Giving Back

Jean Scott, 82, of Culpeper County placed her 118-acre tract of land on the Hazel River into a permanent conservation easement in 2010. Mrs. Scott’s donation will be an enduring legacy of conservation; a testament to the value of Virginia’s natural spaces. Yet, if you ask Mrs. Scott if she considers herself an environmentalist, she will chuckle and, almost bashfully, say, “Well, no. I don’t think so.”

If you visit Mrs. Scott, she will gladly take you on a walk around the land that has been a part of her and her family’s lives for over half a century. She knows the tract like the back of her hand and can talk about the different species of trees, wildflowers and wildlife as though they are old friends. Yet, if you ask Mrs. Scott if considers herself a naturalist, Mrs. Scott will respond with the same kind smile, “No, I don’t suppose so. Well, maybe I’m a disorganized naturalist.”

Don’t let Mrs. Scott’s gentle humility fool you. When it comes to environmental conservation, she is a lot of “walk” with little “talk.” She may not spend her days picketing in Washington to conserve the natural areas she knows and loves, but she and her family have lived their lives in a respectful partnership with their land near Rixeyville, VA, since she and her late husband, John Scott, bought the tract in the ’60s.

The Scotts originally used the land as a summer getaway and hobby farm. They lived in McLean during the year, but as soon as her three kids were out of school, Mrs. Scott would pack up their things and head to Culpeper County.

“It was so lovely and so simple out here,” Mrs. Scott explained. “We kept horses and cattle, and grew some corn… and we would plant a big garden for our food.”

Initially the little cottage had no running water besides a spring-fed faucet in the kitchen, and so the family would swim in the property’s 7-acre pond after their long days of work and play.

“It pleased the kids so much that they could never understand why we eventually added on a bathroom,” Mrs. Scott remembers. “It was good for them to come out here. It made us all much more robust and outdoorsy, which I think is important.”

The Scotts enjoyed having visitors at their summer spot to swim, hike, fish and sometimes hunt, but were clear about certain rules in respect to the land and wildlife. “We enjoyed the place, and so we always tried to be careful with it,” Mrs. Scott said. “I was always sad to leave at the end of the summer.”

Mr. and Mrs. Scott eventually built a house on the property and retired there, and so, today, Mrs. Scott doesn’t have to leave come Labor Day.

Mrs. Scott recognizes that giving up the commercial development rights of her property may mean its monetary value is lowered, but that’s not what she sees as important.

“I can see that we need to do things to hold on to what natural places we have,” she said, “It’s too easy to lose… some people judge the value of things only by money, and, frankly, I don’t really think about it like that.”

Mrs. Scott donated a conservation easement on the land to the Virginia Department of Forestry. In doing so, she joined other Culpeper County landowners, who have so far placed nearly 13,200 acres in conservation easements, ensuring that future generations will have a chance to enjoy the land like the Scotts have all these years.

This article was written by Katherine Vance