New Conservation Easement Highlights the Importance of Farmer-Owner Relationship
DATE: January 8, 2021
RICHMOND, VA – Capital Region Land Conservancy (CRLC) has recorded their latest in a series of conservation easements focused on protecting agricultural resources and livelihoods in the Richmond region. Working with CRLC and Henricopolis Soil and Water Conservation District as co-holders of the easement, Doug Godsey of Godsey Properties Inc. officially preserved 124.314 acres of privately-owned land in Henrico County, much of which is working farmland, thereby removing it from the crosshairs of development. Located on Kingsland, Hoke Brady, and Varina Roads in Henrico County, the new CRLC easement supports the goals of the Henrico County Comprehensive Plan and contains provisions to preserve the property’s multi-faceted conservation values, which include approximately 90 acres of priority agricultural lands as well as 30 acres of freshwater wetlands, and historically important battlefields adjacent to the Richmond National Battlefield Park.
The move to preserve this property stands in stark contrast to the rising pressure to develop agricultural land across the state, driven most recently by shifts in COVID-era lifestyles and soaring housing prices. Especially noteworthy is the care the easement takes to preserve the agricultural value of the land and at the same time honor the working relationship between the landowner and Charlie Purks, whose family was the prior owner and who continues to farm the land. The easement facilitates the implementation of conservation practices that preserve the land’s prime agricultural soils for future generations while protecting the purpose of this contractual relationship.
According to a survey by the American Farmland Trust, the type of working relationship exemplified by Mr. Godsey and Mr. Purks is a common but seldom broadcast trend in agriculture. Whereas the general cultural consciousness may assume that a farmer cultivating the land also owns the land, this turns out to be just one possible arrangement. Alternatively, it is not infrequent for a landowner to rent out his or her land to be cultivated by an experienced farmer, who may then hire additional hands. These types of contracts between “non-operator landowners” (NOLs) and their “operators” are instrumental to implementing sustainable farming practices and advancing food security in our region.
“I have a deep belief that non-operator landowners like myself are only part of the equation,” said Doug Godsey. “To be an effective steward of my land, it is crucial to work closely with Mr. Purks as we develop a sustainable future for the land’s soil and crops. Part of that process is understanding Mr. Purks’s needs and goals, so that our contract can reflect his perspective.”
Despite the importance of these working relationships, the conservation community has relatively little awareness of the perspectives and needs of NOLs and operators. This presents a challenge for policy makers, natural resource agencies, and conservation groups to understand how best to work with NOLs to achieve more effective resource management of the lands they rent to their operators. NOLs are also key to facilitating greater access to farmland.
“Land is expensive, and owning it adds an expensive burden on top of an already expensive business. I don’t know exactly how many would-be farmers are kept off the land due to issues of cost and access, but I see the type of relationship I have with Mr. Godsey as a partial solution to get more farmers working the land and cultivating a better future for our region and our state,” said Mr. Purks.
The expense and burden of accessing farmland in Virginia is due in part to the alarming rate of farmland conversion occurring in our state and nationwide. According the American Farmland Trust’s report “Farms Under Threat,” more than 339,000 acres of farmland were developed in Virginia between 2001 and 2016. Of this, eighty percent (80%) was converted to low-density residential development. In the Richmond region, specifically, more than 87,000 acres of farmland have been lost since 1982, and Henrico County’s percentage of land area for agriculture decreased from more than 18% to 5% with fewer than 100 farms and 10,000 acres of farmland recorded in the 2017 U.S. Agricultural Census.
While this startling loss of farmland in our Commonwealth clearly threatens our agriculture and our food system, other conservation values that are often intertwined with agricultural lands also come under threat. Mr. Godsey’s property, for example, is considered historically important due to its role as a battlefield or staging area for the Civil War battles of Second Deep Bottom and Chaffin’s Farm, both of which heavily involved The United States Colored Troops (USCT) and led to the ultimate cessation of war in Appomattox. The property has been identified by the American Battlefield Protection Program to be among the most intact and threatened historical battlefields in Virginia. Preserving the property ensures that these battlefields and the Americans who fought upon them will not simply be forgotten.
“Conservation is rarely about protecting one thing. In the case of this easement, Mr. Godsey is helping to protect not only our region’s agricultural viability, but also our cultural identity and our sense of history,” said CRLC’s Executive Director, Parker Agelasto. “From battlefields to fields of corn, our region’s landscapes deserve a conservation approach that is as multi-faceted as the land itself.”
“It is a great honor to participate in a process that protects water quality, soil fertility, air quality, habitat, view sheds, and the open space on which Virginia's agriculture, forestry and tourism industries depend; not just today, but for future generations,” said Nicole Anderson-Ellis, Chair of the Henricopolis Soil & Water Conservation District Board of Directors.
Maymont Neighborhood Finds Reprieve from Development with Conservation Easement Along James River Park
DATE: December 15, 2020
RICHMOND, VA – The allure of the James River Park System attracts thousands of visitors to its woods, trails, and shorelines annually. Its 600 acres along the north and south bank of the James River provide flood protection and riparian areas while also providing critical natural habitat for terrestrial and aquatic species being impinged by downtown neighborhoods such as Riverview, which is more commonly known as Maymont due to its adjacent grand-estate namesake.
For some nearby residents, the proximity of the James River Park System is an important factor for choosing a home in the neighborhood. For Chris and Jody Liesfeld, raising their family amidst the setting of the park was a primary goal as they set to build their dream house on Carter Street. Yet as development pressure increased in the area, long-time residents of Riverview began to worry that the attractive natural character of their neighborhood and its nearby parks may be under threat, and the Liesfeld’s purchase only heightened that worry.
“It had been a property neighbors cautiously watched as we witnessed the transformation of surrounding streets,” said Mark Brandon, President of the Maymont Civic League. “We were very suspicious upon learning that someone had bought the property.”
However, to the delight and relief of many neighbors, the Liesfelds share a deep appreciation for environmental stewardship, and as they planned their home, the Liesfelds worked with Capital Region Land Conservancy (CRLC) to set aside a 3.036-acre area of deciduous woods along the North Bank Trail connector between Texas Beach and Maymont along the historic Kanawha Canal to be protected by a conservation easement in perpetuity. The conservation easement restricts development so that no dwellings can be built and the woodlands will be preserved to protect water quality and native species. Through a separate agreement, the Liesfelds have also committed to combatting the invasive species and removing debris from the property.
