In The Saddle

by JiJi Russell

Once Christy Dunkle sets her sights on a priority, chances are she will move it forward. Berryville’s town planner, who believes strongly in community involvement on issues of health and wellbeing, has lately focused considerable attention on several efforts that could positively alter the landscape and fitness culture of Berryville. The efforts center around infrastructure changes designed to encourage more pedestrian and cycling activity in town and around the county.

“Berryville is a great town to walk and ride,” Dunkle said. Indeed, many townsfolk have probably spotted Dunkle power walking through Rose Hill Park during a lunch break, or saddled up on the Bike Share Bicycle that the Town and County received last June through a grant from Bike Virgina.

Dunkle, who serves on the board of Bike Virginia, believes it will take a village of cyclists to effect real change in our driving-dominated culture. “In order for safety issues to become more highlighted, we need to have more people out there on bicycles,” Dunkle said. She believes, however, that “we are definitely on the way” to a more viable cycling and pedestrian community.

According to Dunkle, the Virginia Department of Transportation and their consultant coordinated a pilot program to develop a concept design along Route 340, which would enhance cycling and bicycle facilities along the corridor from Berryville to Luray. Dunkle’s office worked on a number of items, primarily safety and aesthetics, along the corridor, she said.

Also on the horizon, and perhaps even more meaningful to local families, a federally funded revenue-sharing project with VDOT could produce better sidewalks and other infrastructure elements in key pedestrian and bicycle thoroughfares as part of the “Safe Routes to School” program (SRTS). According to the VDOT web site, the SRTS “assists interested localities and schools in the development of plans, activities, and infrastructure improvements to make bicycling and walking to school a safe and appealing transportation option for students in kindergarten through eighth grade.”

Berryville’s SRTS team is hoping to secure a grant to fix one stretch of sidewalk on Swan Avenue next to Johnson-Williams Middle School. According to Dunkle, a public meeting will take place November 26 with the middle school’s Health Advisory Committee in an attempt to gain public input on the proposed project. The meeting will be held in the AB Meeting Room of the Government Center at 2 p.m.

One motivating force behind Dunkle’s personal commitment to health and fitness lies in her love of travel. She stays fit so that she can enjoy yearly international adventures, which have included much hiking, walking, and cycling in Europe over the years.

The small-town planner loves the energy of urban environments. “Outdoor public spaces in these cities are so vibrant and fun,” she said. “My current favorite city is Glasgow, Scotland, and Buchanan Street is one of the best public spaces I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. [There is] so much going on: music varying from a grandmother playing the accordion, to big hairy shirtless guys playing the bagpipes, to one guy playing acoustic White Stripes,” she said.

Dunkle, who holds a Master’s degree in landscape architecture, appreciates the “amazing architecture and history in those [urban] walls,” she said. “It’s a little edgy, a little grungy, but you can feel the creativity there.”

Her passion for travel, coupled with the early death of her parents at age 56 (both died of cancer), keeps Dunkle honest about staying well. “Wellness to me definitely encompasses the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual . . . including diet, exercise, and lifestyle,” she said.

If, or perhaps better stated, when Dunkle’s civic priorities for Berryville come to fruition, perhaps the town’s landscape will more closely resemble those of the European towns and cities, where citizens would rather walk and ride than drive.