In case anyone needs reminding, a sign at Redskins Park announces that you’re in Loudoun County, the home of the Washington Redskins. The team practices in Ashburn, plays in Maryland and takes its identity from Washington, D.C. But Loudoun pays the Redskins $2 million to market the county to followers of the team. The idea is to stimulate economic development in what is already the second fastest growing county in the nation.
A few miles west, there are more subtle reminders about where you are. Arrive at Oatlands and the land speaks to you with its beauty, history and context. No need to cheer loudly. Better to tour an historic plantation, take a serene walk through the gardens, have afternoon tea in a carriage house, picnic under a magnolia tree or watch the horses traverse a steeplechase course on over 500 acres of rolling hills. This is authentic Loudoun County.
The Redskins and Oatlands provide contrasting statements about what Loudoun County is and what it should become. They ask defining questions for Loudoun’s citizens and elected officials. Who are we? What do we value? Where do we go from here?
One answer is to throw in with the Redskins, a professional sports franchise worth $1.7 billion, according to Forbes magazine. County officials say their marketing deal with the valuable NFL franchise yields millions for Loudoun. The economic dividend includes the expansion of Redskins Park and a Redskins bar-and-grill at One Loudoun.
Detractors question priorities that seem to place fan loyalties to the Redskins above a funding gap for county schools. They also question public policy that allows development to encroach on the natural beauty and historic context of the land.
Another answer is to preserve as much of the county’s natural history and essential character as possible. Oatlands, a National Historic Landmark just south of Leesburg, sits at the center of contrasting visions. With new housing developments encroaching on one vista of its historic landscape, Oatlands’ directors purchased a 50-acre hamlet bordering the property to preserve the integrity of the land.
On Saturday, Oatlands held a fundraising gala and auction to help pay for the acquisition. In announcing the property purchase at the gala, Oatlands Chairman Michael O’Connor honored the guiding spirit of Joan Williams, a devoted preservationist and former board member who died at the age of 87 two weeks ago. In the ornamental style of Irish song, O’Connor sang “The Parting Glass,” a ballad often sung at the end of a gathering of friends.
O’Connor’s rendition was a touching tribute to the indomitable Mrs. Williams. The song also served as metaphor for change.
Who are we? What do we value? Where do we go from here?
These are questions about identify. There is so much in Loudoun to celebrate and see: the Potomac with its bluffs and falls, the Blue Ridge, 43 wineries on hillside vineyards, craft breweries, the hallowed ground of the Civil and Revolutionary war battlefields, quaint towns and historic villages, stone walls on pastoral farmland, homes of national and state leaders, Native American settlements, African American heritage, new resort-spas and charming B&Bs, trails and recreation, festivals, music, shops, a National Heritage Area and a National Scenic Byway.
Visit Loudoun, the county’s tourism organization, and the nonprofit The Journey Through Hallowed Ground have made a strong case for a marketing strategy more authentic than the one with the Redskins. We agree. History, nature, culture, education and tourism are the ingredients for a campaign that is more appropriate and, in the long run, more beneficial for the county than its love affair with the Redskins.
We can do more than raise a parting glass. We can refill it.