The Liesfeld’s journey to protecting these 3 acres included community and civic engagement with the Maymont Civic League and Richmond City Council both of whom endorsed their conservation plan.
“After having held several neighborhood meetings with the Liesfelds and having gained the conviction of the Capital Region Land Conservancy, we can say now that we are forever grateful to those who listened and helped accommodate our neighborhood’s wishes,” said Mark Brandon of the Maymont Civic League.
“What’s most remarkable about the Liesfeld easement is how responsive it was to the needs expressed by the people in the community. It was an exemplary case study of ‘community conservation’ that uses the strengths of the land trust to meet specific needs expressed by people,” said Parker C. Agelasto, CRLC’s Executive Director.
Furthermore, preservation of the Liesfeld’s property through CRLC’s protection achieves a number of conservation goals important to the region. The property preserves the scenic and aesthetic integrity of adjacent historic and cultural attractions such as the Historic Falls of the James Scenic River, Middle James River Water Trail, James River Heritage Trail, and the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. The property also serves as a green infrastructure connection with the James River & Kanawha Canal Historic District that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and identified in ConserveVirginia as being in the Top 10% of places to safeguard.
These conservation merits make it clear that the Liesfeld’s vision to protect their new land extends benefits far beyond their property line, making the new property an asset to the family, neighborhood, and natural community alike.
"We recognized how lucky we were to have a woodland property in the city and especially one along the river and park system. Because properties like these are scarce, it became clear to us that we needed a plan for our new home that included protecting the woodlands. With the help and support from CRLC and the Maymont Civic League we were able to make this protection a reality. We look forward to moving into the neighborhood where we’ve already made great friends with families on our block,” said Chris Liesfeld.
“We’re fortunate to have the abundance of parks and open space in the 5th District,” remarked City Council Representative Stephanie Lynch. “However, when a private citizen steps forward and seeks to conserve more land and provide a permanent natural area buffer to our trails and support the community’s vision, we’ve reached a synergy that doesn’t happen often enough in Richmond.”
Land Donated for Future Public Park in Southside
DATE: November 30, 2020
RICHMOND, VA – In 1965, Somers M. Wilton and his wife Joan purchased approximately 36 acres from Horace R. W. Vial, who had inherited the land from his parents. The property, located north of Greer Avenue along Vial Road near Warwick Road, was at the time part of Chesterfield County. It would later be part of the area annexed by the City of Richmond in 1970, its fate tied to a city that would be forced to address racial, social, economic, and environmental inequalities.
After extensive road improvements were completed along Warwick Road in 1996, the City of Richmond identified the property as a Housing Opportunity Area appropriate for higher density residential development. However, much of the property was also shown as a resource management area that included a resource protection area of forested/shrub wetlands along Grindall Creek. Given the presence of these natural resources, the Chesapeake Bay Program required environmental protection standards that made development of the property challenging and costly.
Thanks to the generosity of Joan and the surviving children of Somers Wilton, however, the threat to these natural resources has recently been further diminished. This month, the Wilton Family gifted 13 wooded acres of the property along Grindall Creek to the Capital Region Land Conservancy (CRLC) to be protected in perpetuity. CRLC will work to transfer the property to the City of Richmond, under a conservation easement. This gift will provide the community with a potential public park with trails, a greenway with shared-use paths, a natural area for students at Thomas C. Boushall Middle School to learn about watersheds and the environment, and the opportunity to connect the Deerbourne and Walmsley neighborhoods to parks and open space where public spaces are currently unavailable.
Capital Region Land Conservancy and the City of Richmond will strive to engage the public and likely users of this new open space in a sincere public engagement process to solicit community input on the proposed future uses of the property. This will include listening to the residents’ needs. Approximately 1,145 people live within a 10-minute walk of the property, of whom 71% are African American. The area is also home to households (approximately 51%) that are low income or earn 80% of the median family income for the area. Community engagement will also include students and educators at Boushall Middle School, which is located less than a mile away.
As part of the Mayor’s Green Team, we at Capital Region Land Conservancy are proud to support the City’s efforts to bring parks and open space to all of its residents, particularly those in disadvantaged communities. CRLC’s acquisition of these 13 acres also addresses Environmental Justice by preserving natural green infrastructure that supports clean air and clean water as well as help combat urban heat islands and climate change. As an example, this property is surrounded by land which is extremely vulnerable to summertime high heat with afternoon temperatures exceeding the limits for optimal human health. Protecting this landscape and extensive flood plain along Grindall Creek promotes cooling temperatures and helps the city prepare for larger rainfall events as predicted in the 2030/2050 climate scenario.
Most importantly however, is that the City of Richmond will be able to add to its existing 2,300 acres of parkland – roughly 6% of its land use dedicated to public open space - and begin narrowing the equity gap for the more than 50,000 residents who currently do not have access to a park within a 10-minute walk from their home.
Mayor Levar Stoney commended the Wilton family on their gift saying, “The City of Richmond is committed to providing every resident with a 10-minute walk to a park yet we realize that we can’t accomplish this goal without the support of the private sector such as the Wilton family who is stepping up to provide a lasting investment into the community and the Capital Region Land Conservancy who is facilitating this donation.”
“My father was instrumental in developing the neighborhood in the 1970s. To be making this gift 50 years later is a honor for our family to further enhance the neighborhood and to support the City’s long-term strategic plans for parks and open space” said Barry Wilton.
“The Deerbourne and Walmsley neighborhoods will be thankful to know this part of the community will be preserved and opened for their use as a future park,” said Reva Trammell, 8th District Council Representative. “It will be among the first parks added to the 8th District where such investment has not occurred since this area was incorporated into the City of Richmond. Thank you to the Wilton family for their generosity.”
“Capital Region Land Conservancy is grateful to the Wilton family and honored to facilitate the first of many new park areas for residents in previously underserved communities. As we work to fill the gaps throughout the City, we look forward to discussing other gifts of land that meet the strategic goals for parks, open space, and green infrastructure,” said Parker Agelasto, CRLC’s Executive Director.
