VOF Finalizes 5,000-Acre Smith Mountain Easement

Nearly 5,000 acres of scenic Smith Mountain in Bedford and Pittsylvania counties are now permanently protected, thanks to the recordation of a conservation easement donated to the Commonwealth by Appalachian Power, a subsidiary of American Electric Power (AEP). The easement is being co-held by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF).

The easement comprises the majority of Smith Mountain, which sits along the eastern side of Smith Mountain Lake and forms the ridge on both sides of Smith Mountain Dam. It is almost entirely forested and contains more than 10 miles of shoreline. The property allows some access for public recreational activities through VDGIF, including fishing, camping, hiking, and hunting. It also contains two rare vertebrate species and a rare ecological community identified by the state, and is adjacent to the 288-acre Bourassa State Forest. Because of its size and proximity to Smith Mountain Lake State Park and other attractions, the mountain is perhaps the mostly highly visible and recognizable landmark in the area.

“The scenic benefit to the public of preserving this mountain is enormous,” said Josh Gibson, the lead easement specialist on the project for VOF. “It’s a dominating feature on the landscape, visible from several surrounding counties and public right of ways and almost every part of Smith Mountain Lake.”

The land is part of the property acquired to construct the Smith Mountain Hydroelectric Pumped Storage project in the 1950s. The project can generate 636 megawatts of electricity.

“This easement is good for the Commonwealth, Appalachian Power customers, and for generations of Virginians who admire Smith Mountain underfoot or from afar,” said Dana Waldo, Appalachian Power president and COO. “We worked closely with the Virginia Outdoors Foundation and state officials to craft an agreement that ensures that Appalachian Power can continue to operate and maintain critical electrical equipment while at the same time permanently protecting one of Virginia’s most scenic treasures.”

The project represents the largest recorded so far in 2009 by VOF. Approximately 4,022 of the acres lie in Pittsylvania County and 973 acres lie in Bedford County. AEP announced its intention to place the land under easement in April 2008, and the project was formally recorded in late January 2009. From this point forward, VOF will serve as steward of the easement to ensure that the property’s conservation values remain permanently protected from development. VDGIF will continue to manage recreational activities.

“We’ve had a long-standing, highly successful partnership with AEP providing access for hunters, anglers, boaters, and other outdoor enthusiasts and look forward to partnering with VOF,” said VDGIF Executive Director Bob Duncan. “It’s a true pleasure to establish this conservation easement, thereby ensuring that future generations will enjoy this unique wildlife area.”

“Appalachian Power has made a significant contribution to conserving Virginia’s natural resources,” added Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources L. Preston Bryant, Jr. “The company’s donated easement at Smith Mountain is one of the largest we have received in recent years. From now on, this property will remain as it always has been.”

Jason McGarvey is VOF's communications and outreach manager. He is based in the Richmond office.