Where county preservation trumps partisan politics


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    Paul Hodge stands in front of his home in western Loudoun County, Virginia.

    - Nancy Marshall-Genzer

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    Western Loudoun County residents are banding together to protect the countryside.

    - Nancy Marshall-Genzer

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    Paul Hodge feeds his horses.

    - Nancy Marshall-Genzer

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    Signs for Mitt Romney along a country road in western Loudoun County.

    - Nancy Marshall-Genzer

It’s a sunny, Indian summer Thursday in Loudoun County, Va. Eastern Loudoun County is a bustling, urban center. The western half of the county is rural. It's horse country, and it's a place where horse lovers are crossing party lines to preserve the bucolic landscape. At the end of a maze of dusty, dirt roads in western Loudoun County is the home of Paul Hodge. 

Hodge is a lanky, energetic 77-year-old. He's just been watering a thriving garden that is in fact located on a small farm. A retired Washington Post reporter, he’s still just 50 miles west of the capital. Now Hodge spends his days telling the story of Unison, Virginia, the tiny town just down the road from his farm. He founded the Unison Preservation society 11 years ago and works closely with his neighbors on preservation. Many of them have big spreads, and they go fox hunting.

Gated estates dot the countryside, as do campaign signs for Mitt Romney. Hodge’s minivan sports an Obama/Biden bumper sticker. Sitting in a sunny room of his farmhouse, Hodge says this election is very important to him, but he and his neighbors have set aside their political differences for the greater goal of preservation.

"Right around here we had people who worked in the Reagan White House handing out Democratic brochures because they were for preservation, not development,” he says.

At one point, Hodge and his neighbors considered seceding from Loudoun County. There was a petition drive, but the state legislature struck it down. Secession is not a new idea around here. Unison is surrounded by old Civil War battlefields. Hodge hops into his minivan and drives down a bumpy gravel road to an old Quaker cemetery. Hodge says Unison was founded by Quakers as a place of religious tolerance, and that spirit endures.

“It’s still today a place where people get along," he says. "So, this election, while you may see stickers, there’s not a lot of anger, which there seems to be in other places.”

Unison has the kind of horse sense the rest of us could use. Especially 50 miles away, in the swamp of Washington, D.C.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

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