CRLC Easement Protects Prime Agricultural Farmland in Henrico County
DATE: September 30, 2020
RICHMOND, VA – Capital Region Land Conservancy (CRLC) recently recorded a conservation easement on 49 acres off Osborne Turnpike in Henrico County. The easement, held by CRLC, guarantees that the land will be protected in perpetuity thanks to the forethought and generosity of landowner Randy Welch of Varina. This easement is important because the entire property is identified in ConserveVirginia as being amongst Virginia’s highest conservation value lands based on a targeted, data-driven approach. In fact, of the seven ConserveVirginia categories the property ranks in the top 10% of areas categorically valued as Agriculture & Forestry, Floodplains & Flooding Resilience, Cultural & Historic Preservation, and Scenic Preservation.
A review of the conservation values shows that this latest easement by CRLC is a testimony to the multi-faceted benefits of conservation, from protecting farmland and safeguarding regional food security to preparing for climate change and preserving our history. Below is an illustration of how this special property in Henrico County provides a spectacular array of benefits to our region thanks to it being conserved in perpetuity.
Agriculture & Forestry. In a county where 65% of the farmland has been converted over the past 40 years, with less than 10,000 acres remaining and an average farm size of just 99 acres, this 49-acre farm will preserve working lands. More importantly, the conservation easement is safeguarding 20 acres of Prime Farmland and 12 acres of Farmland of Statewide Importance as some of the most productive soils in the Richmond region.
Floodplains & Flooding Resilience. The conservation easement is protecting natural floodplains along the James River. Such flood plains provide a buffer against fast moving flood water, absorb and store excess runoff, and filter pollutants from our water resources. The property off Osborne Turnpike has been included as an additionally special case because of the Tidal Marsh Model developed by the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences that anticipates marshes to migrate as a response to sea-level rise.
Cultural & Historic Preservation. Another significant conservation value documented on the property is its presence within the core battlefield area of The Battle of Chaffin's Farm and New Market Heights, fought in Virginia on September 29 - 30, 1864 during the American Civil War. The remarkable and yet often overlooked role of United States Colored Troops and/or other African American Units in this battle is the driving factor for the property’s inclusion in the Cultural and Historic Preservation Category of ConserveVirginia. Fourteen of the fifteen Congressional Medals of Honor awarded to USCT army soldiers throughout the Civil War were awarded to men who fought in the pre-dawn hours of September 29 at New Market Heights.
Scenic Preservation. Finally, the conservation easement protects 862 feet of the James River shoreline with a 100-foot riparian buffer. Being on the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail and the James River Heritage Trail, the property is highly visible from these important scenic corridors.
“It’s significant to have a landowner voluntarily donate an easement on property that ranks in the top 10% of Virginia’s most important places to protect,” said Parker Agelasto, CRLC Executive Director. “It’s exceptional, however, when they are preserving land that has such a diverse array of conservation values and benefits for the community.”
Landowner and easement donor Randy Welch elated in the opportunity to record his fourth conservation easement in Henrico County, stating “I am fortunate to be able to help protect land along this segment of the James River for future generations.”
CRLC Forms New Partnership with Outdoor Access
DATE: July 3, 2020
RICHMOND, VA – Capital Region Land Conservancy (CRLC) is proud to welcome Richmond-based startup Outdoor Access as its newest strategic partner.
Considered the "Airbnb of outdoor recreation," Outdoor Access is pioneering a new way to provide public access to private land with an online marketplace that connects landowners with outdoor recreation enthusiasts. Their business model is simple but innovative: landowners lease their property to individuals or groups looking to experience the outdoors for less than $30 per day on average. User groups who may lack access to open, affordable land, such as hunters, fishers, hikers, bikers, campers, etc., can use the booking system to make a reservation on private property. Doing so makes possible their desired outdoor experience while also supporting local landowners and creating a two-way engagement that enhances the land ethic in our community.
The partnership between CRLC and Outdoor Access is strikingly symbiotic, not least because both organizations are committed to preserving and cherishing the natural resources of the Richmond region. CRLC for one has helped protect nearly 12,000 acres of land and water in the Richmond region and is consistently pursuing ways to increase public engagement with these land holdings and conservation easements. A recent Lower Chickahominy Economic Study conducted by PlanRVA and The Richmond Regional Planning District Commission documented how conservation easements not only generated a surplus for Charles City and New Kent Counties but greatly contributed to the local economy through seasonal eco-tourism, campgrounds, and retailers who specifically cater to outdoor enthusiasts. In 2018, about 118 direct jobs were supported by this economic activity that generated almost $8.4 million in regional economic output. Local governments received an estimated $368,000.
Executive Director of CRLC, Parker Agelasto, first began to consider Outdoor Access as a potential partner after the conservancy acquired Malvern Hill Farm and needed to identify means to make the property accessible to the public while also generating revenue to offset carrying costs associated with holding the property until portions could be transferred to the National Park Service.
Jamie Christensen, President and Co-Founder of Outdoor Access, immediately recognized the opportunity inherent in this partnership and is excited to foster new ways of experiencing protected, private property for public benefit. “To protect land from development and preserve the natural landscapes and ecosystems that lie within is undoubtedly beneficial, but in certain cases we can go a step further,” Christensen said. “We want to make sure that people can actually get out there and appreciate the natural and historic wonder for themselves.”
Though public access is not feasible on every CRLC property, Outdoor Access is partnering with CRLC to provide public access and recreation on two remarkable tracts in Henrico County: Malvern Hill Farm and Long Bridge Road.
At Malvern Hill, the partnership has demarcated 354 acres in and around the farm to be used for camping, hiking, and biking. History abounds from the property’s role as a battlefield during the Civil War. Hunting reservations will also be allowed, with the exception of deer hunting with dogs and dove hunting, and a strict prohibition against using lead shot. At the Long Bridge Road property, hunting will be the main recreation focus for 39 acres of the property, also excluding deer hunting with dogs, dove hunting, and use of lead shot.
“It’s likely that Malvern Hill and Long Bridge Road are just the beginning,” said Parker Agelasto of CRLC. “We see this collaboration with Outdoor Access as a tremendous step towards facilitating public use of our land holdings and easements, ultimately allowing for residents and visitors alike to engage with our region's natural resources in new and exciting ways.”
These opportunities for public access and recreation began June 1st and can be reserved through the Outdoor Access website, www.outdooraccess.com.
CRLC Recommits to Racial and Environmental Justice
DATE: June 19, 2020
RICHMOND, VA – We at Capital Region Land Conservancy (CRLC) have the unique perspective of being a land trust based in an urban to
rural setting, and we therefore have the immense privilege and responsibility of representing and supporting our diverse constituencies. As we reflect on the history that is being made following the
senseless and tragic death of George Floyd, we offer our sincere condolences to the Floyd family and the African-American community. We join in the renewed demands to root out acts of hatred and
racism that have persisted for far too long and must come to an end. In doing so, we reaffirm our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion as part of our core values. We also pledge to continue
to highlight and focus on ways to bring racial equity and environmental justice to the Richmond region.
