Since the advent of Covid-19, Charlottesville area greenways and open spaces have seen unprecedented visitorship as people have gravitated to the outdoors in search of the physical and emotional benefits of nature and fresh air. That’s why the creation of the new Heyward Community Forest is so timely.
Two Years, Two Acquisitions and a Multigenerational Legacy
In 2019, the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) and the Virginia Department of Forestry helped the City of Charlottesville acquire 142 acres adjacent to the Ragged Mountain Natural Area through a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Community Forest Program grant of $562,500 to purchase the land. The city contributed $37,500 to bring the total purchase price to $600,000. The owner, Louisa Heyward, agreed to donate the remaining value.
In late 2019 and early 2020, PEC began working with the Rivanna Trails Foundation and Charlottesville to purchase from Stan Makielski an additional five acres that adjoins the Community Forest, filling a public access gap, allowing for better trail connectivity and keeping private development out of the natural area. This acquisition relied on funds from USDA’s Community Forest Program, the Bama Works Fund of Dave Matthews Band at the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation, a private donor, and an additional $65,000 from the Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) Preservation Trust Fund. The purchase closed on March 12, 2021 and is now part of the larger community forest.
The two tracts that now make up the Heyward Community Forest were both once owned by Stan’s father (Stanislaw Makielski, Sr.), who was one of the founding instructors at the UVA School of Architecture. According to Stan Jr., his father planted trees so that, “years from now, when he was long gone, people would still enjoy them. There’s a lot of love in that land and it’s wonderful [that] it is now saved.”
These forward-looking early land stewards’ vision has come to pass and the land is now protected as a Community Forest for the public to enjoy.
Part of a Larger Whole
Nearly 150 acres of new park land is always something to celebrate, and these parcels are the keystone of something even bigger—much bigger. They sit in the center of a larger conglomeration of lands that include:
- the existing Ragged Mountain Natural Area,
- Albemarle’s future Hedgerow Park (previous donations from the Heyward family),
- UVA’s Foxhaven property (previous donations from the Heyward family),
- Boars Head, and
- Camp Holiday Trails.
These outdoor areas, all of which offer some degree of public access, add up to more than 2,200 acres for recreational use. That’s almost three times larger than Central Park!
These areas are—or soon will be—connected by a network of trails. They are characterized by diverse, often unusual ecosystems and areas that will be protected from human intrusion. The two acquisitions will help better connect these 2,200+ acres of ecological, recreational, and educational resources to the public, as they are right on the edge of Charlottesville and near (or even connected to) multiple Albemarle neighborhoods.
A Collaborative Effort
Just as the Heyward and Makielski acquisitions contribute to a broader landscape of public access and habitat preservation, they also have inspired broader collaboration for the greater good.
Soon after the Heyward property acquisition was finalized, the City led a community forestry program, resulting in a number of organizations (e.g., Charlottesville Area Mountain Bike Club, Rivanna Trails Foundation, Charlottesville Area Trail Runners, University of Virginia) raising money and supplying volunteers to build trails. Similarly, habitat restoration and protection efforts are underway with assistance from the Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards, the Center for Urban Habitats and many others.
This work is coming together because it includes all the ingredients we know lead to success: engaged and organized citizens and groups, conservation-minded landowners, a local government committed to parks and open spaces, and an organization that can act as an intermediary, offer technical expertise and maintain a multi-year focus. It will be exciting to watch the project grow and become an ever-more valuable resource for the community.