Great Country Farms discusses adding campground to farm, winery, brewery, special events, other businesses
By Andrea Gaines
Great Country Farms, one of the iconic family farm businesses in the County, met with various state, and local officials Jan. 25 to discuss the establishment of a campground with cabins and RV parks on its 400-acre farm in Bluemont. But Raymond Taylor, one of the applicants, told the Blue Ridge Leader just three days later that they do not intend to pursue the project.
Campsites are a permitted use in the farm’s AR-2 zoning district by special exception/minor special exception. While not 100 percent interchangeable, the terms “rustic cabins,” “campsites,” and “RV parks” are sprinkled throughout the zoning ordinances; each with rules and regulations designed to promote the rural economy while protecting nearby residential and other uses.
The Great Country Farms neighborhood
GCFs is located in Bluemont on 400 acres that includes farmland, wooded areas, and beautiful, steep slopes leading up to the Blue Ridge Mountains. The mostly residential area is increasingly busy, right on the border between Loudoun and Clarke Counties.
Roadways serving the area include Rt. 7 and Blue Ridge Mountain Road (Rt. 601), Snickersville Turnpike, and Rt. 626 (Foggy Bottom Road).
Loudoun’s rural economy has taken off here. There is the annual Bluemont Fair. The Bears Den Scenic Overlook and Campground. The Appalachian Trail itself. Numerous breweries, wineries, and small businesses. The Boulder Crest Retreat Center. The Raven Rocks trailhead. The Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center – on 601 heading towards Rt. 50. And, others.
This commercial activity is juxtaposed with family farms, hundreds of quiet residential properties, and rich wildlife habitat. The fragile, eastern side of the mountain, wetter than the western slope, is prime wildlife habitat, and is a recharging zone for Loudoun Valley’s lower landscapes, the Goose Creek Watershed, and Eastern Loudoun.
The new commercial activity in the area is transforming life here, causing increased traffic, light and noise pollution, dangerous situations on Rts.7 and 601, and for the many hikers using Bear’s Den and the Appalachian Trail. Just turning onto one’s driveway can present hazards, and smoke from outdoor fire pits wafts into yards, onto patios, and through open windows.
In the Jan. 25 pre-application conference, an aide of Supervisor Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) acknowledged the traffic problems, indicating that the applicants “know that traffic is a concern in this area, and heard a lot from residents …” Then, addressing the intersection of Rts.7 and 601 specifically, Buffington’s aide said they still need to learn more “before any decisions can be made.”
Representatives for the potential future campground applications noted this: “Tent camping [would be] for people coming off the Appalachian Trail … or cabins for those visiting Western Loudoun … Nothing is written in stone, yet, would start out with more camp sites for tent camping and RVs and few cabins, leaning towards adding more cabins each year …”
Nearby residents wonder how many cabins, RVs, campsites – or whatever might be ultimately proposed – could be made compatible with residential life here.
The Great County Farms operation
The Zurschmeide family has received the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce’s Agribusiness of the Year award twice “for its unique efforts to farm in a different climate through innovation, rather than ‘selling out and growing houses.’ ”
Working the site since the 1970s, they offer wedding services, corporate retreats, farm tours, and kids’ activities. There is pick-your-own, a farm store, a bakery, Community Supported Agriculture, a winery, a brewery, hard cider tastings, and various agriculturally-related festivals. There are cow trains, mazes, pumpkin picking, goats, a fishing pond, and a farm market.
Bluemont Vineyard includes a “studio-style stone cottage nestled among the vines …” Dirt Farm Brewery includes a “brewer›s cottage”. And, the farm itself is described as featuring “a cozy, yet spacious three-bedroom blue door cottage …”
The Great Country Farms website notes that the property is open Monday through Wednesday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Thursday through Sunday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
A “Harvest Room & Kitchen” offers restaurant-style experiences for small parties. Wine-pairing events are offered throughout the year. Henway Hard Cider, an extension of Bluemont Vineyards, offers hard cider made with farm apples.
Campground basics (Section 5-646 of ordinance)
As defined by the zoning ordinance, a campground is “An outdoor facility designed for overnight accommodations of human beings in tents, rustic cabins, and shelters for recreation, education, naturalist or vacation purposes,” along with “accessory appurtenances.”
Planning and Zoning envisions campgrounds to be a minimum of 40 acres. GCFs wanted to combine two parcels totaling 50-or-so acres to contain 35 cabins, and 15 campsites.
Overall, Section 5 addresses dozens of potential uses, from the familiar bed and breakfast, farm market, and brewery/winery, to “flex-industrial,” and seasonal labor dormitories.
The County wants to encourage economic activity, while also ensuring that it operates alongside normal residential activity safely and without conflict. This includes basic rules with respect to lighting, road access, traffic flow, parking, noise, food service, drain fields, and so on.
Importantly, Loudoun’s zoning ordinances show a clear intent to protect the historic, rural residential character of places like Bluemont.
For example, Section 2-907’s “Use Limitations” has a preference for off-street parking, and, encourages vegetative screening, landscaping and buffering, the clustering of buildings, a “size and scale” of commercial enterprises that promote pedestrian travel, and underground utility lines.
It is this stated intent to protect rural residential areas that seems to have motivated some residents in the area, including immediate neighbors, to question both the intensity and style of land use that is emerging in many of the County’s rural areas.
But, the intensity of the use by commercial activity, regardless of how inviting and farm-based it is, seems to be the question of the hour – for the County, for farmers, for people raising families here, and for the people trying to make a living.
As breweries in the area have demonstrated, neighbors are having trouble all over western Loudoun living in these areas inundated by music (live and recorded), heavy smoke from fire pits, and traffic. In some cases, there is even trespassing onto neighboring properties – and to date there is, as one person explained in a community meeting, no voice for residents.