Trails, trees and vaccination news mark 2021. What will 2022 bring?

If the list of The Citizen’s most-read stories of 2021 tells us anything about the last year, it’s that people were eager for information about the outdoors. Trails and trees were big attractions. 

Of course, articles about vaccinations and businesses — those opening and reopening, as well as those laying off employees — were also well-read in the second year of the pandemic. And energy and environmental issues remained popular. 

As we head into 2022, here’s a quick time capsule of the topics and issues that made 2021 another newsy year in Harrisonburg: 

1. Great Eastern Trail to relieve stress on the Appalachian Trail (Dec. 3)

The map, courtesy of the Great Eastern Trail Association, shows the network of paths that will be joined up to create the alternative route to the Appalachian Trail to take some pressure off it.

The runaway top story of 2021 was publisher Bridget Manley’s piece about the new network of trails that will become an alternative to the Appalachian Trail and will cross through the Valley. As Manley’s article points out, the Appalachian Trail has attracted a lot of traffic since the start of the pandemic as people sought outdoor activities. Now the Great Eastern Trail, which runs parallel to Appalachian Trail from Alabama to upstate New York, offers hikers another path. 

2. The resurrection of the American chestnut (March 12) 

Eastern Mennonite School students plant an American chestnut seedling on Saturday February 27, 2021, in the Hopkins Gap area of western Rockingham County.

Sticking with nature, many readers were interested in the efforts of the American Chestnut Cooperators’ Foundation to reverse the disappearance of the chestnut tree in the Eastern mountains and woodlands as a result of a fungus. Starting with national parks, like the Shenandoah National Park, the group’s efforts now include planning the trees on private lands, as Jeremiah Knupp reported.

3. Valley minister was set to get her vaccine, instead she got escorted out (Feb. 4)

Christina Rivera (photo provided)

It might seem like eons ago, but during the first couple of months of vaccine availability, only certain people — health workers, first responders, seniors and people with underlying health issues — could get access. When a minister who works with patients and their families tried to get vaccinated, she found herself getting escorted out of Sentara RMH, as Bridget Manley reported. Sentara later apologized to Christina Rivera and invited her back to get that vaccination. 

4. Rosetta Stone employees blindsided by massive layoffs (May 14)

The parent company of one of Harrisonburg’s most prominent employers — language learning company Rosetta Stone — suddenly announced layoffs through a company-wide Zoom call in May. It ended up that whole departments in the Harrisonburg office would shut down. And, as employees told Bridget Manley and contributor Charlotte Matherly, some had no warning. 

5. How a pattern of harassment forced a landlord to pay (Feb. 5)

After a Harrisonburg-based landlord settled with the U.S. Justice Department in the wake of a sexual harassment investigation, Randi B. Hagi examined the decade-long effort by area lawyers to seek justice for female tenants who had reported the landlord’s “unwelcome sexual comments and advances.” 

6. COVID-19 dashboard (launched Feb. 25)

Contributor Lars Åkerson created The Citizen’s COVID dashboard in February to show local data about vaccinations and COVID cases using numbers from the Virginia Department of Health.

7. Superintendent pulls graphic novel from schools (Nov. 11) 

Harrisonburg City Public Schools Superintendent Michael Richards decided to remove the graphic novel “Gender Queer: A Memoir” from the high school’s library, saying it had explicit images that might not be appropriate for younger children, such as siblings of high school students. Senior contributor Logan Roddy was first to report that and followed up the next week with an in-depth piece about the unusual nature of pulling such a book without going through the formal book-challenging system. School staff then put together a committee to review Richards’ decision. 

8. Tequila Taco Bar to open in former Brickhouse (Feb. 15) 

Jose Reyes plans to open the restaurant to serve authentic Mexican food and about 100 different tequilas.

Businesses have come and gone during the pandemic. But the planned Tequila Taco Bar on Main Street across from JMU’s campus has attracted a lot of attention — for its initial plans to open, which contributor Jessica Kronzer was first to report, and in August for its delayed opening because of a snafu with the liquor license application. The establishment’s owner mailed it to the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority’s former address, and it wasn’t forwarded to the new headquarters. 