Our mission at CRLC is to conserve and protect the natural and historic land and water resources of Virginia’s capital region for current and future generations. But we must ask — for whom, specifically? CRLC acknowledges that clean water, clean air, healthy ecosystems, and access to recreation and fresh produce are essential to the health and wellbeing of all of us. However, the benefits of conservation have not been historically inclusive. We are committed to bridging the gap of inequities and protecting the land that holds historical and cultural significance to the African American community.
Together, we can leverage conservation and green space to lay the foundation for a just and
equitable society in the collective effort to overcome hatred, bigotry, racism, and intolerance in our community.
CRLC Seeks to Increase Public Access to Parks and Green Spaces in South Richmond
DATE: June 17, 2020
RICHMOND, VA – Capital Region Land Conservancy (CRLC) has begun an important new initiative with the City of Richmond’s Green Team to increase access to parks and green spaces for residents of underserved communities, especially in South Richmond where public access is uneven.
CRLC received $26,000 from the Community Foundation for a greater Richmond through the ConseRVAtion Fund, a grant program focused on natural resources and sustainability in the Richmond region, to support the endeavor. The grant will augment the Green Team’s work by identifying and prioritizing opportunities for private lands to be acquired and incorporated into the City’s green infrastructure.
“Parks and open spaces are critical to our well-being,” said Parker Agelasto, CRLC’s executive director. “They are proven to improve water and air quality as well as public health and our children's ability to learn.” Agelasto notes that in the City of Richmond, however, 22% of the residents don't have access to a park or open space within a 10-minute walk from their home. Land used for parks and natural areas represent only 6% of Richmond's city land, whereas the national average is 15%.
Acknowledging this problem, Mayor Levar Stoney is actively seeking to identify city-owned property that may be converted into public parks and open spaces as the first phase of the Green Team’s work. Stoney has even signed onto The Trust for Public Land pledge to provide all residents with equal access within a 10-minute walk, or about a half mile on average. But this approach has its limits since the city’s property footprint only extends so far and the walkability network is fragmented by railroad tracks and other impediments. CRLC understands that to fill the critical gaps, a public/private partnership is required to provide access in areas like South Richmond, where private land needs to be strategically identified and acquired.
Like many other cities across the country, Richmond’s distribution of parks and green spaces is disproportionately associated with racial and economic demographics. Evaluation of the 10-minute walk model from The Trust for Public Land known as ParkServe reveals that more than 40% of residents without access to parks in Richmond live in poverty. Approximately 50% are African American, and approximately 30% are Hispanic.
“We see it as a resounding call to action for conservationists nationwide to foreground equity and justice in our work,” said John Schengber, CRLC’s Community Engagement Manager. “I am excited to help advance a justice-oriented conservation ethic in Richmond that provides equitable access to nature.”
Still, CRLC is aware that its work is only one piece of a much larger puzzle that is being set forth in the Richmond 300 Master Plan. In the recently released draft plan, “Chapter 6: Thriving Environment,” Objective 16.2 calls for an additional 100 acres to be placed under conservation easement, and for additional properties to be acquired by the City to improve the City’s sustainability and climate resiliency efforts. CRLC, which serves as the only local land trust dedicated to the Richmond region, is thus initiating work on precise implementation strategies to fulfill this strong conservation vision for our community’s future.
Long Bridge Road Adds to Nearly 6,425 Protected Acres
DATE: April 7, 2020
RICHMOND, VA – Capital Region Land Conservancy (“CRLC”) closed on its purchase of 38.5 acres on Long Bridge Road for $156,000 on March 20, 2020. Financing was provided by Colonial Farm Credit while CRLC completes fundraising and meets grant requirements from the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program and other donors.
The Long Bridge Road property lies within CRLC’s Conservation Vision Map for the Capital Region as a priority area and is also designated as a top priority conservation area in the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation’s ConserveVirginia model in the Cultural and Historic Preservation Category. It is within the boundaries of five Civil War Battlefields as determined by the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission (“CWSAC”) – Deep Bottom I Battlefield, Deep Bottom II Battlefield, Glendale Battlefield, Malvern Hill Battlefield, and Fair Oaks & Darbytown Road Battlefield.
The property is almost entirely wooded, containing 3,920 linear feet along Sweeney Creek as well as approximately 22.1 acres of Freshwater Forested/Shrub Wetlands, which closely resembles its wartime appearance. The main part of the fighting at First Deep Bottom occurred on July 28, 1864 when the Federal cavalry division of Gen. Alfred T.A. Torbert pushed eastward on Long Bridge Road, only to be attacked from the north by Confederate infantry. The primary combat occurred at CRLC’s newly acquired property and at an adjacent 125-acre property owned by the American Battlefield Trust (ABT) that is under a conservation easement held by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR).
Capital Region Land Conservancy's purchase of the Long Bridge Road property adds to a nearly contiguous area of approximately 6,425 acres that includes lands owned by the American Battlefield Trust, Richmond Battlefields Association, Henrico County’s Runnymede tract, private property under perpetual conservation easement, and the Richmond National Battlefield Park that connects to Malvern Hill Farm that CRLC acquired in 2018.
Henrico County Landowner Conserves Another 72 Acres in Varina
DATE: December 23, 2019
RICHMOND, VA – Randall Welch of the Varina District of Henrico County has just completed his third conservation easement, increasing by 72 acres the land he has permanently protected from development in eastern Henrico County. As with his earlier conservation easements on a combined 352 acres on Deep Bottom Road, the Capital Region Land Conservancy (CRLC), along with the Henricopolis Soil and Water Conservation District, facilitated the review and recordation of this most recent easement on Saxby Road.
Agriculture, tourism, and forestry are the top three industries in Virginia. Currently the property is managed for timber production and provides for the conservation of 56 acres of important soils – 38.4 acres of US Department of Agriculture-designated prime farmland soils and 17.5 and soils of statewide importance. Though the conservation easement permits the future construction of a single-family dwelling on the property, much of the prime farmland is designated as a no build area. “Helping conserve large areas of the landscape in eastern Henrico (Varina), an historically agricultural community, is an important role that the District is delighted to play”, said Nicole Anderson Ellis, Vice-Chair of the Henricopolis Soil & Water Conservation District.
