Conservation group marks 20 years

Founded in 1990, Valley Conservation Council has reached a milestone, celebrating 20 years of success in its mission to “promote land use that sustains the farms, forests, open space and cultural heritage of the Shenandoah Valley region.”

Executive director John Eckman presented the annual Conservator of the Year award to Laura Thurman, the Staunton-based easement manager for the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, the primary state agency involved in open space conservation. “Laura and her colleagues at VOF have been directly involved in helping Valley landowners place permanent conservation easements on an additional 50,000 acres of land in our region since 2006.”

This weekend’s event was held at Cobble Hill Farm, a 196-acre, permanently protected working farm inside the City of Staunton. The farm includes a Tudor revival home designed by noted Staunton architect, Sam Collins, in 1936. Approximately 120 supporters and conservationists from throughout the Valley attended.

Reflecting on two decades of work, founding board member Faye Cooper said: “Twenty years ago, few people in the Valley region had even heard of land protection tools like conservation easements and agricultural-forestal districts. Today, with VCC’s assistance, hundreds of landowners have stepped forward to conserve important farms and forests and protect rivers and streams for future generations. These people deserve much of the credit and recognition for saving this place we all cherish.”

Farmer and VCC board member Ray “Buff” Showalter of Dayton spoke to the gathering stressing the opportunities for protecting working farms and the land base for agriculture in our region. “The landscape we all love is made up of working farms. Some of them are more intensely developed with dairy and poultry operations. If we look back twenty years from now and we haven’t kept these farms, we haven’t done our job. VCC’s continued focus on helping these family farmers will be important in the decades ahead.”

Assisting landowners is a top VCC priority and encouraging sensible land use planning is another. As Eckman points out, “development pressure is going to pick back up in the coming years and farmers are struggling to stay on the land. Right now we have an opportunity to get ahead of the next wave. Successful communities plan for the long-haul and it pays them back in lower taxes, less sprawl, and less pressure on farmers to develop their land.”

VCC also works to improve rather than fight development projects. For the last decade VCC has championed “Better Models for Development,” stressing the conservation of natural and scenic assets while encouraging the thoughtful design of urban areas to help keep towns and cities thriving. “We know the Shenandoah Valley region will continue to grow. How and where we grow are the real concerns” says Eckman.

VCC’s non-confrontational approach has been received well by those involved in industry, agriculture, and economic development. Martin Lightsey, a former VCC board member and retired CEO of Specialty Blades in Verona feels that “VCC partners well with the business community in promoting sensible policies and effective means of enhancing the quality of life in the Shenandoah Valley.”

More information on Valley Conservation Council or the tools is available at or by calling the VCC office in Staunton at 540.886.3541.

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