Old Culpeper is Long Gone

I just got back from a long weekend in West Virginia. My friends have a lovely little cabin in the woods in Morgan County, and they generously let me use it for the weekend as a writer’s retreat. I love Morgan County and it’s county seat, Berkeley Springs. My husband and I used to spend weekends there just after we married, so for 20 years now it’s been my get-away location of choice.

Sadly, things are changing all too quickly in Morgan County. Washingtonians who can no longer afford the high-priced suburbs are moving west in droves. Developers are buying up old farm properties or wooded acreage, cutting down trees and putting in subdivisions with tract housing. The countryside is not nearly as lovely as it once was, and the traffic on the weekends is noticeably worse than I remember when I was a newlywed. The people of Morgan County are putting up a honorable fight, placing little outhouses in their front lawns in an effort to “Keep Morgan County Rural.” Like many of Morgan County’s residents, I hate to see this little corner of West Virginia fall the the creeping sprawl of Washington, DC. I also know that the Morgan County of the late 1980s is gone, and there is no turning back.

It appears that Culpeper, VA is having similar growing pains. The Washington Post ran another article about growth in the community and how many of the long-term residents are frustrated with the in-migration of Northern Virginians, and the ways the town has changed as a result. One would expect Culpeper residents who value their small-town way of life would take a stand against rampant development, but they haven’t. They’ve decided to take a stand against the town’s small Latino population instead.

It’s hard to imagine exactly what Culpeper’s Councilman Steve Jenkins hopes to accomplish by going after Latinos in his community. As I blogged just a few weeks ago (Avoiding the Crowd: Immigrants and Zoning in Culpeper, VA), of Culpeper’s 14,000 residents, only approximately 1000 are Latinos, making it clear that Latinos are not the source of change in this community. Nevertheless, Jenkins has decided that he cannot change the development patterns, but he can go after immigrants. The article reads,

Jenkins realizes that the moneyed arrivals from the north are not going anywhere. But maybe, he says, just maybe, something can be done about those from the south. “It’s a much easier issue, because it’s black and white,” he says. “I don’t get it when people say immigration is a gray issue. You’re either legal, or you’re not.

I disagree with Mr. Jenkins about dealing with immigration as an “easier issue.” If it is so simple to deal with, why have we avoided doing just that? Immigrants are here illegally because they have no realistic means of becoming legal permanent residents or acquiring work visas, which is precisely why the U.S. needs comprehensive immigration reform.

Regardless of what he wants to accomplish, Mr. Jenkins needs to understand that harassing immigrants in his community won’t turn back the clock. The Culpeper of his youth, much like the Berkeley Springs of my youth, is long gone. If he wants to preserve some semblance of small town life in Culpeper, he should focus his efforts where they might make a difference: working toward zoning laws in his county to preserve open space, talking to his neighbors about the benefits of land trusts, and lobbying Virginia’s legislature to put the brakes on development state-wide.

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