The Virginia Natural Heritage Data Explorer identifies approximately half of the property as an ecological core area of moderate value within a watershed integrity area of high to very high value, and as within an area of the highest vulnerability for suburban growth based on predicted growth patterns. “This property represents a sizeable tract of land in a County that has rapidly developed and continues to rapidly develop and the Easement helps to preserve the local rural landscape as well as water and ecological resources that will benefit all of us”, said Parker Agelasto, Executive Director of the Capital Region Land Conservancy.
A riparian protection zone (RPZ) consists of a 100-foot “off-limits” buffer along the edge of an unnamed intermittent/perennial stream that meanders through the property for almost 2,000 feet and ultimately flows to the James River. This zone protects the stream ecosystem from stormwater run-off pollution, sedimentation, stream bank erosion, and increased temperatures. Removal of trees unless permitted under specific circumstances are strictly prohibited in the RPZ as is construction of buildings and paved roads as well as the storage of machinery and equipment. Livestock will be excluded from the RPZ.
Also being preserved are portions of the property that have been included in the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission Report as study area for the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm / New Market Heights that occurred on September 29, 1864. Mr. Welch’s previous conservation easements at Deep Bottom Road also protect Civil War earthworks and riffle pits where the United States Colored Troops engaged combat during the First Battle of Deep Bottom on July 27- 29, 1864 and Second Battle of Deep Bottom on August 14-20, 1864.
“Protecting this property that is 750 feet from the banks of the James River with only three property owners between me and Rockett’s Landing and less than 6 miles to the Virginia State Capital in downtown Richmond is something I am very proud of”, said Randy Welch, easement donor.
National Accreditation Awarded to CRLC
DATE: August 6, 2019
Richmond, VA - Capital Region Land Conservancy (CRLC) demonstrates how a few dedicated people can have a significant lasting impact. Bill Greenleaf founded CRLC nearly 15 years ago and assembled a team of founding board members to help save the natural and historic land and water resources of the greater Richmond region. Now CRLC has the honor to announce it has achieved national recognition from the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance(LTA), for its work – joining a network of over 400 accredited land trusts across the nation that have demonstrated their commitment to professional excellence and to maintaining the public’s trust in their work.
“Permanent land conservation is essential to our mission,” said Parker Agelasto, Capital Region Land Conservancy’s Executive Director. “Yet it requires a sustainable model, since the public has entrusted some of its most valued resources to our stewardship. The national accreditation process has made us a stronger organization for having gone through such a rigorous review. Our strength means that special places – such as the James River Park System and Malvern Hill Farm – will be protected forever, making the Richmond region an even greater place for us and our children.”
The Capital Region Land Conservancy worked for more than a year to review its every policy and procedure and verify that documentation for its conserved lands completely met the highest standards. This included the preparation of a Current Conditions Report for the James River Park System to identify the on-the-ground conditions that are subject to the protections and restrictions that were recorded in the conservation easement in 2009. CRLC also provided extensive documentation and was subject to a comprehensive third-party evaluation prior to achieving this mark of distinction. The Land Trust Accreditation Commission awarded accreditation, signifying its confidence that CRLC’s lands will be protected forever.
“Over my ten years at CRLC as the Land Conservation Manager I have witnessed and been a part of this organization finding its’ footing and respected place in the conservation community,” said Jane Myers. “What began as a conservation organization providing support to other groups in the region has now matured into a regional leader. CRLC would never have been capable of leading the acquisition of Malvern Hill Farm without the years of steady focus on prudent growth and improvement in every facet of what we do from policy to process, which culminated in our attaining accreditation.”
Capital Region Land Conservancy is the ninth local land trust in Virginia to become accredited and is the only accredited land trust in the Richmond region. In addition to the local land trusts, seven national land trusts operating in Virginia are accredited. So, in total, CRLC joins the 16 of 44 land conservation organizations in Virginia that are fully accredited.
Carol Wampler, Leah Henschen, and Mary Susan Davies served on CRLC’s accreditation committee since 2017 and set guidance for the application requirements, along with president Brian Watson, director Parker Agelasto, and staff members Jane Myers and Laura Greenleaf. Several hundred hours were invested in the accreditation process with grant funding provided by the Land Trust Alliance and the Universal Leaf Foundation.
“Accreditation has been part of CRLC’s Strategic Plan for the past six years. I couldn’t be prouder of the persistence and hard work that staff and volunteer Board members put into this effort that underscores our values and demonstrates to property owners, donors, members and partners our commitment to long-term sustainability and good governance,” said Brian Watson, President of Capital Region Land Conservancy.
Since its inception in 2005, the Capital Region Land Conservancy has played a critical role in the permanent protection of more than 11,000 acres, including 39 miles of river and stream frontage in the Richmond region. CRLC now holds five (5) and co-holds thirteen (13) conservation easements protecting 2,217 acres and owns 388.93 acres of fee-simple land.
“It is exciting to recognize Capital Region Land Conservancy with this national mark of distinction,” said Tammara Van Ryn, executive director of the Commission. “Donors and partners can trust the more than 400 accredited land trusts across the country are united behind strong standards and have demonstrated sound finances, ethical conduct, responsible governance, and lasting stewardship.”
The Capital Region Land Conservancy is one of 1,363 land trusts across the United States according to the Land Trust Alliance’s most recent National Land Trust Census. Accredited land trusts steward almost 20 million acres of land – the size of Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. A complete list of accredited land trusts and more information about the process and benefits can be found at www.landtrustaccreditation.org.
James River Park System to Join
Old Growth Forest Network
DATE: May 28, 2019
Richmond, VA - On Wednesday, June 5 at 12:00 PM, the James River Park System (JRPS) will be formally inducted into the Old-Growth Forest Network. Joan Maloof, the Founder and Director of the Old-Growth Forest Network will officially dedicate the forest. The event will take place at Pony Pasture Rapids Park (7200 Riverside Drive, Richmond, VA 23225). Those wishing to join the celebration are encouraged to RSVP to CRLC at https://app.etapestry.com/onlineforms/CapitalRegionLandConservanc/JRPS10.html.
