By Betsy Ficklin, Westmoreland Journal Press
County Administrator Norm Risavi received notice one week ago confirming the Commonwealth Transportation Board’s June 20 decision to award $371,000 in federal Transportation Enhancement Program funds to Westmoreland County. The monies will be used to create a timeline interpretive trail on the James Monroe Birthplace property.
The Journal successfully reached Monroe Foundation President Bill Thomas after learning that the funding was approved. Thomas spoke enthusiastically about the latest site development project and prior efforts that include development of a visitor center that is open to the public each summer on Saturdays and Sundays.
“We were delighted to learn of the grant announcement which will help to add value to the natural and historical aspects of the James Monroe Birthplace Park,” Thomas commented. He issued a challenge to those present on Monroe’s birthday earlier this year “to do all they can to enhance Monroe’s legacy in the coming year.”
“What a wonderful way to honor our Fifth President during the year following the bicentennial of his service as Governor of Virginia, during the year when Virginia celebrates the Bicentennial of the War of 1812,” noted the president of the memorial foundation that leased the birthplace property from the county government.
The timeline trail that will be developed with the VDOT grant proceeds will provide hikers with access to Monroe Creek. Interpretive markers along the route will relate the great events of the Westmoreland native’s life.
Thomas addressed the accomplishments the walkway will depict. “Known above all as the creator of the doctrine that so resoundingly bears his name, James Monroe had fought for his country both as a soldier and as a statesman,” Thomas noted.
“Born in a small eighteenth century home near Monroe Creek outside of Colonial Beach, at age 16 he enrolled in the College of William and Mary and joined the student military company. Fresh from drilling on the college green, he marched off to fight in the American revolution - lanky, robust and hopeful.
“[James Monroe] took part in the battles of Harlem heights and White Plains, New York. He was wounded in the battle of Trenton, having demonstrated conspicuous bravery and was promoted to captain by General Washington, who later made him his aide.
“During the War of 1812, Monroe served as Secretary of State under President James Madison. As Secretary of State he applied himself to the losing task of trying to maintain peace with England and after the attack and burning of Washington, he took on the additional responsibilities of Secretary of War and is credited with successfully prosecuting the war.”
Bill Thomas talked about the new enhancement grant’s importance.
“[The project] will add great value to upgrade and stabilize the Monroe Birthplace Park site which is both a State and National Historic Landmark,” he explained.
“The nature trails to the water will highlight the value of the landscape and natural surroundings and educational signage will enhance the experience. The park is open to the public free daily, and the visitor center is open and free on weekends.
“These important funds will help make the James Monroe Birthplace Park an important destination for the county as part of an overall tourism and economic development strategy, while at the same time enhancing and improving the natural environment.”
The timeline trail is a unifying feature of the Monroe Birthplace Park master plan developed by the Nelson Byrd Woltz landscape architects 11 years ago. The timeline walk will “interweave the landscape with built elements and pedestrian routes,” the October 10, 2001 document relates.
“While the timeline walk starts next to the obelisk at the entry, interpretation of Monroe’s life and accomplishments begins at the house site. The walk is then intersected every 215 feet corresponding to ten-year intervals of Monroe’s life. The intervals are mown paths that run perpendicular to the timeline walk, terminating at the outer hiking trails.
“Where the mown path intersects the timeline, brick seat walls emerge from a low earthen mound. An inscribed plaque is embedded into the walk and links the brick walls on either side of the path. The inscription contains information on Monroe’s accomplishments of a particular decade.
“The walls also serve as a place of rest and reflection, points of measurement, and places of prospect at the edge between forest and field. The linear earth form creates a one-foot deep trench that runs along its base.
“The mound and trench resemble drainage methods used in eighteenth and nineteenth century farm practice. They will also serve a functional purpose by collecting site runoff as part of storm water management practices. The linear mounds extend at variable distances into the landscape, tapering to meet existing grade at various points.
“The walk crosses over a footbridge which spans a proposed pond, then terminates at an open pavilion that overlooks Monroe Creek. The proposed pond serves as a place for recreation, wildlife habitat, and reflection of how humans and weather have shaped the site over time,” the master plan relates.