Last year was another successful one for conservation in Rappahannock, as four properties totaling 826 acres were protected by conservation easements in 2013. More than 31,250 acres are now in easement in Rappahannock — almost equal to the amount of county land protected by Shenandoah National Park (approximately 31,856 acres).
A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement between a landowner and a land trust (such as a public agency or a non-profit conservation group) to permanently protect natural and cultural resources on their land.
Along with longtime residents of Rappahannock who continued a legacy of conservation by donating new acreage to existing easements — originally donated by them and their family in previous years — new landowners also took steps to protect the community in 2013.
“It is incredibly rewarding to work with landowners who have already been through the process of protecting their property once, come back and want to do more,” said Don Loock, land conservation officer for the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC).
“It’s really a testament to the fact that placing your land in conservation easement is one of the most substantial forms of stewardship that a landowner can participate in, helping ensure that the natural resources they’ve tended and stewarded will be respected for generations to come.”
One such dedicated landowner is Georgia Romine, who worked with the Virginia Department of Forestry and the U.S. Forest Service to protect an additional 261 acres of her forest property in Laurel Mills. Romaine’s entire 354-acre property is now protected, which ensures that over 3,200 feet of the Thornton River and forestry soils will be responsibly stewarded for years to come.
Chris Parrish, who owns and operates Thornton River Farm, also decided to place an additional piece of his property in easement last year. The newly protected 100 acres includes a mile along the Thornton River and highly productive farmland soils, and adjoins two additional easements donated by Parrish’s sisters, Laura and Carol, in 2009. His third sister Merrill also donated an easement in 2013 on her farm in Orange County.
Parrish credits the state and federal tax incentives as a huge help in making it possible to protect his farm. “The transferable Virginia tax credit and the enhanced federal deductions have made it possible for landowners like me, especially farmers, to preserve the legacy of their farms with conservation easements, helping ensure that we have land to farm into the future,” he said.
In total, conservation easements in Rappahannock County now protect approximately 145 miles of streams and rivers, 8,640 acres of prime farming soils, 19,234 acres of forests, more than 10,000 acres along scenic byways and 7,543 acres in the viewshed of the Appalachian Trail.
In 2013, PEC accepted easements on a total of five properties — taking on the responsibility to protect the 963 acres in perpetuity. PEC now holds a total of 51 easements (protecting 7,588 acres) throughout a nine-county region, which includes Loudoun, Clarke, Fauquier, Culpeper, Madison, Rappahannock, Orange, Albemarle and Greene counties. PEC also accepted the donation of 141 acres of fee-simple property in Loudoun County in 2013, bringing the total amount of protected land to 369,240 acres.
“The landowners’ love for their land and their community was once again proven by another strong year of land conservation in the Piedmont,” said Heather Richards, PEC vice-president for conservation and rural programs.
“The dedication of these landowners, who have provided an incredible gift of permanent conservation to their community, should be applauded by all who live in the area. The conservation easements in 2013 complement the strong planning in our region, allowing the areas around our cities and towns to grow, while preserving the countryside that makes the Piedmont a remarkably special place.”