Celia Porter Dollarhide (January 1940 — December 2012) and her siblings never quite had a hometown. Their father, Robert Porter, Jr., was a general in the U.S. army and the family moved often. So, when General Porter retired in the ‘60s and settled at Middle River Farm in Madison County — the 140 acre tree farm became the family’s home base.
Bob Porter, Celia’s younger brother, says Celia was especially drawn to the farm. When their father passed away in 2000, she stepped up and took over a lot of the property management:
“I believe she wanted to carry out father’s vision for the farm, and she fell in love with this area,” Bob explains. “With the rapid development in Northern Virginia, where she lived, this region is something special, and was special to her.”
Celia became an enthusiastic advocate and leader for rural land conservation and forestry in Madison. She partnered with staff from regional organizations, like PEC and the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF), to help with numerous outreach and educational events for landowners in the area:
“She was just one of those people,” says Beth Burnam—former PEC employee who now works for VDOF. “She was very generous. Anytime you had a project, Celia would be there to help.”
For many years, Celia encouraged her family to put the family farm under a conservation easement—but some had reservations. “Celia seemed to be the primary manager,” remembers Mike Santucci of VDOF, “but she was careful not to move forward with a decision until her family was on board.”
The land was not put under easement for years, but then Celia was diagnosed with cancer. As her health declined, her family’s perspectives seemed to shift. Conserving the family farm in Celia’s lifetime soon became a top priority for everyone involved. “She was the one who really motivated all of it,” Bob says. “We all felt a sense of urgency to make this happen… Beth and Mike were instrumental in getting this done.”
The conservation easement on the farm closed just days before Celia’s death in December. Though we have lost a great advocate for conservation, her legacy will live on in the Middle River Farm: “Celia stewarded her father’s legacy,” Mike says, “and now she has planted those seeds with the next generation.”