The Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) is Virginia’s leader in land conservation, protecting more than 750,000 acres in 106 counties and independent cities. Over the last decade, VOF has preserved open space in Virginia at a rate of about 5 acres every hour, primarily through the use of open-space conservation easements.
VOF was created by the General Assembly in 1966. It was established in the Code of Virginia under § 10.1-1800, which states: ” The Virginia Outdoors Foundation is established to promote the preservation of open-space lands and to encourage private gifts of money, securities, land or other property to preserve the natural, scenic, historic, scientific, open-space and recreational areas of the Commonwealth.”
The primary way VOF protects land is by holding conservation easements, which are voluntary agreements with landowners that restrict certain types of development on land in perpetuity. VOF also accepts donations of land, which it either protects with an easement and transfers to another landowner, or owns and manages for public benefit.
An open-space easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and qualified easement holder, such as VOF. The easement limits present and future property development rights. It allows landowners to live on the property and use it for compatible purposes, such as farming, forestry and recreation, but protects it as well. The easement is legally recorded and bound to the deed of the property permanently. VOF holds easements in perpetuity that protect a wide variety of natural and cultural resources, including watershed areas, the setting for historic homes, scenic views, lands adjacent to public parks and game preserves, community lands, and more. Please click on the “Donating an Easement to VOF” link to the left for more information or to begin the easement donation process.
Once land is put under open-space easement, the work of upholding the easement begins. The easement land is restricted by the Deed of Gift of Easement for perpetuity. VOF has the responsibility to monitor easement properties, keep track of new activity on the property, respond to questions from landowners, and respond to issues that may arise on the property. Visit our Easement Stewardship section to learn more.
Strengthening Easements with an Amendment
Landowners with an existing easement on their property may want to amend or supersede the easement currently on their property to strengthen the terms of the easement. Over time, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation’s guidelines have evolved, and older easements may not fit the current guidelines. Landowners also may want to add land that they have acquired since the easement was recorded. Please contact your local VOF office for more information on amending your easement.
Open Space Lands Preservation Trust Fund
VOF also administers the Open Space Lands Preservation Trust Fund, which assists landowners with the costs of conveying open-space easements and purchases all or part of the value of easements. Priority for funding is given to applications on family farms and for those with demonstrated financial need. For more information, visit our Preservation Trust Fund page.
A gift of a permanent open-space easement may qualify as a charitable gift and be eligible for certain state and federal tax benefits. In addition, there may be local property tax reductions and federal estate tax exemptions. An independent certified appraiser must establish the value of the easement that is primarily based on the value of the development rights forgone. Once that value is established, it becomes the basis for calculating tax benefits. Visit our Tax Benefits section for more information. (Note: VOF does not give tax advice.)