Randall Wolf says the focus of his campaign comes down to improving Augusta County’s “quality of place.”
For Wolf, 60, that means connecting many facets of life — parks and amenities, good schools and a strong economy — to create communities that are welcoming to both new businesses and the people who want to make the county home.
Wolf, originally from suburban Philadelphia, is a first-time political candidate who lives near Sherando. During his 40 years as a photojournalist, his career brought him to the Valley about five years ago when he became a photo editor at the News Leader in Staunton. He also has done freelance photography for The News Virginian.
His wife, Julia, who he met while working in Greensboro, North Carolina, grew up in the Stuarts Draft area, where her mother has lived since retiring.
Augusta County’s population, according to Wolf, has been growing except among people in the 40 to 50 age group.
“That concerns me. It tells me we’re losing people who are moving up the career ladder,” he said, adding the county must “create career opportunities not just jobs.”
“Quality of place matters,” he said. “If you can entice residents who want to move here, then you can entice quality businesses who want to move here because of the quality workforce.”
That can be accomplished through building small parks and greenways that encourage residents to stay active, as well as by adopting policies that promote careers attracting people in their prime working years, he said.
Wolf, an avid cyclist, has served as consultant for Shenandoah Central Planning District on its Fields of Gold and Tour de Valley programs drawing up bike routes for visitors to use when touring the Valley. He started Bike Box of the Blue Ridge, a nonprofit community bike shop that repairs donated bikes and teaches youth to fix them and ride safely.
Among other initiatives and civic groups, he is a member of the Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition and on a committee whose work led to the county’s first Walk-Bike Summit this spring.
Discussions about extending a greenway along the South River from the Hershey Chocolate Co. plant to McKee Foods Corp. as part of the Small Area Plan for Stuarts Draft sparked his interest in seeking public office.
As far as job creation, Wolf believes hemp production is an industry in which Augusta County can become a leader. Given the county’s agricultural base, he said, area farmers would benefit by economic development officials working with the state to help them get in on the ground floor of a large commercial opportunity.
A specific priority within the South River District, Wolf said, is finding a solution to flooding east of McKee Foods. High water and flash flooding have repeatedly closed a rural road near Patton Farm Road, which he said is a real safety concern.
But fixing the flooding is estimated to be a multimillion dollar project, making it unlikely the Virginia Department of Transportation would approve substantial funding for the work because of the relatively small traffic volume. One solution, he said, may be to build a short connecting road nearby linking Lipscomb and Patton Farm roads.
Referring to an issue that arose during this year’s campaign, Wolf said if elected he would reach out to local lawmakers to clarify Virginia’s residency requirements for candidates and voters. He said the question of whether James Kindig qualified as a resident of the district shows the General Assembly should take another look at the code.
A special counsel investigation cleared Kindig of any wrongdoing after the Augusta County Republican Party questioned whether he was a resident of South River or the Beverley Manor District.
Wolf also said part of the confusion stems from Stuarts Draft being divided by the two districts, which creates a unique situation among the county’s large unincorporated communities. The upcoming 2020 census, he said, would be an opportunity for redrawing the magisterial districts in a way that all of Stuarts Draft is in one.
Asked why voters should choose him over his opponents, Wolf said he will listen to all sides on every issue then seek the best advice or expert opinion before making a decision. He said that’s how he approached his job and believes it is the best way for the board to govern.
Wolf also vows to leave partisanship at the door if elected supervisor.
“A lot of people look for leadership, I look for stewardship in this case, taking into account the past, the present and the future,” he said. “I don’t want politics to enter into this.”