Column – Here’s the best way to roll out welcome mat for visitors

Published 4:42 pm Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Giant “LOVE” signs are Virginia’s latest attempt to draw visitors to communities, but it doesn’t take a LOVE sign to advertise a community that cares.

The signs that the Virginia Tourism Council promoted a few years ago can be found in numerous downtowns around the state, including Smithfield. They play on the old “Virginia is for Lovers” slogan that so successfully promoted the state for decades.

Some of the signs are clever, creative or classy, while others might be seen as tacky. However they’re viewed, they’re here to stay. But they’re not the best self-promotion a community can display. The very best advertisement and invitation to visit are clean and well-maintained roads, shoulders and medians leading into a county or town.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Just spend a few days riding through the Old Dominion and you quickly come to realize there are communities that take a great deal of pride in themselves and some that either don’t or can’t afford to. I offer that caveat because there are, indeed, some poor communities in parts of Virginia, and I’m confident that where dollars are scarce, mowing highway shoulders is more likely to be a low priority. 

Still others, I suspect, just don’t much care.

Most primary highways are the responsibility of the Virginia Department of Transportation, and that agency gets an E for effort, but something less than an A for performance. VDOT has worked hard to develop native plantings that take the place of mown rights-of-way, and there are places where the effort has paid off. Less mowing is needed, flowers bloom and the effect is generally quite pleasant. 

Some towns have also tried the “natural” route, but most that want to make a welcoming statement are still mowing. 

On both rural roads and in urban settings, the planting of wildflowers and other native plants is far more environmentally friendly than intensive mowing. It’s also, quite probably, taxpayer-friendly since it reduces the time-consuming mowing operations.

Perhaps more important than managed plantings or mown grass, though, is trash, and a significant number of Virginians have either never gotten the “Do Not Litter” message or they simply don’t care. At this point in history, I think it has to be the latter. 

There is no excuse for hamburger wrappers, drink cups and beer bottles to end up alongside highways in Virginia, but all too often they do. Those of us who live along more heavily traveled roads can attest to the volume because we regularly have to pick it up.

Trash will soon become even more evident as trees, bushes and vines become dormant for the winter. Their foliage forms a welcome camouflage to trash each spring and summer, and its loss reveals much in late fall each year.

Law enforcement personnel shake their heads over litter laws because of the difficulty of enforcing them. They basically have to see the crime committed to do anything about it, and few citizens would be willing to become witnesses to stop a litterer. Frankly, it would entail a lot of trouble and potential grief.

So, how does our community rate in this important business of welcoming visitors? Smithfield is doing a great job on the mowing and trimming side, and Isle of Wight has gotten better but has more territory to contend with.

As far as trash, a valiant effort is made locally. A number of civic organizations and two local companies have signed onto the Virginia Adopt-A-Highway program and regularly pick up somebody’s else’s trash along roads in and around Smithfield.

Hats off to Smithfield VFW Post 8545, Smithfield Rotary, Smithfield HAMS Brew Club, Smithfield High School JROTC, Carrollton Ruritan Club, Breezy Hill Meadworks and TFS Outdoors Unlimited. Our community looks a lot better because of you.


John Edwards is publisher emeritus of The Smithfield Times. His email address is