Tag Archives: Augusta County

Shenandoah Mountain 5 Years Later: What Happened to Missing Hiker Bobby Fitzgerald?

Shenandoah Mountain / Confederate Breastworks Overlook on Rt. 250 along the Augusta County/Highland County line looks over the Appalachian Mountains in Highland.

What happened to Bobby Fitzgerald on that fateful day in November of 2012?

Traveling west from Staunton along Rt. 250 as it climbs up and over Shenandoah Mountain, I cannot help wondering what happened to Robert “Bobby” Fitzgerald, the Staunton hiker who went missing in that isolated part of western Virginia on November 11, 2012, and hasn’t been seen or heard from since. Searches have turned up nothing. Some wonder about foul play. Others have questioned whether he fell into the steep ravines.

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Supervisor Pyles, Walking the Walk

“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.

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Stuarts Draft Company Adds Jobs for Augusta County

Stuarts Draft sits at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains in southern Augusta County, a flattened out plain that is an ancient river bed, that is divided by the South River that floods during heavy downpours. “Draft” probably refers to the winds whistling down the mountain slopes.

Its main claim to fame is mountain man John Colter, born in the vicinity sometime in the mid-1770s. When his family moved further west, his skills in the outdoors help him become a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and to explore western lands where he was the first white man to enter the Yellowstone and Grand Tetons areas.

This is the manufacturing center of Augusta County, long ago agreed on by supervisors as the area to locate factories like Target, Hershey, McKee Foods, and Hollister. They like its proximity to a ready work force as well as the east-west I-64 and north-south I-77.

And it is in that area that Virginia’s governor made the announcement Tuesday about new jobs.

Draftco, Inc, a machine and fabrication shop, settled there in 1965, as a fully equipped precision job shop with highly skilled craftsmen who have the capabilities to meet most any need involving conventional machine work, Computer Numerical Control machine work, welding and fabrication work, sheet metal fabrication, and machine and equipment building.

The announcement that the company will invest $450,000 to expand its manufacturing operation and create 16 new jobs was good news for the local economy.

Tracy Pyles (I-Pastures District), Chairman of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors, noted that local jobs are always welcomed. “With a rich history vested in Augusta County, Draftco, Inc. has served as a leading machine and fabrication shop since the mid-1960s,” he said. “Having the chance to have home-grown jobs harvested by our eager and well-prepared young people brings a great since of pride to the County Board.”

“Draftco exemplifies a long-standing community business that provides skilled manufacturing jobs, good stable pay, and economic growth opportunities for our area,” said Senator Emmett Hanger (R-24th Senate District). He continued, “I am pleased the Commonwealth can assist with this expansion and insure the company’s vitality for another 50 years of business.”

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What’s Blooming in the Yard Today….

What was blooming in the yard today? After two nights with 30-degree overnight temps which required covering tender plants and flowers with plastic, everything not only survived but seemed to thrive in today’s sunshine and temps in the mid-60s. Purple salvia continues to bloom into its second week while the pink and white peonies blossomed under the hothouse-like plastic.


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Late Winter Snow Mixes With Spring Flowers in Shenandoah Valley

“No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn.” —Hal Borland

As a frigid breeze blew across my front yard Monday afternoon, I decided to take my camera and snap some pictures of our blooming plum and cherry trees because snow was moving in later in the evening. The temperature had dipped into the teens over the weekend, already causing blossoms to fall to the ground, limply piled up under the trees, but enough were left on branches to get some decent photos. Icicles were on the wind and I shivered as I reached out in the stiff breeze to steady a branch with one hand while focusing my camera with the other.

Pink and fragile-looking, these little guys are hardier than expected. The blooms in these pics had withstood the teen temps but I wasn’t sure they could withstand snow along with cold. So I clicked away, walking around the trees to try differing angles to showcase them in the best way possible.

