Piedmont Environmental Council
Land Conservation Officer, Orange & Culpeper Counties
Over 1,300 acres in Orange County were protected by conservation easements in 2011, adding to a total of almost 31,200 acres, or 14% of the total land.
"I think one of the reasons we've seen a push for conservation easements in the County this past year is that, in this economic climate, landowners are thinking about what's really important to them," said Alison Rau, Land Conservation Officer for the Piedmont Environmental Council. "Protecting open space, farmland, riparian areas, and scenic views, as well as keeping land intact and unspoiled for their families, are definitely things that Orange County landowners feel strongly about, and the entire county benefits from their wise planning."
Among the properties protected last year was Beaupre Farm, located between Gordonsville and the Town of Orange, owned by Gary and Beverley Garbaccio. The 217-acre farm is in use for cattle and boarding retired horses, as well as a small vineyard. It also includes bottomland forest that is home to significant biodiversity, a rare wetlands eocsystem, and two perennial streams. As the Garbaccios described it to the Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF), which holds the easemnet, "[W]e think the farm is quite beautiful in its simplicity. We like to think that we have in some small way helped to maintain a more natural state."
Last year's conservation projects also include 206 acres at Berrybrook Springs on the slopes of Mount Sharon, which includes pastures, woodlands, steep slopes, a stream, and an 1858 farmhouse.
One of the largest easements recorded in Orange County in 2011 was Sylvania Farm, a 469 acre horse farm owned by the Honorable Helen Marie Taylor-Sylvania. This property is highly visible from public roadways, including Mount Sharon Road and Route 628. It contains pasture and a historic Sears barn dating from the first half of the 20th century, providing a picturesque home for the Arabian horses who reside at the farm.
These three easements are held by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation -- a state agency which is the largest land trust in Virginia.
In total, conservation easements in Orange County now protect approximately 129 miles of streams and rivers, 12,300 acres of prime farmland, 2,800 acres of forests, 5,400 acres along Scenic Byways, 12,800 acres in historic districts, and 850 acres of Civil War battlefields. These resources make Orange County a great place to live and are fundamental to the local and state economies. A recent study by PEC found that nine environmental benefits, such as recreation, farm products, and water quality, contribute $21.8 billion to Virginia's economy every year.
PEC, which celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2012, has been promoting private, voluntary land conservation in Virginia's northern Piedmont since 1972, contributing to this region's outstanding success. In the nine-county region where PEC works, approximately 12,100 acres were protected by conservation easements in 2011, adding to a total of over 348,000 acres or 15% of the total land in the region.
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.
Background information: how do conservation easements work?