Celebrating its 15th anniversary this month, the Northern Neck Land Conservancy is spending much of the year honoring the folks it has worked with to create conservation easements.
To underscore the way those voluntary easements help protect the environment and water quality, preserve natural landscapes and provide wildlife habitat, the NNLC is telling the stories of its clients.
In a recent release, the conservation organization that serves the Northern Neck and Essex County highlighted families with the largest and smallest pieces of property that will be forever protected from development.
It referenced Tom Tullidge and his family in Essex County, which has put a conservation easement on a 750-acre tract called Gwynnfield that juts out into the Rappahannock River just above Tappahannock.
And it mentioned Catherine Gordon, who owns a 13-acre parcel in Northumberland County along a tributary of the Coan River.
Both property owners want their properties to remain in the undeveloped state they enjoy for their natural beauty, wildlife and tranquility.
Tullidge said he and his family wanted to keep their property in its natural state because it was the best thing for the long-term quality of the Rappahannock River it sits beside. Gordon wanted to ensure that her naturally beautiful spot would never be subdivided into building lots.
“To celebrate this 15th anniversary, we’re focusing on 15 years of forever” by featuring property owners and the easements that will protect the natural beauty of their land in perpetuity,” said NNLC Executive Director Elizabeth Friel.
That’s just one of the approaches the organization run by a volunteer board is taking as it celebrates this milestone.
Other efforts include the creation of a new informational video about NNLC that features the well-known former TV news anchor Roger Mudd, a new effort to use social media to let people know about NNLC’s services and a push to extend organizational cooperation and information sharing with Friends of the Rappahannock.
Friel noted that the focus on easement holders will be a big part of its annual Boots and BBQ fundraiser and informational fair Saturday, Sept. 28.
It’s being held this year at Ditchley Farm, near Kilmarnock in Lancaster County, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., and will include music, food, drone demonstrations and tours of the historic home on the property.
Friel said the event is in a good spot to underscore the NNLC’s current catchphrase: “Celebrating 15 years of forever protecting the land that you love.” That’s because NNLC worked with Ditchley owners Cathy Calhoun and Paul Grosklags to secure more than $2 million in grants through the federal Agricultural Conservation Easement Program and the Virginia Outdoor Foundation in return for putting the land into a protective easement.
The previous owners of the property had subdivided some of the 162 acres land, much of it waterfront, into 70 lots.
The grant money helped make it possible to plant 2,000 apple trees to support a farm cidery and agri-tourism venue that includes a heritage livestock operation and a wedding business.
Friel noted that Ditchley is also a good example of the way conservation easements and the securing of grants can fuel economic development.
She noted that the easements have also been used by farming families to keep their property in agriculture while providing a way to get income needed to stay in business. Friel and NNLC member Chip Minor noted that sometimes those farm families use the income from tax credits a conservation easement provides to purchase needed farm equipment or more land.
Friel noted that easements can be written to allow a limited number of houses on a property being protected and that there’s no requirement for public access, a frequent misunderstanding.
“It’s because of these easements that many families have been able to keep their land in private ownership,” she said.
In the 15 years that NNLC has been working with landowners to preserve tracts in the region, about 20,000 acres have been protected.
Minor, who’s heading up a committee to spread the word about what the NNLC can do for homeowners, said that number might initially sound like a lot. But he noted that when you spread that out over six counties, it makes up a small percentage of the region.
Minor said the misunderstanding he comes across most often is that somehow people lose ownership or control of their land if they place a conservation easement on it.
“Many somehow had the idea that it somehow wouldn’t stay their property if they put a conservation easement on it, but it does,” he said. “It’s still their property.”
Friel noted that another easement holder the organization is telling the story of is Lake Cowart, a seafood businessman who has recently put a conservation easement on a 300-acre spot called Mount Zion near Lottsburg in Northumberland County.
“It’s another example of how an easement can be an economic driver as he’s going to use a beautiful house on the property for weddings and events,” she said. “Income made possible by the easement will be available to help make that happen.”
One trend Friel noted in recent years is the growing use of Readiness Environmental Protection Integration monies for conservation easements for tracts of land that sit near military bases or along fly zones.
She noted that the Navy has recently purchased the value of an easement because the property sat in a fly zone. Friel said that’s been done quite a bit in southern Maryland, but is beginning to happen more on the Northern Neck side of the Potomac River because of activities related to bases at Dahlgren and Patuxent River.
For more information on “Boots & BBQ,” go online to nnconserve.org or call the NNLC’s office in Lancaster at 804/462-0979.
To celebrate this 15th anniversary, we’re focusing on 15 years of forever ... —nnlc EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR ELIZABETH FRIEL