Monday night the snow showed up right on time although we only saw about three inches instead of the 4-8 inches that had been in the forecast. However, what we got was pretty and so I returned to the trees Tuesday morning, again with camera in hand, to get pictures of soft pink blossoms covered in fluffy white snow.

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Autumn 2016 … Winter Woods Return, Thankgiving Blessings

Autumn was late arriving this year and warm temps hung on into November. Leaf color was about two weeks later than usual and, like past years, when it began, it went fast. This past weekend a cold front passed through the Shenandoah Valley complete with below freezing temps and extremely blustery winds. Any leaves clinging to trees were no match and flew away, leaving behind bare branches as the winter woods returned. It was a good time to walk the yard and woods to see the transformation from fall into winter.

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Shenandoah Mountain 4 Years Later: What Happened to Missing Hiker Robert Fitzgerald?

Shenandoah Mountain / Confederate Breastworks Overlook on Rt. 250 along the Augusta County/Highland County line looks over the Appalachian Mountains in Highland.



What happened to Bobby Fitzgerald on that fateful day in November of 2012?

Traveling west from Staunton along Rt. 250 as it climbs up and over Shenandoah Mountain, I cannot help wondering what happened to Robert “Bobby” Fitzgerald, the Staunton hiker who went missing in that isolated part of western Virginia on November 11, 2012, and hasn’t been seen or heard from since. Searches have turned up nothing. Some wonder about foul play.

On November 20, 2012, I posted about the disappearance:

Hope is fading that a Staunton man has been able to survive a week lost or injured in the vast George Washington National Forest in western
Augusta County. Rescuers decided Monday night to call off the search.

Robert Fitzgerald, 60, has not been heard from even though his car was found parked in the area. Inside searchers found his backpack with power
bars and bottled water and other supplies.

It was a cold 25 degrees at my house this morning with heavy frost on the ground which means colder temperatures up on Shenandoah Mountain
located about 20 miles west of Staunton. Anyone who has driven to Highland County out Rt. 250 west of Staunton has driven over Shenandoah
Mountain. At the very top, at the Augusta County-Highland County line, is a parking area with a breath-takingly scenic overlook that takes in
the mountains of Highland County and beyond into West Virginia.

It also documents the Confederate Breastworks, site of Fort Edward Johnson during the Civil War, with interpretive signs of the historical
importance with a circular trail along the top of the mountain. Many other trails are in the vicinity, and that is where Robert Fitzgerald
disappeared sometime last week.

A Tuesday article in the Waynesboro News-Virginian by reporter Bob Stuart noted that Fitzgerald was physically fit and very familiar with that area of the Shenandoah range because he had hiked it for the past 15 to 20 years.

Fitzgerald appears to have hiked the trail with a friend on Sunday, November 11, and lost his cell phone at that time. It is believed he returned the following day to search for the phone, and disappeared into the wilderness. No one has heard from him since.

He reportedly was not dressed in cold weather gear and, even though days have been comfortable in this area the past week, the nights have been
cold with a low of 20 at my house one night which means temps in the teens up on the mountain.

The owner of Staunton’s Wilderness Adventure store remains cautiously optimistic about the prospects for Fitzgerald, who was a regular customer.

Four years later, it is still a mystery. There have been subsequent searches that turned up nothing. A $50,000 reward that was offered in 2015 has been extended to 2017. How could someone who was an experienced hiker in an area he knew well just disappear without a trace is a question that continues to haunt many, and something that comes to mind every time I’m on Shenandoah Mountain.

Photos by Lynn R. Mitchell

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YES, Move the Augusta County Courthouse Part 2: Funding a New Courthouse

augusta-county-courthouse-2Proposed plan from Moseley Architects for new courthouse at Augusta County Government Center in Verona.

Augusta County’s historic 1901 courthouse in downtown Staunton is no longer suitable for conducting business in today’s court system on a number of levels — safety, security, space limitations, no parking, no handicap parking, limited handicap access, court buildings separated by a main city street, dwindling storage, and other issues of concern. For more background, see YES, Move the Courthouse Part 1.

