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A 62-acre property deep in Harris Hollow west of Washington was recently entered into conservation easement, the only such parcel of Rappahannock County land to be preserved in 2020.

The mainly forested 62 acres, with upwards of four acres of farmland, helps further protect the viewshed of the Appalachian Trail.

All told, private landowners in 2020 worked together with land trusts and public agencies to protect 5,287 acres of land in Rappahannock, Clarke, Loudoun, Fauquier, Culpeper, Madison, Orange, Greene, and Albemarle counties, according to the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC).

Last year’s 47 conservation easements brought the total protected land in PEC’s nine-county region to 426,657 acres — more than twice the size of Shenandoah National Park — accounting for nearly 20 percent of the region’s entire land area. The totals include all easements within the region held collectively by PEC, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, state agencies, local governments and other land trusts.

“Despite a pandemic year when folks were understandably cautious about the personal interactions required during the easement process, the number of easement transactions remained steady and demonstrate the commitment of local landowners to preserve the integrity of the landscape as a whole and to protect water resources and scenic character,” said PEC President Chris Miller.

“Every acre of protected land is land that helps prevent water pollution, preserve natural flood controls, promote groundwater recharge, and support local agriculture and carbon sequestration.” 

A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement between a landowner and a public agency or a nonprofit conservation group, such as the PEC. By limiting development on the land, easements protect the natural, scenic and cultural resources of the land for the benefit of the public. Landowners who donate easements may be eligible to receive tax benefits for their charitable contribution. 

Loudoun County led the region’s conservation totals in 2020, with 21 landowners donating conservation easements to preserve 2,159 acres.  

The largest conservation easement in 2020 was that of 1,150 acres in Albemarle County’s Southern Rural Historic District, near Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and James Monroe’s Highland. 

Held by the Albemarle Conservation Easement Authority, the easement protects the property that  is adjacent to the previously conserved and historic Morven Farm from a potential of 74 dwellings. This property, along with 194 acres at Mountain Grove that protects an outstanding example of a Federal-style Palladian dwelling dating to 1804, were among the 12 properties conserving 2,028 acres in Albemarle in 2020.  

“In our region and throughout the commonwealth, we are fortunate to have a history of state and local leaders who understand the critical value of open space and have implemented incentives and programs that assist landowners with the cost of donating conservation easements,” said PEC Director of Conservation Mike Kane. “The Piedmont Environmental Council is here and happy to educate and guide landowners about land conservation options and benefits.”

— John McCaslin 

Approximate county-by-county conservation totals are as follows:


County

Acres Protected in 2020 by Conservation Easements *

Total Acres Protected by Conservation Easements *

Albemarle

2,028

108,869

Clarke

23

26,481

Culpeper

0

20,406

Fauquier

800

109,487

Greene

75

10,648

Loudoun

2,159

62,684

Madison

140

16,115

Orange

0

38,554

Rappahannock

62

33,413

PEC REGION

5,287

426,657


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