It’s funny the things you think about while riding alone in your car, while standing in line at a fast-food restaurant or while showering in the morning; those moments of contemplation.
Sometimes you worry, sometimes you dream, sometimes you get angry at some little incident. As you might imagine, the things I think about straddle the “are you kidding?” category, that place just north of “he must be nuts,” due east of “who cares.”
On a trip to the new Costco a few weeks ago — gotta stay stocked up on that Chesterfield-made Sabre hummus and those thick-as-a-brick steaks — Linda and I got into a “discussion” about the quickest way to get there. When the dust settled and it got quiet in the car, I began thinking about the Chesterfield mountains. You’ve never heard of them? Let me explain.
There’s a sort of natural barrier that runs generally from Chippenham Parkway and Belmont Road southwest down through the Chesterfield Airport and Pocahontas Park to Lake Chesdin. Whether wetlands, the huge expanse that is Pocahontas Park, or subdivisions without connectivity, the roadblock that runs parallel with Hull Street Road acts as natural divide down the middle of the county.
There are only a few passages that cross the Great Chesterfield Mountains: Chippenham Parkway, Route 288, Beach Road and River Road. Chippenham and Route 288 are like the Marias Pass in Montana and the Interstate 70 pass at Glenwood Canyon in Colorado. The few other crossovers are like the Donner Pass, curvy passages that are riddled with dangerous twists and turns or slow because of their signal lights, stop signs and traffic.
But this is only the traffic issue. Route 288 for one, provides a pretty quick traverse of the mountains through the Five Forks Pass and on to the consumer paradise of the Commonwealth Center, and the opportunity for shopper satisfaction beyond Hull Street Road. The Great Chesterfield Mountain range also divides the county culturally and economically, and dare I say educationally?
If you read the commercial leases and sales in Chesterfield, the area north of Hull Street Road outweighs the area anchored by Chester, Ettrick and Meadowbrook by eight to one. The Bermuda District is still king as far as industrial development is concerned, but the paychecks these jobs create end up being spent across the mountains when employees unlease their expendable income, unless they go south to another mecca of commercial enterprise in Colonial Heights. And residential building permits follow the same trend. You may say, “What’s up with that?”
Much of it is demographics; commercial business follows rooftops as they say. There aren’t enough rooftops on this side of the mountains to sustain the big boxes, the upper-end clothing stores or restaurant chains. Did you know that the industrial base in Bermuda District provides over twice the tax revenue to the county than any other district? Yet north of the great divide, the county is enamored with the development of SportsQuest and the Chesterfield downtown of Roseland; and they coddle to community groups – not to mention better schools. If I hear any more about Cosby High School or the “new Clover Hill,” I’m going to choke.
What’s more gulling is the cultural divide. I’ve talked to so many people from over there that have never even crossed the mountains, don’t know anything about the side of the county that pays for their improvements, their new high schools and jumps starts their beloved SportsQuest.
As we listen to the yodeling when we cross the mountains do we hear of any promise to improve our quality of life? The Chesterfield Center for the Arts has been stagnant for 10 years. Its price tag is $8 million. SportQuest got nearly $5 million without so much as a gasp. Midlothian’s supervisor once said, “If the art center was in Midlothian, it would have been built already.” Now we see that a portion of the old Clover Hill High School could be used for “a community arts venue for music, theatre and other performances,” according to one report – a $9 million price tag to replace the heating and air conditioning system alone.
Culture begets quality of life and quality of life begets economic development, which begets tax revenue and the possibilities to create a better culture. The Chesterfield Center for the Arts Foundation (CCACF), the Chester Community Association (CCA), the Jefferson Davis Association (JDA) and the Ettrick Neighborhood & Business Foundation (EN&BF) among others, have all worked outside county government, for the most part, to bring some semblance of quality of life to southeastern Chesterfield. The revitalization of Jefferson Davis Highway has come through the blood, sweat and tears of devoted citizens and funding from the Federal government. The CCACF has the backing of citizens, but county leadership is aloof and focused on the other side of the mountains. CCA works to help support efforts of other organizations and brings the Chester Farmers Market, ChesterFest and, most recently, Family Fridays to the community.
All of the efforts are products of a community that is starving for recognition and a cultural environment that creates or even maintains a quality of life that works to engage and sustain us. But how do we get there and tip the balance beam that rests on the fulcrum that are the Great Chesterfield Mountains? Leadership.