A frequently-asked question is, “How will the county pay for a new courthouse?”

According to the Augusta County website, the new Courthouse in Verona is estimated to cost $45,000,000.

Additional tax increases are not planned in order to fund the courthouse in Verona.  As with current school construction, projects have been planned for and budgeted accordingly without a tax increase.

The county will borrow funds to pay for the Court Complex. Payments will be made over a period of years, using funds set aside from the sale of surplus property and the 2015 real estate tax increase. A portion of future growth in real estate values will be dedicated to funding the project, until such a time as the debt is fully funded.

Did you know that Virginia and U.S. law require Courts to provide safe, secure, and adequate facilities? If not provided, the Judge can direct the County to provide and the County to pay the cost. That cost could be different from the proposed $45,000,000 in Verona. It happened in neighboring Rockbridge County in 2002.

What you can do to learn more:                                   

  • Visit the courthouse on Saturday, October 22, between 10am-2pm for a tour of the two current courthouses, the Circuit Courthouse and District Courts Building located on opposite sides of the street, to see conditions of the facilities. If moved to Verona, all three courts and court functions would be located in one building.  Courts include Circuit, General District, and Juvenile Domestic Relations.  Court functions include Clerk’s Offices, Commonwealth Attorney, Victim Witness, Court Services Unit, Magistrate, and Court Security.
  • Contact your supervisor to ask questions.
  • Visit the Augusta County website for information.
  • Visit the Augusta County Facebook page.

For more information, see also:

Cross-posted at Bearing Drift

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YES, Move the Courthouse Part 1 — Monday’s Town Hall Meeting


Proposed plan for Augusta County Courthouse at the Government Center Complex.

Monday night, October 3, marked the final town hall meeting hosted by Augusta County supervisors concerning the historic downtown Augusta County Courthouse, and the issue of whether to build a new facility at the Government Center Complex in Verona. (For more information visit the Augusta County website.)

bos-1After attending the first town hall meeting at Wilson High School in September, it was good to see that Monday night’s crowd was twice the size of the first, but still only about 60 people were present. This is an issue that has raised passions on both sides, and some attendees became verbally confrontational with supervisors.

Everyone loves the historic 1901 courthouse that is on the National Register of Historic Places with its Scales of Justice on the domed roof. Its place on the national register pretty much assures it will not be razed. Rockbridge County sold their old courthouse to Washington & Lee who made it into offices. Augusta County’s old courthouse would be perfect for a museum, historic society offices, or an art gallery. But it is no longer suitable for conducting business in today’s court system on a number of levels — safety, security, space limitations, no parking, no handicap parking, limited handicap access, building separated by a main city street, and other issues of concern.

In the end, it is the county’s decision. Not Staunton. Not the lawyers who have offices downtown. It is entirely the decision of the residents of Augusta County as to what to do with their courthouse.

If you missed Monday’s meeting, you missed an informational presentation by county administrator Tim Fitzgerald, Clerk of Court Carol Brydge, Sheriff Donald Smith, and five of the seven supervisors — Chairman Carolyn Bragg (South River District), Gerald Garber (Middle River District), Terry Kelley (Beverley Manor District), Mike Shull (Riverheads District), and my supervisor Tracy Pyles (Pastures District). Six of the supervisors are in favor of moving the courthouse. Only one is against.

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Notes From Augusta County Courthouse Meeting

Here are some of my rough notes while live-Facebooking Monday night’s Augusta County Courthouse meeting. There will be more information to come….

County administrator Tim Fitzgerald is presenting the facts about the courthouse remaining in downtown versus moving it to the Augusta County Government Center in the county as planned 20-30 years ago.

– Plenty of room at the Government Center for building (no need to purchase land), free parking outside the door (no need to park in parking deck a block away, handicapped parking will be available that is currently unavailable at downtown location), and located with all the other county services.

– If the new courthouse is voted down, it cannot be voted on again for 10 years, as per state law.

