By JESSICA WETZLER
Daily News-Record 9/18/19
HARRISONBURG — The Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission was chartered in September 1969 to provide planning services and technical assistance to five counties, five cities and 11 towns throughout the Shenandoah Valley.
On Tuesday, nearly 50 years later, more than 70 members from local jurisdictions gathered at the Frontier Culture Museum to celebrate and look back on how the region has changed since 1969.
In 1969, the Virginia General Assembly passed the Virginia Area Development Act which created the framework for the establishment of 21 regional planning district commissions throughout the state.
Over the last five decades, the Shenandoah Valley’s population has increased by 61.8%, with Harrisonburg having an increase of 274%, according to the CSPDC. Rockingham County still remains the CSPDC’s most populated locality and Highland County remains the lowest populated.
“Our mission is to serve local government,” said Bonnie Riedesel, executive director of the CSPDC for the last 25 years.
To highlight some of the programs the CSPDC has been a part of, staff members gave presentations on four projects in particular that stand out.
But for Riedesel, all programs featured are important.
Starting off the evening was a presentation on Fields of Gold, a regional agritourism program designed to collectively market and promote the Valley’s agritourism sites and activities, according to its website.
Fields of Gold started in 2011 and has since grown to include 230 agritourism business members representing agricultural venues, farm stands, farmers markets, grocery and retail stores, plant nurseries, on- farm experiences, farm lodges, farm- to- table restaurants and wineries and breweries, according to the CSPDC.
Ann Cundy, transportation program manager, and Adam Campbell, Virginia Department of Transportation assistant district planner, presented programs related to providing transportation to all.
Campbell touched on projects that have been worked on recently, including alleviating traffic on Interstate 81 and introducing more walking and biking programs.
Another project that was highlighted was the BRITE Bus service that provides transportation throughout Staunton, Waynesboro and Augusta County.
In 2018, BRITE Bus launched a mobile-responsive website to include real-time service alerts, schedules, fares and information on all public transit services available within the service area.
Starting March 2019, BRITE Bus introduced prepaid 12-punch fare cards that can be used as an alternative to exact change and tokens. The fare cards are available in 25-and 50cent increments.
“It is a quality-of-life service to so many of our members,” said Terry Rodgers, BRITE Transit Advisory Committee chair.
The final project to be recognized Tuesday was the Shenandoah Valley Project Impact, formed in 2000 to help localities with numerous flood mitigation projects designed to protect people and property through elevation, relocation, acquisition of homes and flood-proofing businesses.
“From its start ... it has always focused on including all members of the community,” said Sharon Angle, SVPI chairperson.
Riedesel said the CSPDC has been involved in a variety of projects, including environmental and house projects.
“We work to improve the lives of our citizens and the region,” Riedesel said.