VOF holds community input forum for Hayfields at Highland Center

Dozens of residents and community leaders attended a forum at the Highland Center in Monterey on October 9 to provide their thoughts on potential future uses of Hayfields Farm, a 1,034-acre property in Highland County acquired by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation in 2017.

The forum was facilitated by Stantec, an architecture and planning firm contracted by VOF to guide the planning process. Stantec staff, assisted by VOF staff, presented information about the property and conducted exercises to learn people’s hopes and fears for the property, which must be maintained as permanent open space. A copy of the presentation can be downloaded here.

Two main themes emerged from the community. The first is a desire for there to be some level of public access to the property’s natural resources, which include fields, forests, trails, ponds, and a one-mile stretch of the Bullpasture River. The second is to see the property generate economic activity for the community, in the form of jobs, tourism, tax revenue, or a combination of the three.

Specific ideas that were floated during the forum included using the site for educational or institutional research, a state park or campground, a venue for arts or retreats, or a wellness or rehabilitation center. The biggest fears among community members were that nothing would happen with the property, or that development would negatively affect the natural beauty of the area. Some residents mentioned traffic and loss of dark skies as specific concerns.

The forum was the first step in a process of engaging local, regional, and state stakeholders from a broad spectrum of interests to determine what the highest needs are that could be served by a large open-space property, what kinds of solutions could meet those needs, and which partners in the public and private sectors could be brought together to achieve our goals. VOF and Stantec will be reaching out to other potential stakeholders over the coming weeks, including people and organizations in the areas of healthcare, education, recreation, and economic development.

“While conserving open space is the primary objective of the Hayfields project, it’s important that we explore ways to help address other needs in the Commonwealth,” says VOF deputy director of stewardship Martha Little, who is overseeing the planning process. “We want to maximize the public benefit of Hayfields, and getting there will require innovation, partnerships, and thinking big.”

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