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There’s More to the Courthouse Issue Than Many Realize

David KaraffaBy David Karaffa
Guest Post

[Editor’s Note: The ongoing Augusta County courthouse issue is once again in the news. The Staunton News Leader’s articles (see County approves courthouse referendum petition, Staunton responds to county courthouse decision, County approves courthouse referendum petition, and New courthouse would not serve the greater good) are helpful for background in the ongoing discussion as well as those from LynnRMitchell.com writers (see Augusta County Courthouse: ‘This is the song that doesn’t end‘ and Augusta County Courthouse moving forward, Staunton counters and The Augusta County Courthouse decision and Augusta County: Renovate courthouse in Staunton or build new one in county?) in this two-year-old issue. Former supervisor David Karaffa, who was very involved in the courthouse issue, provides background in a less-confined way than when he was on the board. Originally published May 16, 2016.]

I have been reading the online News Leader and other news sources as the Augusta County Courthouse issue heats up again and I feel the need to tell the truth about the discussions that have been taking place for years between Staunton and Augusta County about it.

First, the News Leader is incredibly biased (if you didn’t know that already). When I was in my first or second year on the Augusta County Board of Supervisors, we opened a dialog with Staunton to discuss the overwhelming issues we were having with the courts. We also reminded the Staunton City Council of the many promises and deals that were made in good faith to keep the facilities up and running and in Staunton at a shared expense.

The Board of Supervisors, the courts, and the citizens of Augusta kept up their end of the deal for decades (yes — decades; you read that right), and the Staunton City Council never moved forward on their end of the deal. Shameful. Now, of course, over the decades many of the people on the council and board have moved on, but some are still there. So that is some deep background.

Augusta County CourthouseNow for the more recent history that needs to be told….

As I said before, I was on the Board when we reminded Staunton of its past agreements with the county. We invited Staunton into the discussion as we moved forward with Frazier & Associates on what the cost would be to renovate the court building to provide another couple of decades of use. The numbers were out of this world high and still didn’t address all the issues. The Board of Supervisors gave all the information to the Staunton City Council and they basically said, “It’s not our problem.” (Thanks for that, by the way.)

At that point and after many discussions the idea was dusted off that the courthouse should be and was always planned to move to Verona when the county’s other services moved there (novel idea!). So the board hired an architect to look into what it would cost to move and build a new courthouse that could last for some 75 years (remember our current one has been in use for more than 110 years).

A plan was delivered. It was also shared with Staunton, and another round of talks with them about other options took place.

Staunton then hired Frazier & Associates to come up with another plan (yes, the same firm the county hired). Another plan was delivered, more tailored towards Staunton’s requests. We all got to see it and it included a SKYBRIDGE! Wait … what? A SKYBRIDGE that was going to cost like a MILLION dollars or something (I cannot remember the exact figure but it was out there; like, in orbit out there).

Staunton City Council’s Miss Dull said she couldn’t justify spending Staunton taxpayer money on the Augusta County Courthouse, but she was sure willing to spend it on a SKYBRIDGE! Then it involved demo of other buildings downtown at even more cost. Needless to say, it was not a plan that the Board of Supervisors could sign on to and not a good fiscal plan for the county taxpayers.

Now we have arrived at the current plot. The county exhaustively has discussed this with the City of Staunton, an agreement cannot be made because all the options to staying downtown don’t meet all the needs, and the costs are way too high for the short amount of time that it could all be jury rigged (pun intended) to work in downtown Staunton.

The best option is to build a new courthouse in Verona. It will save a ton of money in the long run, be better access for the public, safer for the citizens with more secure transfer of prisoners, and consolidate services for Augusta County residents all in one place, and you don’t have to pay to park. Ah! That’s nice.

Now it’s up to the citizens of Augusta to answer the Board of Supervisors’ question: Would you like a new courthouse in Verona?