More than 50 years ago local citizens defeated a proposed highway along the south side of the James River while others such as Joe Schaefer and Jack Keith mounted an effort to acquire parcels of undeveloped riverfront land. In 1966, Mr. Keith sought to induce City Council and encourage others to “act out of a sense of public spirit and civic pride to transform this dream into reality.” He and Mr. Schaefer donated the first 380 acres to the City of Richmond that created the foundation for the James River Park System in 1972.
On May 29, 2009, Governor Tim Kaine participated in the ceremonial signing of the deed of easement which provides the protection from timbering needed for this park to be included in the Old-Growth Forest Network. This event marks the 10th anniversary of that signing. The easement is cooperatively held by the Virginia Department of Conservation & Recreation, Enrichmond Foundation and the Capital Region Land Conservancy (CRLC).
“As the primary easement holder and legal steward of the park, CRLC is committed to conserve and protect the natural and historic land and water resources of Virginia’s capital region. Out commitment is reinvigorated during this anniversary year” said CRLC’s Executive Director, Parker Agelasto. Agelasto notated that nearly a decade ago Governor Kaine awarded CRLC a Silver Medal Environmental Excellence Award for its protection of the James River Park System with a perpetual conservation easement on 280 acres.
The easement enshrined permanent protections that prevent development of the land by the city or any future owner and ensure the safeguarding of its natural resources as an unique wilderness area. CRLC takes the lead on stewardship of the easement, conducting annual monitoring with the support of the Friends of the James River Park (FOJRP). As FOJRP conducts a community master plan for the future of the park, it is appropriate to take time to remember the ten-year anniversary of the conservation easement and reflect on the protections it affords.
The James River Park System now totals 562 acres and contains 280 acres of units under conservation easement that protect its natural resources in perpetuity. The units are: Belle Isle, Reedy Creek, Pony Pasture, Wetlands, Great Shiplock. Huguenot Flatwater, Manchester Climbing Wall, North Bank, and Pumphouse. The age of the oldest trees is not certain, but 100 rings have been counted on a downed loblolly pine and a downed chestnut oak. Several natural forest communities exist in the park, including Mesic Mixed Hardwood, Acidic Oak Hickory, and Coastal Plain/Piedmont Floodplain Swamp. Tree species include: red and silver maple, white oak, bitternut hickory, hackberry, tulip tree, eastern cottonwood, American sycamore, river birch, black walnut, box elder, sweetbay, beech, and pawpaw.
These forests lie along the “founding river” of the United States. Here were Native American fishing villages, the earliest European colonial exploration, a Confederate prisoner of war camp, and early 19th century industrial development. They now provide respite, retreat, and recreation for urban and suburban residents of a city of 250,000 and a region of nearly 1.5 million. In 2018, JRPS welcomed nearly 2 million annual visitors and was the region’s highest attended attraction. The park’s forests are a crucial contributor to the city’s “green infrastructure” and essential to the quality of life and public health for the city of Richmond.
The mission of the Old-Growth Forest Network (OGFN) is to connect people with nature by creating a national network of protected, mature, publicly accessible forests. OGFN has over 90 forests in 22 states currently in the Network. The James River Park System was chosen as Richmond City’s representative in the Network and will be the 7th Virginia forest to join the Old-Growth Forest Network. The full list of forests may be viewed at www.oldgrowthforest.net.
“In addition to creating a network of forests we are also creating a network of people who care about forests,” says Maloof. The effort to identify and formally qualify a forest for inclusion in the Old-Growth Forest Network is largely dependent on volunteers. Laura Greenleaf and Parker Agelasto of the Capital Region Land Conservancy, have been valuable volunteer supporters of the Old-Growth Forest Network and very instrumental in helping JRPS to be included in the Network.
Whether its CRLC, FOJRP, JRPS Invasive Plant Task Force, Richmond Tree Stewards, James River Association, James River Advisory Council, James River Outdoor Coalition, RVA MORE or any of the many volunteer groups that give generously to make the James River Park System the crown jewel of the Richmond region, there is no denying that the “public spirit and civic pride” that Jack Keith sought in 1966 is very much alive in 2019.
Malvern Hill earns Governor's Gold Medal for Land Conservation
March 29, 2019
Richmond, VA – Capital Region Land Conservancy (CRLC) has earned a Gold Medal Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award for its work to purchase and protect Malvern Hill Farm in Henrico County.
The Governor’s Environmental Excellence Awards recognize successful and innovative efforts that improve Virginia’s environment. The annual awards program is run as a partnership between the Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Conservation and Recreation. The 2019 Governor's Environmental Excellence Awards were announced on March 28, 2019 at the 30th Environment Virginia Symposium at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington. The awards recognized the significant contributions of environmental and conservation leaders in four categories: sustainability, environmental project, land conservation, and implementation of the Virginia Outdoors Plan. They are given to businesses and industrial facilities, not-for-profit organizations, and government agencies.
In August 2016, the 871-acre Malvern Hill Farm, which is listed on the Virginia Landmarks Registry and the National Register of Historic Places, was listed for sale for a 515 home residential development project. While many conservation groups had an interest in Malvern Hill, the Capital Region Land Conservancy stepped into a leadership role and ratified a purchase agreement for $6.6 million. As the local land trust for the Richmond region, CRLC coordinated with many partners to finalize a complex arrangement to finance acquisition of the property, secure protections through conservation easements and transfer portions of the land to long-term holders who will manage and make it available for future public access. Preserving Malvern Hill Farm allows the land to continue to be actively farmed and provides the opportunity for cultural tourism and outdoor recreation.
In recognizing Article XI of the Constitution of Virginia states that “it shall be the Commonwealth’s policy to protect its atmosphere, lands, and waters from pollution, impairment, or destruction, for the benefit, enjoyment, and general welfare of the people of the Commonwealth,” Governor Ralph Northam bestowed CRLC with a Gold Medal for “its demonstrated commitment to land stewardship in Virginia through its work to preserve Malvern Hill Farm.”
United States Senator Mark Warner further commended CRLC on the occasion of the Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award. “This award is a testament to the Capital Region Land Conservancy’s work in this area; … (having) exemplified your dedication to protecting and connecting residents and visitors with the Commonwealth’s natural resources through the Malvern Hill Farm project.”
Governor Tim Kaine previously awarded Capital Region Land Conservancy in 2010 a Silver Medal Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award for its protection of the James River Park System with a perpetual conservation easement on 280 acres. “We are honored to be recognized by Governor Northam and the selection committee for our ongoing work to conserve and protect the natural and historic land and water resources of Virginia’s capital region” said CRLC’s Executive Director, Parker Agelasto, nearly a decade after the organizations first Governor’s award.
