The Virginia Outdoors Foundation permanently protected 21,800 acres of farmland, forests, and other open space through 100 conservation easements in 2015. VOF now protects just under 780,000 acres across the Commonwealth.
VOF protected new acreage in 49 different localities. Lunenburg County saw the most land protected with 1,844 acres. For the third consecutive year Southside was the hottest region for easements, with 8,089 acres protected.
One of the year’s highlights was VOF’s first easement in the City of Norfolk, on 16 acres that are home to the Hermitage Museum & Gardens. In addition to substantial riparian buffer protections along the Lafayette River, which bounds the property on three sides, the easement also ensures permanent public access to most of the property, which has extensive trails and gardens, as well as a public playground managed through a partnership with the city.
Other highlights include:
- A 126-acre easement on a 250-year-old family farm in Grayson County.
- A 957-acre easement straddling Nelson and Augusta counties that fronts the Blue Ridge Parkway, is almost completely surrounded by public land, and contains headwaters to a wild trout stream that flows into the Rockfish River.
- A pair of easements in Halifax County that protect a total of 1,325 acres along the Dan River, a scenic-designated portion of the Staunton River, and the scenic-designated byway River Road.
- A 703-acre easement in King and Queen County that contains large areas of working forest land with more than four miles of shoreline on Dragon Run, bringing the total amount of land that VOF protects along that body of water to 3,277 acres.
- A 387-acre easement in the Cripple Creek section of Wythe County that, combined with an older adjacent easement, protects 540 acres and more than a mile of frontage along State Route 619, a designated Virginia Byway.
Conservation easements are voluntary agreements between private landowners and a qualified easement holder such as VOF that limit future development while keeping land in private ownership to be utilized for farming, forestry, and other rural uses. Because of the public benefits associated with limiting development on rural land—protecting water quality, scenic beauty, wildlife habitat, and productive soils—landowners who donate easements are eligible to receive state and federal tax benefits.
A recent survey of landowners who donated easements to VOF since 2000 found that 90 percent of them manage the land for agricultural production or forestry. Approximately 60 percent used the Virginia Land Preservation Tax Credits they received to sustain, expand, or start a new farming or forestry operation, and 20 percent did the same for a business unrelated to farming or forestry. The survey also revealed that about three-quarters of easement donors reinvested their tax benefits back into additional conservation practices on their land.
VOF easements help to protect, among other things, 350,000 acres of prime farm soils, 300,000 acres of the state’s best forestland, 4,000 miles of stream and rivers, and 100,000 acres in state and federal rural historic districts.