Fauquier Hits a Conservation Milestone

A significant milestone happened this summer that took the collective effort of hundreds of landowners, farmers and families. Leading the charge, Fauquier became the first county in Virginia to forever preserve more than 100,000 acres of land using conservation easements.“This achievement is evidence of a strong public-private investment in the rural economy, clean streams and rivers, history and scenic beauty of Fauquier,” said Chris Miller, President of The Piedmont Environmental Council. “Every day, residents of the County, visitors to the region, and the communities of the Commonwealth benefit from that investment.”

Which property put Fauquier over the 100,000-acre mark?

Wainbur Farm—a working dairy farm located in the southern part of the County.

Bull Run Mountains
A view of the Bull Run Mountains in The Plains. The grassy area in the foreground is protected by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation— part of the 100,000 acres under easement in Fauquier County. Photo by Ryan Wick

Four generations of the Burton family have owned and operated the farm, which is an important anchor to the agricultural community in Fauquier. The Burtons entered into an agreement through the Purchase of Development Rights Program in 2010 to conserve 396 acres of their property. This year in July, they conserved an additional 167 acres, which tipped Fauquier over the unique milestone of 100,000 acres of privately conserved land.

“The Fauquier County PDR program focuses on the protection f working farms, and the County ads the Commonwealth in PDR participation,” said Ray Pickering, Director of Fauquier County Department of Agricultural Development. “Not only did the Burtons conserve their land, but they’ve done a tremendous job of soil and water conservation on their farm.”

The Burtons have implemented a number of best management practices, including a nutrient management plan and stream buffering on over 1 mile of stream frontage.

The conserved acreage in Fauquier includes 395 miles of streams in the Rappahannock, Occoquan and Goose Creek watersheds, and 4,115 acres of wetland. This protected land benefits the plentiful wildlife, increases water quality and helps ensure clean drinking water.

“We must remember that Warrenton has a limited supply of water, and it’s so important to protect its small watershed. When there’s a drought, I see the reservoir go way down,” said Hope Porter, owner of the Hopefield property, which has 185 acres under easement. “Hopefield protects the town’s drinking water supply and helps to provide a green ring around Warrenton.”

Fauquier also has 9,932 acres of protected Civil War Battlefield, an important resource for residents and tourists. “Fauquier County’s largest Civil War battle—the Battle of Rappahannock Station—occurred here in November 1863. Now that the land has been protected, Fauquier County has an opportunity to realize the creation of a battlefield park to honor the thousands of soldiers who fought and died on the Rappahannock Front,” said Clark ‘Bud’ Hall, a local historian.

Additionally, 39,256 acres of forest and 50,369 acres of prime farmland are under easement in the County. “Land conservation is so important. It’s about leaving a legacy for the next generation,” said Ken Smith, owner of Cool Lawn Farm and Moo Thru.

Easement holders in Fauquier County include, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, The Piedmont Environmental Council, The Land Trust of Virginia, Northern Virginia Conservation Trust and other land trusts.

“When VOF recorded its first easement in Fauquier in 1973, private land conservation was still in its infancy,” says Leslie Grayson, deputy director of VOF, and whose family farm near Upperville was placed under easement in 1988. “Few could have imagined the breadth of conservation programs and initiatives that are available to Fauquier landowners today. Thanks to the hard work and vision of many landowners and community leaders, Fauquier continues to be a model for community-based conservation.”