Two New Conservation Easements Protect Important View of James River and Provide Added Buffer to City of Richmond's James River Park
For the past 25 years, private property owners Mark and Donna Romer and Dorothy Cleal had an agreement that they would not develop their adjoining properties without consulting each other. Late
last month, they took the ultimate act to formalize this agreement in perpetuity by recording conservation easements on their parcels at 5513 and 5517 Riverside Drive respectively.
Capital Region Land Conservancy (CRLC) facilitated the review and recordation of these two conservation easements covering 1.4 acres for the purpose of protecting the watershed and scenic views of the James River from the scenic byway Riverside Drive and the view of the surrounding landscape from the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. In addition, these properties adjoin the James River Park System and portions of the park that the City of Richmond protected by a conservation easement in 2009. They thus provide a further buffer for the natural resources and recreational uses protected there.
Under Virginia’s Conservation Easement Act, a conservation easement is a voluntary act of the property owner and must be compatible with the locality’s comprehensive plan. The City’s Master Plan recommends that “the recreational, aesthetic, and environmental attributes of the James River be protected and enhanced in a way consistent with its role as a unique urban waterway.”
“The corridor along the James River is a special place and it feels good to preserve a piece of it. I would like to thank the CRLC for helping us sort through the details of how to do this,” said Mark Romer.
"Sharing similar goals, we were able to work as a team to not only donate the conservation easement but to make sure our neighbors and visitors would always be able to enjoy this very special view of the James River,” said Dorothy Cleal.
Parker Agelasto, Executive Director of the Capital Region Land Conservancy said “the Romer and Cleal easements are unique examples of land conservation in an urban environment where development pressures threaten important viewsheds and encroach on existing protected lands.”
”Working with the Romers and Mrs. Cleal has been a real pleasure,” said Jane Myers, Land Conservation Manager of CRLC. “Their love and appreciation of this iconic view of the City of Richmond which is shared by all who travel Riverside Drive is what drove the process making it very easy for all of us.”
CRLC President Bill Greenleaf “We are delighted to help these two landowners protect an incredible viewshed of the James River for those on the river and those who travel along Riverside drive.”
CRLC RECEIVES $15,000 GRANT FROM VIRGINIA ENVIRONMENTAL ENDOWMENT
Capital Region Land Conservancy (CRLC) has been awarded $15,000 in support of its “Protecting our Beloved James River” project through a competitive grant from the Virginia Environmental
Endowment. The grant will provide support for measurable and innovative initiatives focused on improving local rivers and water quality, land conservation and sustainable land use practices, and
environmental literacy and public awareness. CRLC was one of 13 organizations to receive funding through the Endowment’s most recent grant cycle.
Funding for “Protecting our Beloved James River” allows Capital Region Land Conservancy to provide stakeholder education by working with local government and private property owners on a vision map. The grant also supports the facilitation of the process to place voluntary conservation easements on parcels immediately adjacent to the James River. Of the 1,484 parcels in the project area, only 34 parcels covering 5,922 acres are currently protected in perpetuity.
“VEE is pleased to partner with the Capital Region Land Conservancy in its efforts to protect the James River, one of Virginia’s most treasured natural assets,” said Joseph Maroon, Executive Director of the Virginia Environmental Endowment. “CRLC’s focus on generating more voluntary conservation easements will help protect water quality, recreation opportunities, and the river’s landscape and vistas for countless generations to come.”
In 2012, Richmond was named "Best River Town in America" and the Capital Region Collaborative identified the James River as one of seven priority areas that will enhance the quality of life for everyone in the region. Envision the James has identified land conservation as one of the most important initiatives to protect this regional asset. Adding additional acreage under conservation easement will also help to ensure that our region satisfies the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) requirements under the U.S. Clean Water Act.
“The James River is such a defining feature of RVA and is a vital asset to our region that we must ensure its long-term benefit for future generations” said CRLC’s Executive Director Parker Agelasto. “Preserving adjacent lands will allow for its natural beauty to inspire and improve water quality by protecting natural filtration for run-off.”
“For 10 years, CRLC has been working to protect lands in the Richmond area with great success at improving public access to the river including the James River Park System in the City of Richmond, Brown & Williamson Conservation Area and James River Conservation Area in Chesterfield County” said CRLC President Bill Greenleaf. “We are honored to have the opportunity to continue our partnership with the Virginia Environmental Endowment and expand this effort.”
