Downtown business owner Len Poulin has been among those trying to build momentum toward a New Waynesboro for nearly 25 years.
Poulin was instrumental in the formation of Waynesboro Downtown Development Inc., a non-profit that city leaders, in their infinite lack of wisdom, allowed to wither and die. He founded the Virginia Fly Fishing Festival, which annually drew people to Waynesboro from across the globe, and turned the South River from something that we feared when it rained to a resource that makes us money.
The Center for Coldwaters Restoration that he heads up seeks to foster downtown revitalization through natural resource-based economic development.
Count Poulin among those enthusiastically on board with the Sunset Park project approved by Waynesboro City Council Monday night.
“A couple of years ago, I did a study on the possibility of doing a mountain bike jamboree here in Waynesboro to try to bring some outside revenue into the community, but also as a fundraiser for the local Rotary Club, which I’m a member and president of. And I was really amazed at the industry that mountain biking is today. There’s a whole different level of mountain bikers that travel the country to come to these type of events. I can envision in Waynesboro, with a park like this, having an international or at least a national or regional bike jamboree that would incorporate all levels of skills, all levels and ages. You could also integrate into that a street biking exhibition through the wine tasting country. It’ll generate a destination here in Waynesboro,” Poulin said.
The $2.1 million project, which will cost city taxpayers $125,000 in local funds, will transform the former city landfill, which closed in 2003, into a public park with hiking and mountain biking trails and festival space overlooking the city from the foot of the Blue Ridge.
“About a month ago, Virginia Living Magazine had an article that claimed the city of Harrisonburg to be the center of outdoor recreation in the Valley. I challenge that. Waynesboro is the truly the center of that. And I can tell you, if you invest in this park, if we get a mountain bike program in here, this will become a destination,” Poulin said. “People will travel from all over. With the Fly Fishing Festival, we had people from Italy that traveled to that event. We had people from California and Michigan, Florida, people that I spoke with personally. You’ll have that here with this type of event as well. And they won’t just come for a weekend. They’ll come throughout the year, which is what’s happening right here on the river. This is the last, or a big component, of building that outdoor recreation industry. And this is an investment that will pay, and it will allow you to pay for new policemen, increase your teacher salaries.”
Waynesboro has, in spite of the lack of leadership from City Council, been making moves into the direction of capitalizing on its location a couple of miles down Route 250 from the nexus of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Skyline Drive and Appalachian Trail, which draw millions of visitors to the area each year.
Getting even a fraction of those folks to make the drive down to sample our wares and craft brews could be a goldmine, if we just dared to try to tap into it.
“This past week, we had over probably about 3,000 people that came to the brewery on the east side, 1,000 people for an outdoor event. Anyway, maybe I’m a dreamer, you know, when people were saying, you’re going to lose all your money because you are putting it in a in a crazy spot.
I think the east side has some momentum going,” said Bart Lanman, owner of Basic City Brewing Co., which launched on East Main Street in 2016, and sits sort of across and down the hill from the old landfill, and soon-to-be new park.
“We’ve got a goldmine, that is, the east side, that 6 million people visit across the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway, and we should have more of those people coming down to Waynesboro, coming down through the east side and spending their tourism dollars in Waynesboro,” Lanman said.
Story by Chris Graham