The Capital Region Land Conservancy is central Virginia’s only land trust dedicated solely to serving the City of Richmond and Chesterfield, Henrico, Hanover, Goochland, Powhatan, New Kent, and Charles City counties. Our mission is to conserve and protect the natural and historic land and water resources of Virginia’s capital region for the benefit of current and future generations.
We live in an extraordinary place, unparalleled for its history and remarkably diverse natural resources, where the rolling hills of Virginia’s Piedmont give way to the Coastal Plain. Here in the watersheds of the James and York Rivers, where Native American tribes had already thrived for thousands of years, our nation took hold. While mapping Virginia in 1612, Captain John Smith declared “heaven and earth never agreed better to frame a more perfect place for man’s habitation.” 400 years later, more than one million people call the Capital Region home.
At the Capital Region Land Conservancy (CRLC), we believe that our future depends upon taking care of what makes the heart of Virginia so special. By balancing growth in our communities with conservation of our natural environment, we can ensure that the places we love will be enjoyed by the generations that follow in our footsteps.
CRLC has helped protect over 10,000 acres in the capital region including 35 miles of stream and river frontage. Of that, CRLC holds or co-holds conservation easements on more 2,200 acres and has fee simple ownership of 380 acres. Protecting land in our region helps ensure safe drinking water, strong communities,locally grown food, preservation of our historic resources, and habitat for wildlife.
January 22, 2019
Richmond, VA – Even for a land trust, it isn’t every day someone offers you a gift of an island, let alone three. In early November, the Capital Region Land Conservancy (CRLC) received just such an overture from Joan Cowan proposing a donation of Grape Island, Hyde Island, and Watson Glenn Island in the Appomattox River in southern Chesterfield County.
CRLC’s staff and Board of Directors acted swiftly in the waning days of 2018 to take ownership of this property in the portion of the Appomattox River designated as a state scenic river since 1977. By the time the new year had begun, significant due diligence and the transfer of the islands to CRLC’s ownership were complete. In working with both Chesterfield County and another local nonprofit, Friends of the Lower Appomattox (FOLAR), CRLC was able to plan for the islands’ future. The change in ownership and the eventual public accessibility of the islands align with the Appomattox River Trail master plan FOLAR drafted in 2017.
“We were pleased to facilitate the connection between Mrs. Cowan, CRLC, and Chesterfield County as part of our mission to conserve and protect the Appomattox River for all to enjoy,” said Wendy Austin, FOLAR Executive Director. “We look forward to future opportunities to work together with CRLC to benefit the health of the river and our communities.”
The cluster of small, forested isles lies down river from Brasfield Dam and the Lake Chesdin Reservoir and total about nine and a half acres. The islands are visible from the southeastern side of the river from the wheelchair accessible Lower Appomattox River Trail System that runs from Ferndale Appomattox Riverside Park in Dinwiddie County to the west for a mile and a half along a historic canal tow path. On the northeastern side of the river, the islands are in close proximity to the 87-acre John J. Radcliffe Conservation Area and its canoe/kayak launch about a mile upriver in Chesterfield County. The protection of these islands therefore has great scenic value for visitors on the water as well as those who may never step foot on or paddle by the islands.
The magic attendant to islands, associated in the imagination and the arts with a sense of retreat and exploration, inspired the gift from their former owner and donor Mrs. Cowan who noted the many adventures they afforded family and friends while also allowing her “... to escape from all of the world for a week of peace and quiet while on my own little oasis ... painting the peaceful settings of nature.” It is Mrs. Cowan’s wish that the islands be available to the public for their own respite and enjoyment without damage to their natural resources and no hunting of the resident wildlife.
Though the islands will not be open to the public during the time they are in CRLC’s ownership, CRLC is working to transfer them to Chesterfield County’s Department of Parks and Recreation so future recreationists will be free to make any of the islands a stop on their excursions through a section of the river notable for its sense of wildness and remoteness. Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors’ member Steve Elswick said, “Every community has places of importance to them that deserve protection. It’s this part of our region that is particularly special to me and those in the Matoaca district that celebrate our river. We thank CRLC for working to preserve these islands and the many opportunities they afford us now and in the future."
CRLC’s commitment to conservation of natural, scenic, and historic resources allows it to act on opportunities to hold perpetual conservation easements on private and public lands as well as accept ownership of property such as the gift of the Grape, Hyde, and Watson Glenn islands. “This is a niche CRLC was able to fill. We gave this project the same scrutiny we give to our conservation easements, but were still able to act decisively in a short period of time to make Mrs. Cowan’s dream a reality. This isn’t just a gift to CRLC, it’s a gift to the community and the future, of the Appomattox River,” said CRLC’s Executive Director, Parker Agelasto.
It was a proposal that raised both hopes and doubts: could a local nonprofit land trust raise nearly $7 million dollars to purchase a vulnerable 871-acre farm, site of a historic 1862 Civil War battle, on the outskirts of the fast-growing Richmond region? On February 1, 2018, a year and a half after CRLC greenlighted the ambitious plan, CRLC purchased Malvern Hill Farm in eastern Henrico County’s Varina District along the historic Route 5 corridor. The acquisition protects prime farmland, forests identified by the Department of Conservation and Recreation as highly ranked ecological cores, and nearly three miles of perennial streams.
With a rich history dating to the late 17th century, Malvern Hill Farm is the only documented place in the United States that has seen U.S. troop activity during the three major military conflicts that occurred on American soil. The location was the base for the Marquis de Lafayette during the summer of 1781 and an encampment for the Virginia militia during the War of 1812. The architecturally significant ruins of the first Anglo-American residence, built around 1690, are well preserved. But it is the deadly clash of Union and Confederate forces on July 1, 1862 when the entire property lay behind the Union army’s front infantry line that is forever tied to the farm’s name.
CRLC completed the acquisition of the much sought after property following extensive fundraising, complex negotiations, and partnership building at the local, state, and federal levels. The purchase was made possible thanks to funding from the Cabell Foundation, the Mary Morton Parsons Foundation, the Richard S. Reynolds Foundation, the American Battlefield Protection Program, the Virginia Battlefield Preservation Fund, the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation, Henrico County, the James River Association, Virginia Outdoors Foundation and many private donors. The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit based in Arlington, Virginia, provided a $2 million loan to bridge the remaining funds needed for the purchase.
CRLC is in the process of placing a conservation easement to be held by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources on 486 acres of Malvern Hill Farm and transfer much of the land to Henrico County. The property will be open to the public for passive recreation and historical interpretation in the future. A smaller portion of the property will be protected by a conservation easement to be held by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation and then transferred to the James River Association for a canoe/kayak access to Turkey Island Creek, connecting paddlers to the James River, the Captain John Smith National Historic Trail, and Presquile National Wildlife Refuge. The National Park Service ultimately will take ownership of nearly 400 acres for enlargement of the Richmond National Battlefield Park.
The property had been on the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission’s (CWSAC) Top Ten list of mostthreatened battlefields since 1993 and had long been a priority for many conservation organizations.The CWSAC report identified Malvern Hill as a site with a “critical need for coordinated nationwide action.” CRLC is pleased to be the catalyst for this nationally significant land conservation success. THANK YOU to all who kept faith in CRLC and contributed to this significant undertaking.
CRLC raised $5.7 million to support this $6.6 million acquisition. This includes two $500,000 challenge grants that will match 1:1 every $1 donated. Can you make a tax-deductible contribution to help us reach our goals? Checks can be made payable to Capital Region Land Conservancy and mail to us at P. O. Box 17306, Richmond, VA 23226. You can also make donations online at www.capitalregionland.org