Easements protect 2,200 acres

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INDEPENDENCE — Two Grayson County farms that guard the scenic view and water quality along five miles of the New River will be forever protected in their natural state, thanks to conservation easements donated by their owners in 2007.

Grayson County was one of the region’s leaders in land conservation in 2007 with nearly 1,392 acres protected, according to the New River Land Trust.

Overlooking the river, 1,500 acres on the crest and slope of Buck Mountain in Grayson are now protected with a cluster of conservation easements donated in 2007 and previous years by cousins and friends who hunt and hike the mountains’ ridges.

Thirty-five landowners working with the Virginia Outdoors Foundation and the New River Land Trust conserved 8,500 acres of farmland and river corridors in the New River watershed in 2007. That number tops 2006’s record conservation total in the New River watershed by almost 2,000 acres.

Land conserved for farm and forest land has jumped eightfold in the past five years in the New River region from 1,000 acres in 2002 to 2007’s total of 8,500 acres, said Elizabeth Obenshain, executive director of New River Land Trust.

The Virginia Outdoors Foundation, a state agency that negotiates and holds permanent agreements with landowners to protect their farm and forestland, completed conservation easements on 60,000 acres across Virginia in 2007.

Gov. Tim Kaine has set a four-year goal of protecting 400,000 acres by 2010.

The New River Land Trust educates landowners about how they can protect their family farms with easements, while also harvesting generous state and federal tax incentives. Working with the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, the New River Land Trust has helped conserve over 28,000 acres in the New River watershed since 2002, Obenshain said.

James G. and Mary Lily Nuckolls of Galax have conserved nearly 891 acres with more than two miles along a beautiful, wide stretch of the New River near Fries. The Nuckolls family donated an easement on 461.66 acres to the Virginia Outdoors Foundation in 2007. An additional 428.5 acres on the river is being protected through the federal Forest Legacy program.

“At a time when real estate prices are soaring on the New River, all of us who value this beautiful river and the productive forests and farms along its banks owe them a debt of thanks,” said Obenshain. “Families who canoe the New, as well as communities that pull their water from the New, will enjoy the environmental benefits of protecting this river corridor.”

James Nuckolls is a native of Grayson County, and part of his family’s original landholdings make up the Matthews State Forest, not far from the Nuckolls’ land. After returning to Grayson to practice medicine, Nuckolls and his wife, Mary Lily, began buying land piece by piece to protect the river where it sweeps by their home in a broad, smooth expanse of water.

Further upstream, Phil and Charlotte Hanes have protected another 3 miles and 284.7 on the New River in the Cox’s Chapel community of Grayson County. This protected land includes three islands that the Haneses have leased rent-free to the state for stopovers on the New River Blueway canoe trail. The couple had already donated two other large easements on nearby farms on the river — protecting a total of 4.2 miles along a pristine stretch of river.

“The generosity of these two families in protecting our region’s most valuable natural and scenic resource will benefit us today and for generations to come,” said Obenshain.

Buck Mountain, which dominates the ridgeline north of Independence, now has 1,500 acres on its summit and down the sides to Saddle Creek protected under easement. David Todd of Saddle Creek Stock Farm, one of several Todd cousins who own large tracts on the mountain, added another 300 acres to 1,200 acres already protected. The forested mountainside and ridge top pastures are habitat for bear and other wildlife.

An easement by William L. and Linda A. Hylander on their 293-acre farm in Grayson’s historic Spring Valley means that neighboring landowners have now conserved a total of 1,000 acres in this farm community. The Hylander’s historic property contains a house, old country store and post office.

The Virginia Outdoors Foundation also completed 808 acres of easements in Carroll County in 2007.

Brenda and Dale Moore have conserved Brenda’s family homeplace, a bicentennial farm on Joy Ranch Road and Beamers Knob Road, totaling 154 acres in the Fancy Gap area.

Wayne and Wanda Kenny have placed an easement on their home and farm in the Woodlawn Community, totaling 213 acres near Crooked Creek. They have also conserved an additional 107-acre tract near Galax that was Wanda Kenny’s childhood home.

Richard and Katrina Farmer have put their 334 acres in the Woodlawn area under easement. The largely forested tract was assembled one small parcel at a time by Farmer and is now a productive and protected woodland.

Montgomery County led the eight counties in the New River watershed region with almost 1,600 acres protected in 2007.

• For more information on the New River Land Trust, call (540) 951-1704, e-mail nrlt@newriverlandtrust.org or visit www.newriverlandtrust.org.