Plans to dredge Put-In Creek to draw boaters to downtown Mathews were dropped by the county in May after the Army Corps of Engineers said permits for the project would be tough to come by. But at least a couple of folks think the county dropped the initiative too soon.
Peggy Hudgins, widow of the late L. Wayne Hudgins, who spearheaded the project and worked on it tirelessly for many years, said her husband would’ve put up a tougher fight.
"Wayne knew it was a huge challenge—a big project with lots of permits they would’ve had to get," she said. "But he believed in it so strongly he would’ve pushed as long as he could."
Hudgins said the idea of dredging the creek first occurred to her husband years ago, when some friends of theirs brought a sailboat up from Florida. The couple called from Mathews Court House and invited the Hudginses to meet them for lunch.
"We asked them how they got here, and they took us and showed us the dock behind the sewage treatment plant," said Hudgins. "I was horrified."
A former federal Department of Defense investigator who began working full-time as a marine surveyor after retiring in 1993, Wayne Hudgins took his friends’ experience to heart, and when it was determined that the HRSD sewage treatment plant was nearing the end of its life and would be dismantled in favor of a pipeline, he began his campaign for a boat-turning basin at the site.
In various presentations before county residents and officials, Hudgins outlined the need and the benefits of such a boat basin for Mathews County. At a public meeting in 2004, he told a group of residents that Mathews has more shoreline than any other county in Virginia, but visitors have a hard time finding access to the water.
"Ride down any road that goes down to the water and at one time it had a public landing," said Hudgins at that time. "Most no longer exist."
A boat basin with 25 boat slips for transient use and a town dock for launching kayaks and canoes would not only give boaters access to downtown Mathews, said Hudgins, but it would also increase business opportunities for individuals, property values for Put-In Creek residents, and tax revenue for the county.
"We have a visitor’s center, restaurants, a state-of-the-art library, two grocery stores, doctors, ministers, historic places, all within walking distance," he said. "Mathews County is an uncut diamond waiting to be refined."
At this year’s May board of supervisors meeting, the county appointed a committee to look at other options for the Put-In Creek property, such as creating a park and using the dock for launching kayaks and canoes or tying up dinghies from boats mooring in the vicinity of Town Point Landing. But Peggy Hudgins thinks that plan falls far short of the original vision.
"Town Point Landing is too far away for people to enjoy Mathews Court House," she said. "These people don’t have vehicles. How do they get there? They’d have to walk."
Marilyn Overstreet, who worked on Hudgins’s committee, is disappointed at the demise of the project, as well.
"We need more people coming into downtown," she said. "If there are no farmers or fishermen anymore, we need some source of revenue."
At a 2005 meeting on the topic, Overstreet said her travels up and down the intracoastal waterway had made her realize how much Mathews has to offer the boating community. Other localities might have a few tourist shops, restaurants, and bed and breakfast facilities, she said then, but very few of them could offer grocery stores, an ABC store, ATM machines, banks, dry-cleaning services, drug stores, and hardware stores—all within walking distance of a dock.
"Greenville, South Carolina, was charming," said Overstreet, "but you couldn’t buy ice or a quart of milk; I never saw a grocery store. We have so much more to offer than those other places."
Overstreet said the committee appointed by the county to determine the best use of the HRSD property is trying to come up with alternatives that will make the best use of the property, but that everybody’s concerned about the cost.
"We don’t want to start a project and not have enough money for it," she said. "It’s really hard when you think you can do something that would be good for the county and it doesn’t come to fruition. It’s sort of sad … I hope we can at least keep it on the table."
Peggy Hudgins said she, too, hopes the county will do something at the HRSD site to make it more attractive, but she’s disappointed that no one has taken up her husband’s mantle.
"He was very passionate about the project and hoped so much that this was something that would happen in Mathews Court House," she said. "He just wouldn’t give up on it."