An Unusual Holiday Gift:
Local land trust takes ownership of Appomattox River islands for conservation
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.
18th century Hanover County Farm Protected Forever with Conservation Easement: Past and Present Merge Where Llamas Now Roam
December 19, 2018
RICHMOND, VA – Hanover County was in its infancy and still a wilderness when British sea captain John Hope built his home, “Westerham House”, near the village of Montpelier. It would appear little changed to Captain Hope nearly 300 years later, except perhaps for the animals grazing its pastures. While Westerham’s original owners brought one of the first flocks of sheep to the New World from England, the present 96-acre property is now home to a herd of llamas,a species not brought to North America from their native Peruvian Andes until the early 1800s.
The livestock may have changed, but the farmland and forests of Westerham on Taylors Creek Road will endure thanks to the foresight of its current owner, Rachel Levin, a secondgeneration easement donor. On December 18, 2018, Ms. Levin finalized her donation of a charitable conservation easement on Westerham to the Capital Region Land Conservancy (CRLC), Richmond’s only local land trust. The conservation easement permanently protects the property from any residential or commercial development.
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. Hanover County’s comprehensive plan adopted earlier this year explicitly encourages “the preservation of prime and important agricultural and forest lands whenever possible through . . . dedication of Conservation Easements . . .” The plan also recognizes the importance of rural areas as “an integral and vital component to Hanover’s culture and economy” and environmental benefits including stream and wetland buffers and wildlife habitats.
Ms. Levin noted in an early correspondence with CRLC that, “when I found out about Westerham, I thought this would be the ideal property to save open space.” The focal point of the property is the 18th century federal style residence which, though somewhat altered from its original construction, continues to be an exquisite example of Flemish Bond brickwork and is eligible for listing on the Virginia Landmarks Register and National Register of Historic Places. Westerham also features Virginia’s largest private collection of English and American boxwood, planted in the early 1950s, as recognized by the American Boxwood Society.
The Westerham property includes over forty acres of Prime Farmland as defined by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service while slightly
more of the agricultural land is also classified as Soils of Statewide Importance by the
Commonwealth of Virginia. Approximately half the property is forested, including buffers along 1,000 feet of an intermittent stream which drains to the South Anna River within the York River watershed.
The terms of the conservation easement prevent cutting of those riparian buffers, require Best Management Practices for any future forestry, allow for ongoing agricultural uses, and prohibit subdivision. Restrictions ensure protection of the historic manor house and the bucolic views of Westerham from Taylors Creek Road. “Westerham is a unique place in so many ways yet it also embodies the history and character of western Hanover County,” noted CRLC Executive Director Parker Agelasto. “At CRLC we feel privileged to have the opportunity to protect this historic landscape and assist its stewardship in perpetuity.”
The farm is presently rented and professionally managed and will continue to be in the near term, but Ms. Levin’s ultimate plans include making it her home. Her altruistic goals for Westerham go beyond protecting its history and environment. Ms. Levin is familiar with benefits of llamas that may not be readily apparent to the passersby admiring the Westerham herd from Taylors Creek Road. Caring for and spending time with people-friendly llamas can bestow therapeutic well-being for both children and adults coping with physical, cognitive, and emotional challenges. Ms. Levin is exploring possibilities that may include a teaching collaboration with Virginia Tech, service through the Make a Wish Foundation, or programs for local school children. Any walking trail network on the property would be developed in accordance with silvopasture principles, a mutually beneficial practice combining forestry and grazing for domestic animals.
“Ms. Levin’s approach to Westerham’s future exemplifies the spirit of stewardship, truly regarding it as part and parcel of the larger community,” said Brian Watson, president of CRLC’s Board of Directors. “Finalizing an easement on Westerham is a great way to end 2018 and celebrate this special time of year.”
Henrico County Landowner Records Second Conservation Easement - Over 350 Acres in Deep Bottom Now Protected
October 30, 2018
RICHMOND, VA – Randall Welch of the Varina District of Henrico County has just completed his second conservation easement, increasing by 271 acres the land he has permanently protected from development in eastern Henrico County. As with his earlier conservation easement on 81 acres, the Capital Region Land Conservancy (CRLC), along with the Henricopolis Soil and Water Conservation District, facilitated the review and recordation of this most recent easement on four additional parcels on Deep Bottom Road. The historically significant property’s boundaries include two miles of creek and river frontage. This initiative represents Phase II of a conservation easement project that now protects 352 acres including approximately three miles of combined frontage on Four Mile Creek, Roundabout Creek, and the James River.
The easement is unusual not just because it marks the first time CRLC has worked with the same landowner on a second easement, but because Mr. Welch includes provisions for regular public access in his easements. Another unique feature of the Deep Bottom project is that Colonial Farm Credit is also a signatory to the easements because it has a mortgage on the properties, which requires that their loan be subject to the terms of the conservation easement. “We have been pleased with the willingness the bank has shown to work with landowners interested in protecting their property in perpetuity”, said Parker Agelasto, Executive Director for CRLC.
The combined acreage is adjacent to Deep Bottom Park where two boat launches provide public access for canoes and kayaks at Four Mile Creek and motorized boats at the James River. The Virginia Capital Trail along Route 5 in eastern Henrico County is within one-mile of these properties. Protection of this land will enhance recreationists’ experience as they travel between the Capital Trail and Deep Bottom Park. The public access trail that winds throughout the eased property possibly may become an off-road link between the two in the future. The land’s permanent protection from residential and commercial development provides a buffer for recreational uses, adjacent natural resources, and scenic views from the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail within the James River.
The property is managed for timber, but all portions adjacent to the creeks and river have off-limits “riparian buffers” encompassing a large area of high-quality bottomland hardwood forest and non-tidal marshes and wetlands which protect stream ecosystems from stormwater run-off pollution, sedimentation, stream bank erosion, and increased temperatures.
“The District is thrilled to play a role in conserving these 271 acres. As perpetual green space, this land will protect soil fertility, slow and filter storm water runoff, and provide scenic beauty and habitat for future generations of Henrico residents”, said Nicole Anderson Ellis, Vice-Chair of the Henricopolis Soil & Water Conservation District.
