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Growth painful for some in Berkeley County

August 09, 1998|By CLYDE FORD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A narrow line of field fence separates Kitty Cauffman's pastures from hundreds of surrounding homes.

She walks her property line nearly daily to make sure the border between her family's farmland and the subdivisions remains intact.

To Cauffman, the fence represents the change in Berkeley County in recent years.

For farmers, a fence keeps livestock in the fields where they belong. To the newcomers, many from the metro areas surrounding Washington, the fence represents a barrier to them walking from their homes to the Opequon Creek to fish.

"They have repeatedly cut our fence," Cauffman said. "We built steps up beside the fence to make it easier for them to cross and they cut the fence next to the steps. It's almost become a constant battle."

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To longtime residents of Berkeley County, the change from a rural West Virginia county to a bedroom community of Washington, D.C., and northern Virginia has been painful at times.

With about 500 building permits being issued a year in Berkeley County, farm fields and woodlands are being bulldozed into housing and business developments.

Less than 10 years ago, the land along Interstate 81 between the King Street exit and the Winchester Avenue exit was empty fields. Today, the Martinsburg Mall and numerous restaurants and other businesses cover the land.

Elsewhere in the county, farm land is disappearing at a rapid rate with new homes being built, said Jim Stuckey, a member of the Berkeley County Farm Bureau.

"This county has changed a lot," said Stuckey, 41, a life-long resident. "I don't like seeing it. I'd rather see the farmland. We've lost a lot of land to development."

Cauffman, 50, said her family has been in the same area about a mile outside of Martinsburg for more than 100 years.

Cauffman, a Berkeley County school administrator, said she is not against the growth. But she said the new residents to the county also need to respect the old way of life in the county.

She said hundreds of homes surround the 65-acre farm and the neighbors in the nearby subdivision seem to treat their pastures as public parkland.

"We've walked out and found teenagers camping in our fields," Cauffman said.

The decision to keep their land as farm land has not come cheaply, she said. Cauffman said the farm right behind their land sold for $2 million to developers.

Stuckey said there is a price to the county's growth besides the loss of farm fields.

"We're overcrowded at the schools, overcrowded on the roads," Stuckey said. "Do we want all this growth here?"

Ruth Linton's family has farmed for six generations between Martinsburg and Hedgesville, W.Va.

There was a time when she knew the neighbors around her. Now there are too many people in the new subdivisions to know, she said.

The growth in the Eastern Panhandle has led state officials to design a new, four-lane version of W.Va. 9.

Under the proposed route, the four-lane highway will mean the end of her family's farm, Linton said.

"If it goes through our farm, I don't know what we'll do. It's progress, I guess," Linton said.

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