Since the start of 2023, PEC has been introducing our 2023-2028 Strategic Plan to audiences across the Piedmont and beyond. It’s a forward-looking plan that builds on the solid foundation of 50 years of community planning, conservation policy advocacy and thousands of projects to conserve and restore our lands and waters. It is filled with hope for a better future and built on informed and involved communities. PEC values a thoughtful and holistic approach to addressing the complex issues facing our lands and our communities. Being both idealistic and pragmatic, our staff and Board consider the best data and research, look for unintended consequences, and pursue creative solutions, always guided by our commitment to a sustainable future for the Virginia Piedmont.
On Mother’s Day, I took my mom on a tour of the communities and lands that are part of the larger regional effort. Our drive started in southern Fairfax County, where I was raised and where my mom still lives in Hollin Hills, a National Register of Historic Places historic district of postmodernist homes built on a wood lot from a neighboring farm. The Washington Beltway led us to Interstate 66 westward through Fairfax County and into Prince William and Loudoun counties, some of the fastest-growing urban and suburban areas of the U.S. Along the way, we wound through the hardened corridor of data centers, distribution warehouses, transmission lines, and sprawling commercial and residential developments that characterize much of Northern Virginia.
As we journeyed further west, through Thoroughfare Gap in the Rural Crescent of Prince Willam County, then the Bull Run Mountain Preserve, and on into rural Fauquier County, the transformation to a landscape of forests, pastures and small villages and towns was striking. The next three hours allowed me to give Mom an overview of PEC’s work with communities on a wide range of projects.
We talked about regenerative agriculture, improving the return on investment for local producers through local farm markets and Buy Fresh Buy Local, about land conservation and planting forested stream buffers to improve water quality, and about supporting local affordable housing initiatives. Scenic highways and byways took us along the Route 50 traffic calming corridor, passing cyclists along the way, and up the long, winding, unpaved section of Carr Lane to where it joins Route 17 in the Crooked Run Valley. The views of Ashby Gap, protected by Sky Meadow State Park, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and the Piedmont Memorial Overlook and anchoring tens of thousands of acres of farms and forest protected by conservation easements, were stunning.
At PEC’s Piedmont Memorial Overlook, we ate a picnic lunch in the sun, culminating with fresh strawberries from Wegmeyer farm at Gilberts Corner, land PEC leases out to enable innovative local production. We chatted with hikers from all over, enjoying the present, connecting with land, air, sounds and smells of nature. Later, as we walked through the wildflower meadows, we had the thrill of Indigo Buntings hunting from the Honey Locusts.
On the way home, sedated and content, Mom said, “thank you for sharing such a wonderful place. It gives me hope knowing that so many have worked so hard for something so beautiful that can be shared now and in generations to come.” As we returned to the fast-paced realities of Northern Virginia, all the challenges of the future lay before us. Traffic was heavy. Data center construction, new housing development, and expanded highways appeared all around us. And the air was hazy from the smoke of wildfires in Canada, increasingly triggered by a changing climate.
At PEC, we know there can be a way forward that includes varying scales of communities, connected trails, rural roads and byways, all surrounded by farms, forest and open spaces that provide all of us with water, food, recreation, and solace. We need to find a way to balance the need for clean energy powering a growing economy with the equally important access to the natural world. Only by embracing the complexity of both and working hard to make the best decisions possible, can we move toward that balance.
I hope you will read our Strategic Plan and invest in our work to implement each of its elements. Now, more than ever before, your support and collaboration are critical to accelerating conservation, building inclusive and livable communities, and enabling a cleaner and more sustainable economy. And, come join us in enjoying special places that are protected forever!
Chris Miller, President
This letter appeared in the 2023 summer edition of The Piedmont Environmental Council’s member newsletter, The Piedmont View. If you’d like to become a PEC member or renew your membership, please visit pecva.org/join.