Portions of the protected property are said to have been part of “Claymount” owned by Stephen B. Sweeney (1799-1863) and included in his earthenware pottery operation with several kilns and a hotel along today’s Route 5, a Virginia scenic-byway. Other portions of the property were owned in the 1850s by Titus C. Rice and operated as Deep Bottom Landing with a ferry crossing the James River to Chesterfield County.
The property displays evidence of three Civil War battles - First Deep Bottom (Jul 27-29, 1864), Second Deep Bottom (Aug 13-20, 1864), and Chaffin’s Farm (Sep 29-30, 1864) when Union troops advanced on Richmond using pontoon bridges connecting to Jones Neck. The 4th United States Colored Infantry Regiment along with the Union X Corps advanced across the property to victory at New Market Heights.
Terms of the conservation easement protect historic resources by strictly prohibiting relic hunting and ground disturbance around identified rifle pits, the remains of the ferry-keeper’s house, and earthworks and a strict prohibition on relic hunting. Mr. Welch’s first easement provides identical protections.
Planned trails connecting the property’s historic features and scenic views will accommodate visitor access. Future educational and environmental interpretation will allow visitors of all ages to enjoy an enriching outdoor experience.
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. Henrico County’s 2026 Future Land Use Map designates the property as a “Prime Agriculture and Environmental Protection Area”. CRLC’s and HSWCD’s conservation easement on this property protects these agricultural soils and stream and river buffers while supporting the Henrico County Comprehensive Plan’s Community Character and Natural, Cultural and Historic Resource objectives to “protect areas with intrinsic natural, historic, and cultural resources.”
Brian Watson, President of the Capital Region Land Conservancy, said, “Mr. Welch is our first repeat easement donor and this project will hopefully inspire others to amplify their land conservation legacy by expanding property under conservation easement.”
“My experience working with CRLC and the soil and water conservation district has been nothing but positive. I knew when I did the first easement that I’d be doing another,” said landowner and easement donor Randall Welch. “Completing this next phase has been even more satisfying because it ensures that over 350 acres will continue to contribute to the rural character of eastern Henrico County.”
TUESDAY, MAY 15TH, 2018
The official signing of the Department of Historic Resources conservation easement on 486 acres of Malvern Hill Farm was covered by ABC 8 News.
CRLC Closes on Acquisition of Malvern Hill Farm
February 1, 2018 (RICHMOND, VA)
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, a year and a half after the Capital Region Land Conservancy’s (CRLC) Board of Directors greenlighted the ambitious plan, CRLC purchased Malvern Hill Farm in eastern Henrico County’s Varina District along the historic Route 5 corridor.
Said CRLC President Brian Watson: “The success of the strategy to purchase and protect Malvern Hill Farm is a credit to our staff, Board, partners, and supporters. Collectively, they have transformed CRLC so that we are a stronger land trust capable of facilitating significant conservation projects in our area.”
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, 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.
Listed since 1969 on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places, Malvern Hill Farm has been a priority for many preservation organizations over the years. CRLC’s partners in this preservation effort include the National Park Service (NPS), the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR), the Civil War Trust (CWT), Henrico County, and the James River Association (JRA).
DCR Director Clyde Cristman added, “Federal and state agencies, local government, and the non-profit community have partnered to complete one of the most important land conservation initiatives in recent years. In this singular project, we celebrate the preservation of working farms, historic sites, the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and public access to the outdoors.”
The Battle of Malvern Hill ended with over 7,750 casualties, bringing the Seven Days Battle and the Peninsula Campaign to a close while signaling that the horrific war would not come to a swift end. Within weeks, President Abraham Lincoln drafted the Emancipation Proclamation, altering the course of the war and of the country. Through it all, Malvern Hill Farm endured.
William Heighler Ferguson Sr. purchased Malvern Hill Farm in 1939 and managed it in a manner that left it virtually unchanged since the Civil War. The farm remained in the Ferguson family for nearly 80 years, but with twenty-six cousins sharing ownership, the sale of the property became inevitable. Fragmenting the nearly 900 acres did not: it went on the market as a single parcel.
“The decision to sell Malvern Hill Farm was a difficult one. The farm is family and is at the heart of our history and our memories. You can’t spend time here growing up or live here and not love it,” said Meade Ferguson Welch. “We were all so grateful to CRLC for their efforts in preserving this place.”
The property had been on the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission’s Top Ten list of most threatened battlefields since 1993 and has long been a NPS priority for addition to the Richmond Battlefield National Park, but its resources and value go beyond its history and deep into its soil. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Services identifies nearly 400 acres as prime farmland and more than 150 acres as “farmland of statewide significance.” Malvern Hill Farm’s woodlands rank “very high” on Virginia’s Forest Economics Model and the agency’s evaluation of Ecological Cores and habitats of endangered species also gives the property a high ranking. DCR further designated Malvern Hill Farm in its Virginia Outdoors Plan as a desired site for publicly accessible walking and biking trails and a Turkey Island Creek canoe and kayak launch to the James River. Nearly two miles of the Virginia Capital Trail along scenic Route 5/New Market Road passes by or traverses Malvern Hill Farm.
Heather Richards of The Conservation Fund remarked, “With such an abundance of historic, natural, agricultural, and scenic resources, saving Malvern Hill Farm was in everyone’s interest. CRLC knew the chance wasn’t just worth taking, but absolutely necessary. We’re honored to support this important milestone on the journey to protecting Malvern Hill Farm.”
CRLC will place a conservation easement on nearly half of the Malvern Hill Farm and transfer it to Henrico County. The land will be open to the public for passive recreation and historical interpretation in the future. JRA will provide kayak and canoe access on 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.
“These federal, state, and local commitments vividly affirm just how meaningful the protection of Malvern Hill Farm is,” said CRLC Executive Director Parker Agelasto. “Our partners were quick to support our efforts to protect the farm's sweeping views that have taken in centuries of American history, from the region's original tribal communities through European exploration and settlement, the colonies' fight for independence, our new nation's first conflict, enslavement and emancipation, and the war that ultimately led us toward ‘a more perfect union.’” Henrico County Supervisor Tyrone Nelson concluded, “All who treasure Malvern Hill Farm can now rest assured that its future is secure and residents and visitors alike can look forward to enjoying the farm’s natural beauty, history, and new recreational access.”
The Richmond Times Dispatch, August 7, 2019
Virginia Mercury, June 5, 2019
Saving Land, Spring 2019
The Richmond Times Dispatch, January 29, 2019