those who pick up aluminum cans beside the road and several other individuals are exempt from the law.

The Sheriff encourages individuals who believe they may be defined as a dealer to contact his office.

Max Meadows Volunteer Fire Department Meets New Challenges

Dave Morris, Chief of the Max Meadows Volunteer Fire Department has watched Wythe County transform throughout the course of his lifetime.

Growing up in a very different era in Wythe County’s history – a time when the county was without a completed interstate highway and boasted of only two-thirds its present day population – the Max Meadows resident reminiscences about how different things were in the early 1960s.  “Back in those days we didn’t have a local fire department.  When we had a fire, firefighters would have to come all the way from Wytheville.”

Though they were fully committed to battling blazes throughout much of the county, the long and winding country roads, sometimes dozens of miles away, left the Wytheville Fire Department stretched thin in many areas.

“In 1965 we had a string of construction fires on the eastern end of the county and it became clear that we needed a separate fire department here,” notes Morris, who was a teenager at the time.

“My father was a firefighter at the Radford Arsenal and had previously served as a firefighter for both the Wytheville Fire Department and the US Army…  He got together some local guys and they formed the Max Meadows Volunteer Fire Department.”

With only $100 in annual funding from the county, Bill Morris, the first Chief of the Max Meadows Volunteer Fire Department, worked with the department’s founding members to secure a makeshift fire truck.

“The tank for the truck was donated by Smyth Oil and they kept it parked out in a field until enough funds were raised to build a fire house.”

In the years to come, great changes would come to the department and Wythe County.

Not only would Interstate 81 soon be completed, but eventually a second interstate would be built alongside I-81 – creating the most traveled stretch of highway in our region.

In 1994 the county purchased the department land, just a few hundred yards from the interstate.

A year later, the department’s new firehouse was unveiled.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Dave Morris not only serves as a firefighter at the Radford Arsenal, but also as Chief of the Max Meadows Volunteer Fire Department.

Morris, who joined the newly established department at the age of eighteen, says the challenges the department faces today were completely unimaginable to the original group of founders.

“The Gatorade factory is a million-square-foot building.  It, along with the several other factories in our coverage area, presents new risks and possibilities.”

To help meet these challenges, Wythe County, along with the Max Meadows Volunteer Fire  Department, has been on the forefront in preparing for worst case scenarios.

Part of that preparation is evidenced by the department’s newest fire truck—a rescue pumper capable of spraying 1,500 gallons of water per minute.

The truck, which was purchased by Wythe County, was furnished with money made available through a generous grant from the Wythe-Bland Foundation.

“Whether it’s a crash on the interstate or a disaster in Progress Park, this truck will undoubtedly have the power to save countless lives,” says Chief Morris.

The truck was purchased at the same time the County of Wythe purchased a fire truck for the Barren Spring Volunteer Fire Department and went in halves with the Town of Wytheville in the purchase of a similar vehicle for their fire department.  Both of those trucks were also furnished with grant money from the Wythe—Bland Foundation.

-Jeremy T.K. Farley

County Animal Shelter Using Social Media to Save Lives

When your goal is reaching as many people as possible, Facebook is a pretty good place to start – with over one billion users, the website has a larger population than all but two of the world’s countries.

Tabitha Jackson, a worker at Wythe County’s Animal Control Building, has been taking advantage of social media in an effort to ensure the greatest number of dogs in the county’s care are adopted.

Since Jackson came onboard in January 2012 the county has worked to create an active presence in online communities – a move she says has helped tremendously in reaching perspective pet owners.

“Facebook has allowed us to reach out to a larger network of people than we ever before thought possible.  Because of the county’s online presence, our dogs have been transferred to humane organizations in Pennsylvania, New York and South Carolina.”

Each week she posts pictures of new dogs onto the county dog shelter’s Facebook page.  Those photos are initially seen by the shelter’s more than 900 followers, who then share the photos and news updates with their friends and followers.  Through Facebook alone, the shelter averages reaching over 8,000 different people weekly.

