The Blue Ridge Mountains: A friend at risk – published in Loudoun Now November 2022
The Blue Ridge Mountains: A friend at risk
By Larry Malone
Friends of the Blue Ridge Mountains and other conservation groups have grave concerns about the inadequate protections for the Blue Ridge Mountains provided by Loudoun’s current draft of a new zoning ordinance
We challenge you to stop thinking of the Blue Ridge Mountains as just the pretty background against which we in Loudoun live our lives. Do not take for granted their continued existence as they are today. They need help to persist in helping us.
We all need to realize the Blue Ridge is absolutely essential to the financial and environmental health of the County, and critical to the physical health of its citizens.
Think of the Blue Ridge as a big blue machine. What does this machine do?
It takes in much of the carbon dioxide produced by Loudoun’s 400,000 residents and 12,000 businesses and stores it in plants and soils. And – if we are lucky – it will help clean the polluted air to be generated by the Rockwool factory in Jefferson County, WV, adjacent to Loudoun.
Over the next 30 years, it is likely there will be more pollution-emitting installations built in our region. We will depend on the Blue Ridge Mountains to scrub those pollutants from our air. If current growth trends continue, we will see thousands more cars on our roads, and hundreds of thousands more miles driven over the next few decades. Even considering the advent of electric vehicles, we will continue to rely on our beautiful mountains to help clean that polluted air – a job better left to the Blue Ridge than to our lungs.
How does this wondrous machine accomplish this task? Trees. Cut down the trees and the machine stops working.
What else does the big blue machine do for us? How about cleaning the water that flows down its slopes and eventually finds its way into our wells, our reservoirs, and the Potomac. Again, trees and related vegetation are the key to this action. Tree leaves break up raindrops so they are more likely to soak into the soil rather than eroding it. As storm water runoff flows through the root mass, the water is further slowed and at least some pollutants are captured in the soil, where many decompose or are broken down by bacteria. The longer the runoff stays within the root mass, the better the pollutant removal outcome.
In fact, local governments around the Country are spending millions of dollars to build artificial Bioswales which mimic the action of the mountains in cleaning our water. So, the big blue machine cleans our air and our water and does so for free.
And as a further bonus, the mountains provide habitat for a vast diversity of plant and animal life. For example, the beautiful cerulean warbler, which is in decline over its entire range, nests in the Blue Ridge, but not in the valleys to the east or west. Hundreds of broad-winged hawks migrate every year along the Blue Ridge (over 2000 in 2022), as well as many other birds, and even monarch butterflies.
Anything else? Yes. It creates wealth for us all. Many jobs in Loudoun are attributable to the mountains. The County constantly highlights the strength of our tourist industry and its sizeable number of employees. We have a wonderfully robust wine, beer, and spirits industry. The beautiful settings for our vineyards and beer gardens keep the industry thriving even in tough times. The clean air and water, courtesy of the Blue Ridge, are vital to the health and viability of the grapes, hops, and grain, and indeed to our agriculture industry overall.
Mountain Overlay District (MOD) Regulations
Loudoun is in the process of writing a new zoning ordinance to implement the recently adopted comprehensive plan.
If all we have are the currently proposed regulations, the big blue machine in our backyard will break down with frightening speed. Over the next 30 years, we will lose hundreds of thousands of trees. Erosion will increase dramatically. The mountains will stop cleaning our water for free, requiring us to construct bioswales and other filtration systems at great expense. There will be negative impacts on local jobs and careers in tourism: How many people will be attracted to schedule weddings, corporate retreats, and family reunions at the foot of the mountains when they look up and see barren, eroded slopes, and a built landscape?
What Can You Do? Right now, you have a direct and powerful voice to influence the decisions of what can be built in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where structures are located, and importantly, what cannot be constructed on the fragile slopes. FBRM and other organizations have submitted, and will continue to submit, detailed information and suggestions about these concerns, and specific wording changes but the County needs to hear directly from its individual citizens. For your sake and on behalf of your children and grandchildren, do not let this moment pass without acting. For more information visit the Friends of the Blue Ridge Mountains website: friendsofblueridge.org.