9. County school board candidate’s social media posts spark controversy (Oct. 28)

The only election-related story to crack the Top 10 was Bridget Manley’s article about how some of Rockingham County School Board candidate Matt Cross’s approaches on social media had generated controversies. Cross, a former school resource officer, easily won the school board seat in the Nov. 2 election

10. Immigrant-led carbon farm in Mt. Clinton takes root (April 12

Staff work on the Climate Farm in Mt. Clinton in early spring 2021.

Lars Åkerson also wrote about Mt. Clinton landowners’ effort to contain and harness carbon dioxide using agricultural processes. This carbon farm operation called Climate Farm also has staff who are immigrants and has attracted college volunteers. 

11. The Regal strikes back — could reopen in spring (April 6)

Perhaps seeking some level of pre-pandemic normalcy, many readers were interested in senior contributor Eric Gorton’s update in April that the Harrisonburg Regal Theater would re-open after eight months. 

12. He nearly died on Route 33 and has thoughts on how to improve it (March 11)

After the Virginia Department of Transportation opened a survey about ways to improve Route 33 between Elkton and Harrisonburg, contributor Jessica Kronzer interviewed Tristan Miller, who nearly died on that stretch of road in a 2016 accident. VDOT opened a follow-up survey to gather input about suggested improvements, but as Kronzer reported in November, any changes would require local funding

13. City schools to shave an hour from school day (Sept. 22)

The most-read story from 2021 Harrisonburg school board meetings involved the board’s decision to shorten the school day by an hour to help relieve a severe time crunch on teachers who have been stretched thin. And Bridget Manley also reported in the article how a TikTok challenge encouraging vandalism had made its way to Harrisonburg. 

14. Magpie owner will make marketplace and event space appear (June 15)

The building at 76 W. Gay St. is the site for a planned market and event space.

In more business news, Magpie owner Kirsten Moore plans to convert an old building in the north end of downtown into the Liberty Street Mercantile, as Logan Roddy reported in June.

15. New free clinic to open in Harrisonburg (April 1)

After the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Free Clinic closed at the beginning of 2021, a new Blue Ridge Free Clinic opened in April at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Reservoir Street, as Calvin Pynn reported. 

16. Long-awaited trail soon to become reality (Oct. 11) 

Bicyclists peddle their bikes uphill towards a turn in a paved section of the Garbers Church Road Shared Use Path near Bluestone Elementary on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2021.

The Great Eastern Trail wasn’t the only path attracting interest last year. Chase Downey and Mike Tripp offered a look at the new Harrisonburg trail that winds from the high school and Bluestone Elementary through Heritage Oaks Golf Course and Hillandale Park, then over to Westover Park. Better late than never, the project began in 2015 and opened this fall. 

17. The future is murky for the house that wasn’t Thomas Harrison’s (Oct. 8)

The pandemic delayed plans for the historic building, which archaeologists determined in 2018 could not have been the home of town founder Thomas Harrison. City officials told Bridget Manley for this update story that the discussions about what to do with the house now are essentially “frozen in time.” 

18. Before and after the Lincoln Homestead transformation (Aug. 3)

The parlor of the Lincoln Homestead in 2019 before renovations (right) and in July 2021 (left) when the Bixlers offered another public tour.

Manley also returned to the renovated Lincoln Homestead — home of President Abraham Lincoln’s father, Thomas — to show how the new owners, the Bixlers, transformed it from a rundown shell of itself to a refurbished glimpse at history. 

19. Youngkin & McAuliffe differ in visions for renewable energy (Aug. 19)

While issues like vaccine mandates and school policies dominated debate in last year’s race for Virginia governor, contributor Jake Conley examined the energy plans of Republican Glenn Youngkin and Democrat Terry McAuliffe, especially those affecting the Valley. (Youngkin, of course, won the race, and publisher Andrew Jenner explained how those election results fit a trend.) 

20. HPD plays key role in connecting victims to possible serial killer (Dec. 18)

And Harrisonburg’s police department work to arrest a suspect in relation to two bodies found in November ended up connecting to another grisly find in Fairfax County. Jessica Kronzer covered the Friday press conference in Northern Virginia in which police leaders, including new Harrison Chief Kelley Warner, said it might have been the work of a serial killer. 

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