Just one more thought. The News Leader opinion piece that basically demoralized every citizen of Augusta County was absolutely inappropriate and rude toward you all. I was very disappointed. Funny thing is, if Staunton City Council had just kept up their end of the deal DECADES ago we wouldn’t be talking about this at all. Just goes to show you, keep your promises…. (Drop the mic.)

David Karaffa is a former Augusta County supervisor for the Beverley Manor District (2011-15) who now lives with his three daughters in Palm Coast, Florida.

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I-81 Chase: Augusta County Sheriff Responds to News Leader

By Lynn R. Mitchell

People in the Staunton area will remember that earlier this week there was a police chase on I-81 that began in Shenandoah County and ended in Augusta County. The interstate at Exit 225 — where Rowe’s, Texas Steakhouse, Cracker Barrel, Lowe’s, and Wal-Mart are located — was ground zero for the finale with traffic at a standstill. Local friends were stuck on the interstate as law enforcement successfully worked to end the chase.

follow-up article in the Staunton News Leader on Thursday by reporter Brad Zinn raised some eyebrows and caused Sheriff Donald Smith to put out a response to correct the record. Well-known Harrisonburg radio personality Karl Magenhofer even wrote on Facebook, “Appreciate this response to what amounted to a hit piece by the News Leader. I’m surprised because the NL folks are usually very good.”

Here is the response from Augusta County Sheriff Donald Smith:

To The Citizens of Augusta County,

I apologize for this letter’s length but please read. After the recent article that the News Leader printed, I wanted to address those of you that I serve directly.

I was contacted by the News Leader yesterday after being out most of the night and working the day before. When I received their questions regarding the policies of my office, I informed them that I was on my way home to get some rest and that I would respond today. I am extremely disappointed that our local newspaper, that I or one of my admin staff members speaks to almost on a daily basis, would take the stance to immediately address policy concerns and report that my deputies were in the wrong. Why not a story on how the suspect was arrested the day before and released? I am not interested in getting into a debate or argument with the media, but I do want to put the facts out there so there are no questions.

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Stable Craft Brewing opens in Augusta County

By Lynn R. Mitchell

There’s a new brewery in Augusta County. With the usual bevy of elected officials present, the ceremonial ribbon cutting has taken place, as reported by Amanda Glover who is the Economic Development Director for the county:

Cheers to the opening of Stable Craft Brewing at Hermitage Hill Farm & Stables! First, Hermitage Hill Farm & Stables – a premier event venue in a pristine rural landscape and now, Stable Craft – a true farm brewery honoring the agricultural background of Augusta County and the Shenandoah Valley. From hop production to animal spent-grain consumption to the purchase of local honey and pumpkins, Stable Craft has made a clear commitment to growing, buying, using and producing all things “local.”

This project will be a true farm brewery:
  • Production of 16 different beers
  • Cows will consume spent grain
  • Vegetable gardens, horses and chickens on-site
  • Expanding hop yard
  • Farm store
  • Pub-style food served out of a food truck
As you’ve hopefully heard, Augusta County, alongside Staunton, Waynesboro, Harrisonburg and Lexington/Rockbridge recently premiered Shenandoah Beerwerks, a trail showcasing the quality beer produced in the central Shenandoah Valley. Stable Craft is featured along the Beerwerks Trail, and we’re excited for locals and visitors to experience an authentic farm brewery from top-to-bottom along the trail.
Who says you have to go to Nelson County for brews?
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Adventures on the back roads of Swoope

By Lynn R. Mitchell

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Purple and white wild flowers that grow prolifically on the roadsides throughout the Shenandoah Valley. Here are a few of the sights of Swoope in western Augusta County earlier this week.

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Photos … Augusta County GOP Mass Meeting

By Lynn R. Mitchell

See Live-blogging Augusta County GOP mass meeting.

1John Adams is running for Virginia Attorney General in 2017. (See my post, John Adams, Republican for Virginia Attorney General.)

1Former Augusta County Supervisor Larry Wills, 6th Congressional District Chairman Wendell Walker, Augusta Supervisor Carolyn Bragg (left to right).

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