County landowners protect 1,100-plus acres

In 2012, six properties within the borders of Rappahannock County totaling more than 1,127 acres were protected by conservation easements, about double the acreage conserved the year before, according to data compiled annually by the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC).

Map courtesy of Piedmont Environmental Council
Map courtesy of Piedmont Environmental Council

This contributes to a total of more than 30,400 acres – or 25 percent of the land outside of Shenandoah National Park – that are protected in Rappahannock by these voluntary agreements between landowners and public and private land trusts committed to permanently preserving natural, scenic and cultural resources.

Rappahannock’s 2012 totals are among the more than 9,500 acres in PEC’s nine-county region reported protected by conservation easements last year. The nine-county total acreage in easement is now more than 357,600 acres, or 16.8 percent of the total land in the region. (PEC’s service area includes Albemarle, Clarke, Culpeper, Fauquier, Greene, Loudoun, Madison, Orange and Rappahannock counties.)

Among those counties, Rappahannock’s percentage of conserved land outside the park borders is the highest at 25 percent. Fauquier County has 23 percent, or 96,600 of its acres, in conservation easements, with Albemarle and Clarke counties at 19 percent. Culpeper County has the lowest percentage of conserved land, according to PEC, with six percent of its total acreage in easement.

“Not only did landowners conserve twice as much acreage in Rappahannock County as last year, but, more importantly, 2012 saw the protection of some key resources,” said Don Loock, PEC’s land conservation officer in the county.

These resources include 2.52 miles of additional protection along the Rappahannock and Jordan Rivers (state scenic rivers); the protection of Points of View farm, a scenic farm visible from Route 729, U.S. 211 and Skyline Drive; the protection of the Bird family farm in Amissville, which boasts prime farming soils and an important wildlife corridor; and PEC’s acquisition of an inholding within the Shenandoah National Park wilderness area.

Four of the easements recorded last year by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation in Rappahannock are in an area VOF spokesman Jason McGarvey says some refer to as the “Gold Coast of Rappahannock County,” an area between the Jordan and Rappahannock rivers that has an unusually high easement concentration.

“The first easement was done back in 1977, and today, if you drive along North Poes Road, which is about six miles,” McGarvey said, “you’ll be driving past a VOF easement on one or both sides the entire way.”

In total, PEC said, conservation easements in the county now protect about 139 miles of streams and rivers, 8,423 acres of prime farming soils, more than 18,580 acres of forests and more than 10,620 acres along scenic byways. These resources not only make Rappahannock County a great place to live, but they are fundamental to the local and state economies. A recent study by PEC found that nine environmental benefits – including recreation, farm products and water quality –  contribute about $21.8 billion to Virginia’s economy every year.

Four of the easements recorded in Rappahannock this year contributed to the protection of more than 2.52 miles of the Jordan and Rappahannock rivers, both designated scenic rivers.

In addition to these easements, farmers in Rappahannock were able to access additional incentives for streamside fencing this year, with grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Krebser Fund (a land conservation fund staffed by PEC), the Culpeper Soil and Water Conservation District and Rappahannock County. This program led to an additional installation of nearly two miles of fencing in 2012 to exclude cattle from the county’s streams and rivers.    

Thanks to the generosity of Larry and Ria Finch, as well as a grant from the Krebser Fund, PEC was also able to acquire a 17-acre property surrounded on three sides by the Shenandoah National Park Wilderness Area.

“We are proud to have been able to work with the Krebser Fund and the Finch family to help secure this important property. This land will provide additional protection to this important wilderness area, enhance the recreational experience for visitors and provide strategic access for park staff to better manage this great national resource,” said PEC president Chris Miller.

In 2013, PEC plans to transfer the property to the National Park Service so that it may add an additional buffer to the park’s wilderness area.

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