“Tracy has helped improve the lives of many in his District over the years.” –Augusta County resident
Augusta County Supervisor Tracy Pyles stood comfortably at the front of the Deerfield fire station’s meeting room at his Tuesday night town hall in the far western reaches of Pastures District. It’s an area he knows well. Growing up in the scenic beauty of the Deerfield Valley, he was a child of the generation allowed to roam freely, climb trees, explore creeks, scramble the mountain slopes, and spend hours away from parents’ watchful eyes.
Within that district is the tiny unincorporated area known as Deerfield, elevation 1739 feet, located approximately 45 minutes west of Staunton, in a picturesque valley on the western side of Elliott’s Knob, the highest point in Augusta County. It peaks out at an elevation of 4463 feet atop the North Mountain range.
To know the area is to know the man.
Pyles, ever the advocate for his rural district and the hard-working people who live there, has worked closely with residents since his election 20 years ago. During that time he has been instrumental in a number of “firsts” for Deerfield: public water (he discovered the small financial allotment projected for the project was way below realistic costs and was able to find the necessary funds for the project); paid EMT-firefighters (essential to any community but especially so in remote areas); the Deerfield library station of the Augusta County Library.
Eight years ago he worked with Pastures District resident Francis Chester to stand up in behalf of worried landowners when property values spiked just as the real estate bubble burst. When a tornado hit the district in 2011, he rolled up his shirt sleeves and went to work to pull in resources, and again when flash floods hit.
That’s a short list of the ways Pyles has improved living in Pastures. There is a genuine concern for his neighbors that is sometimes misinterpreted by others as a bulldog mentality but to Pyles it is simply doing what is best for a sometimes-overlooked area of the county that needs a champion to be the squeaky wheel on its behalf.
Sparsely populated (population 132), property in Deerfield Valley is surrounded by federally-owned mountaintops with names like Walker Mountain, and is a stone’s throw from neighboring West Virginia. George Washington National Forest separates the valley from the rest of Augusta with the North Mountain range on the valley’s eastern side and the Shenandoah Mountain range to the west.
Farms dominate the area with far-reaching fields that stretch to the edge of mountain slopes, but the valley also consists of old plantation land holdings and multiple hunting camps that have sprung up over the years. Plentiful wildlife includes deer, black bear, and wild turkeys.
Those who live in this part of Virginia have concerns that are a little different than more populated areas, and one concern is rock slides, a subject brought up by a resident. Deerfield Valley Road, the main artery that runs the length of the valley, is subject to rockslides including one in May 2009 that blocked traffic for a month as VDOT crews worked to stabilize the moving rock face. Although a gravel back road with a narrow bridge was available to connect to Rt. 250 and bypass the slide, oversized trucks and many residents had to use the alternate route. Driving south to Goshen and cutting across the corners of Bath and Rockbridge counties on Rt. 42, then back into Augusta, the trip added up to an hour to their already-long commute.
Pyles, readily available when needed, worked tirelessly to help with it all.
When the bookmobile was taken out of circulation a number of years ago, he provided funding to help bring a library station to Deerfield. Located in historic Deerfield Elementary School that also serves as the community center, patrons have access to books, movies, and audio materials as well as the availability of Wi-Fi access, computers, printing. They also enjoy full access to the entire collections of materials from Augusta County, Staunton, and Waynesboro libraries through the holds system — all services greatly appreciated by a rural population.
At Tuesday night’s town hall two homeschool moms thanked Pyles for his help with the local library which, they noted, was used extensively by their families.
Most of Pastures District is as rural as the name implies and, with the exception of the area that borders the Staunton Bypass (Rt. 262), most residents would like to keep the bucolic nature without widespread development. Pyles’s commitment to preserving western Augusta County for farm and forestry land is exactly as county planners intended, allowing the continued development of subdivisions and industry in the eastern side of the county.
Tuesday night there was an easy give-and-take in the room of faces, all familiar to Pyles, as they talked about pipelines and what their supervisor had done for the community. One got the sense they trusted Tracy, as he is known to everyone, to do what needed to be done.
Only one request was heard and that was when a gentleman asked if there had been progress with cell phone service. While available in Deerfield itself, specifically located there for use by the fire department and emergency services, it is unavailable in the remote areas. The difficulty, Pyles noted, was finding a provider who would work with them due to the small size of the community and remoteness of the area. A large provider expressed interest but had pulled out so it was back to the drawing board in the continued search.
Pyles, an Independent who has worked with members of both parties, received last-minute competition a month ago when Republicans, who did not field a candidate, ended up endorsing a political newcomer with no party identification.
As he spoke Tuesday night, he had no notes and was frank and honest with the crowd … vintage Tracy Pyles. What you see is what you get, just as his yard sign says: “A public servant, not a politician.” Add to that, “Not a good old boy either.” Though he has not asked for campaign donations, people have approached him to help. If you’re looking for a slick politician, he isn’t it.
Tracy Pyles has been an advocate for his district and all of Augusta County for the past 20 years, fighting to better the lives of his constituents and all county residents. With a little more than four weeks left until election day, he continues to be seen throughout the district listening and talking with voters. For him, there’s still work to do.
Election Day is Tuesday, November 7.
Vistas of Deerfield Valley.
Photos by Lynn R. Mitchell
October 3, 2017