Sun-dappled mountains shelter the people who live in Weakley Hollow, a small nook nestled at the foot of Old Rag Mountain bordering the Shenandoah National Park. Here, the red earth is ready for the growing season, and only the bleating of new-born lambs rises above the rush of the Robinson River.
It is a place where city folk buy land on which to live their daydreams, a fact that tempers the hard scratch for life among the country poor. It is their land that can make the day dreams real.
Even the mountains. It seems cannot prevent technology from coming to the countryside, bringing with it both promise and foreboding.
For it is in Weakley Hollow that International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT) wants to build a multi-million dollar telecommunications center. Its enormous dish shaped antenna would transmit the harried voices of corporate executives from San Francisco and Seattle to Washington and back again.
Painted bright white, it would rise 115 feet into the air. Higher than the poplar trees, it would pick up signals from a satellite hovering over the Equator, 22.300 miles above those county residents who want the station and those in the hollow who don't.
The land on which ITT would like to build the station lies in an area that Madison County has zoned for conservation purposes. Its presence, say the station's opponents, would destroy the natural beauty that hundreds of campers and hikers drive hundreds of miles to see. It would destroy property values they say, and they fear the possible dangers from the microwave radiation that the station's antennae would emit.
The land also lies in one of the fastest growing rural counties in the state. According to the station's supporters, it's presence would provide the county with about $50,000 of desperately needed tax revenue each year. The large farms that keep the county green are failing now, they maintain, and if heavy industry is to be kept out, then the station is the best answer to a bad situation.
Currently, the two sides have battled to a standstill, awaiting in uneasy silence the outcome tonight of the latest skirmish. The clash has continued since ITT announced in November it had secured an option on 26.8 acres in the hollow on which to build the $5 million facility.
According to ITT spokesman Lauren Feldkamp, the corporation looked at over 80 sites for the station before settling on Weakley Hollow. The site wss chosen, he said, because the surrounding mountains provide a natural barrier that will shield the station from interference from radio and television transmissions as well as rival microwave transmissions.
Opposition to ITT's plan escalated after the county's zoning administratot. Doris Longley, ruled that ITT was a public utility and therefore would not have to go through rezoning procedures in order to build in the conservation zone. Opponents, however, contend that the giant corporation is no such thing, and appealed Longley's decision to the county's Board of Zoning Appeals. The Board is expected to hand down its decision tonignt.
If the Board upholds Longley's decision as expected, those opposing the facility plan to take their case to the courts.
The advance guard of the station's opposition is composed of a motley coalition of relative newcomers to the hollow, weekend residents like Folger Shakespearean Library director O.B. Hardison and Northern Virginia attorney Phillip J. Hirschkop, and life-long residents whose families have been tied together by blood and circumstance for as long as anyone can remember.
The spokesman for the opposition group is John Steely, a former IBM executive who moved to the hollow about seven years ago to start a small campground and a new way of life. Now, Steely finds himself going through something of an identity crisis.
"I'm a good technocrat," Steely said. "One of the best, I've been on the other side of situations like this, making these decisions and I could never understand the other sides criticism. Now I understand."
What ITT doesn't understand, Steely said, "is that this thing is going to be next to people. All day long we're going to have to live with it. How do you make a 100 foot antenna compatible with an early American barn? Tell me how you're going to compute that."
But, said Feldkamp, "we like to think our station will look very nice. It will be well-landscaped and I don't think it will deteriorate real estate values at all."
Jimmy Graves, a member of the richest and most powerful family in the county, sees the ITT facility as a partial solution to Madison County's problems.
The Graves family has been in the county for nearly two centuries now, running a business that includes everything for cattle to farming to apple growing to running a populat tourist lodge which will have a bird's eye view of the white antennae.
"Sure, I'd like to see this little valley stay just the way it is," Graves said soon after the morning meal at the Graves Mountain Lodge, "but the county has got to get that money."
Looking out at the green fields, sunlight shining on them like a benediction. Graves said, "It's the farmers that keep this countryside pretty. But most of the revenue in the county comes from taxing those farms and the harvests just haven't been that good lately. What are we supposed to do? Let in a bunch of polluting industries? Or let in a bunch of newcomers to carve everything up into one-acre lots and make a new little city?"
While many of the stations's supporters blame the "newcomers" and the weekend residents for all the fuss that has been generated, but Arlene Camron, whose family has lived in the hollow for the last four generations, also fears and fights the stations arrival.
Sitting in her trailer, about 1,000 feet from where the facility would be built. Mrs. Cameron worries for her 16-year-old son, whose heart condition will bar him from any hard labor. Her husband, James Allen, is a correctional officer in nearby Culpeper. The 26.5 acres on which the trailer sits was to secure her son's future.
"We've worked all our lives," Mrs. Cameron said, "and it don't look like much but this is it. This is all we have to give him. We figured, with land values going up and all he'd always have this to sell if he had to."
Already, Mrs. Cameron said, prospective buyers of other pieces of property in the hollow have backed off upon hearing about the possible arrival of the station.