When Don Owen, executive director of the Land Trust of Virginia, begins his PowerPoint presentation at workshops he conducts in Loudoun and Fauquier counties, the first photograph he flashes on the screen shows an old country store in the 1950s.
The next image then provides a jarring juxtaposition. It’s an aerial view of the same general area, more than half a century later—Tysons Corner after the mega-development that is still sprawling out and up. So much for the Tysons Corner country store.
Clearly, those two pictures drive home his point right from the start. Without the conservation easements the LTV and other organizations support, the same sort of unchecked growth could endanger many of this area’s cherished small towns, battlefields, open spaces and other significant natural and historic resources.
“A lot of people may not realize that western Loudoun and northern Fauquier already have more than 15 percent in easement,” Owen said. “It’s why this place is so special.”
And it keeps getting better. Since late October, LTV accepted four new easements totaling 325 acres, including 103 acres of the Amberwood Farm property west of Upperville, 115 acres at Dresden Farm four miles north of Middleburg, a 70-acre property near Lincoln and a 38-acre tract just outside Hillsboro.
As an example of a conservation easement’s immediate impact, the Amberwood Farm property preserves portions of the core battlefield areas for two Civil War cavalry actions—the Battle of Unison and the Battle of Upperville. It also protects a half-mile of Pantherskin Creek, a major tributary to Goose Creek.
The addition of those parcels was the cherry on top for what Owen described as “an incredible year” for LTV. It included 1,300 acres placed in conservation easement during 2013, bringing the organization’s total to more than 13,000 acres since it began pushing the program in 1998.
“There are so many things people can do to help,” Carole Taylor of Warrenton, the new LTV president, said. “Conservation easement is part of it. One of the interesting things we’ve done is a series of rural village studies. We’ll look at what’s protected in places like Lincoln, Taylorstown, Buckland, for example, and what’s zoned. We’ll then give community briefings that have really been well-received.”
“We’ll research the area for water resource values, available farmland, Civil War and other historical sites,” Owen said. “We’ll provide aerial photographs and show them on a grid what’s really significant about their community…The goal is to give them as much information as possible, and that information often leads to follow up conversations. I think it really becomes an eye-opener.”
Owen and LTV do not actually target specific properties or recruit landowners to get with their program. Instead, the organization believes its workshops, informational outreach programs and ensuing word of mouth spread the message, along with an actively engaged board of directors. Owen, with an office next door to the Atoka Store, estimates more than a third of LTV easements have been a direct result of the workshops.
“If someone has a significant property, we are always open to a conversation,” Owen said. “It’s up to them to make the decision. I will immediately respond to a phone call or any correspondence. But I wouldn’t go knocking on their door. We are one of the best organizations to go to, and I think most people know that.”
“Why us?” Taylor said. “We are nationally-accredited. People can be assured that the easement will be done properly. We know how to do it…we’ve built a solid foundation in terms of our capabilities, our institutional knowledge and the ability to work through the whole process with landowners. And we are well-poised for growth.”
Owen, a Boston native with a master’s degree in national resource administration from Colorado State, joined LTV in 2008 after a long and distinguished career that included the previous 23 years with the National Park Service. His wife, Amy Owen, is executive director of the Middleburg-based Piedmont Community Foundation.
A native of Idaho, Taylor, a realtor now living in Warrenton, has lived in these parts for 40 years and been on the LTV board the past four years.
“I’ve always had an interest in this area,” she said, “but I never knew what I could do about it until I got involved with the Land Trust. It’s a wonderful opportunity for people to know more about where we live and how to get engaged if you want to do conservation easement.”
For further information, contact Don Owen at 540-687-8441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.