In addition to using Facebook, Jackson also maintains an account on – a website whose stated mission is “to increase public awareness of the availability of high-quality adoptable pets,” and “increase the overall effectiveness of pet adoption programs across North America…”

Those interested in adopting a pet are encouraged to check out the shelter’s Facebook page: or give the shelter a call during hours of operation: 276-228-6003.  Dogs are also listed in the Trade Times each week.

The shelter is open to the public Monday through Saturday 3 to 5 p.m. and open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; Saturday 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Visitation at other times is by appointment only.

There is a $20 fee associated with adopting each dog and state law requires dogs over the age of six-months to be spayed or neutered within thirty days of adoption.

-Jeremy T.K. Farley

Wythe County’s Claim to Texas Fame


Millions of Americans are familiar with famed Texan Stephen F. Austin, the man who secured his place in history as the “Father of Texas.”

Most people, however, are unaware that the “Father of Texas” not only hails from Virginia, but also Wythe County.

 Born November 3, 1793, in what is now Austinville, Virginia, Stephen Fuller Austin was the second child of Moses Austin and Mary Brown Austin.  Moses, born in 1761, was originally from Connecticut.  He and his brother moved to eastern Wythe County in August 1789 with intentions of founding a lead mines on the banks of the New River.

The two worked to establish several smelters, furnaces, commissaries, blacksmith shops, liveries, and mills. The tiny village around the mines became known as “Austinville,” and Moses came to be known as the “Lead King.”

 According to historians, the Austin brothers were “excellent shot makers and miners, but they were not very good businessmen.  Their business grew too quickly, and their finances were in disarray.”

Burdened by debt, the brothers are said to have looked westward, toward the rich lead deposits in Missouri; then a part of upper Spanish Louisiana.

In 1797 Moses traveled with a friend to Missouri, where he toured and eventually purchased a lead mines about forty miles west of the Mississippi River.

The following year, Moses Austin, his wife, four-year-old son and several others – forty in all – left Wythe County in search for a brighter future in Missouri.

Nearly two decades later, however, the Austin’s again relocated to the largely unsettled expanse of Texas.

Stephen’s father had hopes of colonizing the region.  Sadly, Moses died in 1821 having never realized his dream of settling the vast territory.

Persuaded by a letter from his mother, Wythe County native, Stephen F. Austin set out to continue his father’s dream.

Under Austin’s leadership, the Texas colony grew from three-hundred to over 11,000 by 1832.

Fearing the large number of American settlers now crossing into Texas, Mexican government officials sought to discourage the colonists by introducing immigration controls and tariff laws.

In July of 1833 Austin traveled to Mexico City in hopes of gaining reforms, as well as convincing government officials to lift their ban on immigration.  Though partly successful in his efforts, Austin returned to Texas only to discover the situation had worsened.

Soon the colonists found themselves in a state of war with the Mexican government.

Austin briefly commanded Texan forces in late 1835.  Under his leadership, colonists secured a decisive victory near modern-day San Antonio, during the Siege of Bexar.

In the spring of 1836 Texas’ sovereignty was officially recognized and the war for Texas independence was over.

In August, Austin announced his candidacy to serve as the new nation’s first president.

Unfortunately for Austin, he was soundly defeated by another Virginia native, Sam Houston.

As President of Texas, one of Houston’s first moves was appointing Austin to serve as the nation’s first secretary of state.

Tragically, Austin would serve only two months before dying unexpectedly, after catching a severe cold in December 1836.

The Wythe County native’s last words were, “The independence of Texas is recognized!” Upon hearing of Austin’s death, President Houston ordered an official statement proclaiming: “The Father of Texas is no more; the first pioneer of the wilderness has departed.”

Today, Austin’s birthplace is officially marked by a memorial.  The large stone, located just a few hundred feet south of the New River, rests inside the Stephen F. Austin Memorial Park.

Just a few hundred feet to the north of the monument is a boat drop-in site to the New River.

To the south, runs the New River Trail, a 57-mile linear park that follows an abandoned railroad track.  The park parallels the scenic and historic New River for 40 miles and passes through four counties. The trail’s gentle slope makes it great for visitors of all ages to hike, bike and ride horseback. Several places in the park provide horse, canoe and bike rentals, boat launches and gift shops. Fishing is popular and primitive camping sites dot the trail.

-Jeremy T.K. Farley