“Why Crozet” was started by the Gazette nearly two years ago to focus on what keeps people wanting to move and stay here. We also saw it as a chance to introduce some of the residents, old and new, with an eye towards understanding each other and strengthening our community. If that intent could be embodied in Crozet residents, Tim Tolson would be one of them.
Like a good many people we run into around Crozet, Tim Tolson is a U.Va. graduate who found a way to get back to the area. He’d visited Crozet a couple of times as a student and picked it as the place to settle, to raise his family, and to stay.
He had carefully considered what he was looking for, and he knew it wasn’t a typical suburb: “I wanted to live in a place that was already an established town,” he said. “There were two grocery stores, a pharmacy, a dry cleaner, a post office and a library—pretty much everything you’d need without having to leave.”
He’s intentional about his use of “town.” “We’re unincorporated, true, but Crozet is a town.” He also appreciated Albemarle County’s contributions to Crozet’s fire and rescue services, water, and recreational opportunities.
At the same time, he realized the importance of individual contributions to community life. He saw a need for new residents to follow the lead of many of the long-time Crozet residents he met, to pitch in as the area grows. He’s done more than his share, taking a leadership role in building the new library, working with the Crozet Community Association and, most recently, assuming leadership of that volunteer body.
Tolson has a Ph.D. in psychology, and one of his major fields of study was community psychology, a focus that’s helped him in his efforts to encourage people from all backgrounds to work together for the good of everyone in Crozet. He sees a number of influences working against that vision. “People who have been here for a long time are just overwhelmed at the rate of growth,” he said. Also, people who have recently moved here may not know about the challenges of rapid growth, and the importance of community participation in vital organizations like fire and rescue services, community meetings like the Crozet Community Association, and events that bring people together like the Fourth of July Independence Day Celebration.
Tolson credits former CCA chairman Mike Marshall (full disclosure: Marshall is the Crozet Gazette’s founder, publisher and editor) with recognizing the importance of symbols that show pride in the community, such as the Crozet flag and Crozet magnets. He and Marshall agreed that events and places where people from all backgrounds can meet are extremely important for cohesion, so the library, the community celebrations and concerts, the civic meetings, and service on the emergency crews have an importance beyond fulfilling their first and most obvious roles.
There are a number of reasons why participation in many community efforts has fallen off, Tolson said. “Online communication serves a purpose, but it is not the same as meeting in person.” For one thing, people may feel a sense of connection when they post every day on Next Door or Facebook groups and then believe they’ve done their part in reaching out, when they’ve actually only reached out to people they agree with or attacked people they don’t agree with.
A second difficulty, he said, is that the relative anonymity afforded by social media nudges people into less congenial conversations than they’d be likely to have when meeting in person. The complaints aired online add to the feeling on the part of newcomers that they’re unwelcome, and on the part of long-time residents that newcomers want to change the community into a rural imitation of the place they left.
Tolson doesn’t believe either interpretation is true. “What would help is if everyone found one or two ways that they could meet other community members and work towards a common goal,” he said.
Tolson serves on the library board as well as the Crozet Community Association and, in his paying job, directs IT policy and outreach at U.Va.’s Information Security. Before he became a civic leader, before he received his Ph.D., before he came to Crozet, he took a motorcycle trip with a childhood friend from Warrenton, his home town. Forty years later, this last June, the two friends rode their BMWs to Alaska in an extended journey designed to see as much of the scenic western and northern landscape as possible.
Careful planning allowed them to camp most of the time, stopping here and there for a real bed and a hot shower. Tolson said they were glad to see the formidable wildlife, mostly from a distance, and to become familiar with the great Alaskan highway. They hiked when they could, and ended up in Anchorage, where they met their wives and toured together with the relative luxury of a rental car. Weeks later, the two men rode back into Virginia with only a minor gas gauge malfunction and a sore finger between the two. There will be others trips, Tolson said, although he’s not sure of the time frame, including a possible journey west via the famous route 50 from St. Louis.
Meanwhile, Tolson invites anyone wanting to understand or contribute to life in Crozet to join him at the next meeting of the CCA, November 10, at 7:30 p.m. at the Crozet Park Community Building.