Malvern Hill Farm and site of Civil War battle Under Contract, $2 Million in Funding Commitments Secured
To further its mission to protect the natural and historic land and water resources of Virginia’s Capital Region for the benefit of current and future generations, the Capital Region Land Conservancy (CRLC) has entered into a contract to purchase Malvern Hill Farm for the appraised value of $6,562,000. The property consists of 875 +/- acres in Henrico County and Charles City County and is owned by descendants of William Heighler Ferguson Sr. (1885-1984) who originally purchased Malvern Hill Farm in 1939.
The Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places first listed Malvern Hill in 1969, recognizing its role in Virginia and United States history dating to the late 17th Century. Thomas Cocke (1639-1697) built the first Anglo-American residence there about 1690 and the architecturally significant ruins are well preserved today. The Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834) encamped on the property in the summer of 1781 and the Virginia Militia also made camp there during the War of 1812.
But the name “Malvern Hill” is more strongly associated with a climactic moment in the American Civil War when the entire property lay behind the front infantry line of the Union army during the Battle of Malvern Hill on July 1, 1862. This deadly clash of armies ended with 5,650 Confederate and 2,100 Union casualties, bringing the Seven Days Battle and the Peninsula Campaign to a close and prompting President Abraham Lincoln to draft the Emancipation Proclamation.
According to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), Malvern Hill Farm ranks as “very high” in its vulnerability model. In 1993, the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission listed Malvern Hill in the Top 10 of Virginia’s battlefields that are highly threatened. Despite its proximity to downtown Richmond and development pressures in the Varina district of Henrico County, the property has remained mostly unaltered in appearance since 1862.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s soil maps show Malvern Hill Farm contains nearly 400 acres of prime farmland and more than 150 acres of “farmland of statewide significance.” Coupled with the “very high” ranking on Virginia’s Forest Economics Model as well as DCR’s evaluation of Ecological Cores and habitats of endangered species, the property is a priority for land conservation.
The National Park Service (NPS) has long sought portions of Malvern Hill Farm for inclusion in the Richmond National Battlefield Park. The United States Congress has approved roughly 443 acres in its legislatively authorized boundary for the park. “Acquisition and preservation of this farm would be a critical step forward in ensuring the long term integrity of such an historic place” noted David Ruth, Superintendent of the Richmond National Battlefield Park. DCR specifically names Malvern Hill in its Virginia Outdoors Plan for provision of public access with walking and biking trails and a Turkey Island Creek canoe/kayak launch to reach the James River, the Captain John Smith National Historic Trail and the Presquile National Wildlife Refuge. Likewise, nearly 2 miles of the Virginia Capital Trail along scenic Route 5 passes by and/or traverses Malvern Hill Farm.
The Capital Region Land Conservancy has secured more than $2 million in funding towards this important acquisition. This includes $687,500 from the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation (VLCF), $400,000 from the Virginia Battlefields Preservation Fund (VBPF), $500,000 as a two-to-one challenge grant from The Mary Morton Parsons Foundation, and $500,000 as a two-to-one challenge grant from the Cabell Foundation. CRLC is actively applying for other grants and seeking private donations to support this important acquisition. The Conservation Fund is also considering financing for the project.
In September, Governor Terry McAuliffe announced the awarding of the VLCF grant to CRLC citing the Malvern Hill project’s protection of “Virginia’s biodiversity, history and way of life while enhancing public access to our natural resources.”
Director of Virginia’s Department of Historic Resources, Julie V. Langan, awarded the VBPF grant in November and commended CRLC for its “dedication and commitment to protecting important Civil War Battlefields for the future of Virginia and the nation.”
“In one transaction CRLC is taking a giant step in protecting the natural and historic land and water resources of our region” said Parker C. Agelasto, Executive Director of Capital Region Land Conservancy. “Malvern Hill Farm represents a significant opportunity to conserve prime farmland, native forests, nearly three miles of perennial streams, and more than 325 years of history while also opening the property to public access for outdoor recreation. I am delighted that CRLC could be the champion to lead a multifaceted effort to permanently protect this property forever.”
"The tremendous national, state, and local support for this purchase validates Malvern Hill's worth, not as real estate, but as a treasured place in our history and in our present day lives", said CRLC founder and Board president Bill Greenleaf.
Brian Watson, CRLC’s Vice President, said "we are excited to continue to lead conservation efforts in our area and be able to protect this historically significant property for generations to come."
The consortium of organizations assisting CRLC in the acquisition of Malvern Hill Farm include American Civil War Museum Foundation, Chesapeake Conservancy, Civil War Trust, James River Association, Richmond Battlefields Association, Richmond National Battlefield Park, and Virginia Capital Trail Foundation. Donations to support the acquisition of Malvern Hill Farm and contribute toward the challenge grants should be made payable to the Capital Region Land Conservancy and mailed to P.O. Box 17306, Richmond VA 23226.
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