Augusta County families protect land, water

Valley Conservation Council

Donald and Mary Sue Hanger placed a conservation easement on their family farm in Augusta County. (Photo credit: Conservation Partners, LLC)

Valley Conservation Council, a Staunton-based land trust serving the greater Shenandoah Valley region, announced the protection of nearly 1,200 acres of farmed and open space land and the streams that traverse them through its Land and Water Connection program.

Eight Augusta County families have now used this program to place conservation easements with the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, VCC’s key land conservation partner.

This VCC program offers grants directly to landowners who want to conserve their properties through the placement of a conservation easement and are willing to also include terms in the easement that require best management practices, such as stream livestock exclusion and forested stream buffers. Conservation easements are designed to limit intensive development and uses that would negatively impact a property’s conservation values, such as productive farm and forest land, water resources, wildlife habitat, and historic features.  This popular voluntary land conservation tool has been used to conserve hundreds of thousands of acres across the Commonwealth.

Among the most recent participants are Don and Mary Sue Hanger whose 297-acre family farm includes a large spring that is the headwaters of Christians Creek, a tributary of the Middle and Shenandoah rivers.  In addition to ensuring that the farm will never become a housing development or be converted to other intensive uses, they ensured protection for the spring and spring creek by committing to practices that exclude livestock and established a forested buffer. Asked why they took this significant step to conserve their family’s farm and its water resources, Mr. Hanger explained that “we just wanted to be sure the farm could remain a farm and stay in our family for generations to come.”

The Freed family has farmed in the Valley for four generations. Carl and Margaret Freed’s 108-acre farm that fronts on the South River is now permanently conserved through an easement that will not only limit future development but will also ensure that the river’s water quality is protected through a forested buffer and exclusion of livestock. The Freed’s son, Kevin, is a full-time farmer along with his father and a strong advocate for land conservation and water protection.  He says “he wants his children and grandchildren to be able to see the farm used in the future as it has been for the past 100 years.”

The Freeds’ next-door neighbors, Cyrus and Ann Barger, initiated the idea of conserving the adjoining farms. The Bargers are the 7th-generation owners of their 112-acre family farm.  They, along with the Freed family, see the value in conserving farmland and protecting water resources.  Says Mr. Barger, “All of our land is fenced from the South River. We want to do what we can to make it healthy again.”

The Land and Water Connection program, which continues through 2017, is supported through a generous grant to VCC from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.   VCC’s goal is to conserve 12 or more farms, and protect at least six miles of streams.

Interested landowners may contact VCC’s office at 540.886.3561 or email faye@valleyconservation.org .

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