June 15, 2016 - Loudoun County Now Officially Has a State Park! Hamilton, VA - Yesterday, after years of work, the deed was recorded transferring approximately 600 acres of land in Northwestern Loudoun County to the Virginia Department of Conservation & Recreation. This transaction, first announced by Governor Bob McDonnell in January 2014 means that Loudoun County now officially has a state park!
The land for the state park was donated to the Commonwealth by the Old Dominion Land Conservancy (ODLC) of Purcellville, which received the land from the Robert and Dee Leggett foundation. The property borders the Appalachian Trail and includes historic farmsteads, deep woods and wildflower meadows.
Senator Richard Black stated, "I'm proud of all of the work our local elected officials have put into bringing this project to fruition. It will be a lasting benefit to the community that will provide a place for people to enjoy the beauty of Loudoun County."
Delegate Dave LaRock added, "I'm excited about this new park being established and thankful for the efforts of Sen. Dick Black, Del. Randy Minchew, Supervisor Geary Higgins and State, County and ODLC staff to make this State Park a reality. This Park will be a great addition to Western Loudoun's already-vibrant winery and tourism industries."
Delegate Randy Minchew said, "I have hiked through this land a number of times and it is a great piece of property. It could become the Sky Meadows State Park of Loudoun County. This will be a jewel for the whole county."
Catoctin District Supervisor Geary M. Higgins added, "The significance of this new state park is immense and I have been privileged to have been a part of this process over the past three years. This park will be a jewel to Loudoun County, the Catoctin District, the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Nation. From a historical perspective alone this park preserves a considerable piece of history as this land includes the route Mosby's Rangers took to attack the federal camp of Cole's Cavalry one-hundred and fifty years ago on January 10, 1864. I commend Bob and Dee Leggett for their donation and foresight to create this park that will be enjoyed not only by residents of Loudoun County but by many future generations." View park map and Loudoun Times-Mirror article.
The 600-acre parcel is part of the 900-acre Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship (BRCES), and is the initial portion of what may become a 1,500-acre park. It will be several years before the property is developed. The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, which manages the Virginia park system, will work to develop master plans for the Loudoun County property once acquisition is complete. The master plan will incorporate input from the local community, park planners and state officials.
March 7, 2016, Today's article by Parker Agelasto, executive director of the Capital Region Land Conservancy, in the Richmond-Times Dispatch discusses the VA Senate "halving the state funds previously budgeted for land conservation...while the House eliminated $500,000 from Farmland Preservation." Net is that the $40 million slated for preserving natural areas and open spaces could very well be cut by $20,500,000. Agelasto raises excellent reasons why the Assembly must fully fund the $40 million in Governor McAuliffe's 2017-2018 budget. Richmond-Times Dispatch article by Parker Agelasto.
For several years, the State of Virginia has planned a park in far northwestern Loudoun County. As of February 17, 2016, that goal has moved one step closer to becoming a reality. Roughly 600 acres of land in conservation easement was donated to the Old Dominion Land Conservancy by the Robert and Dee Leggett Foundation. It will form the backbone of the new park. "If all the people donate who have expressed an interest, we would have close to 1,500 acres that would stretch along the Blue ridge and Potomac River" said Henry Stribling, executive director of the Old Dominion Land Conservancy.
The effort to create the parkland is working its way through legal technicalities before the state can take possession. Recently, the Board of Supervisors approved a change to the easement rules which would allow the state to put up a sign and meet other state land rules, such as those dealing with legal indemnity. Two of the holders of the conservation easements on the land, the county government and the Potomac Conservancy Inc., have agreed to the change in its terms. Stribling said the third, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is expected to agree soon. LoudounNow article by Renss Greene.
On December 18, 2015, Congress passed a huge tax incentive program which included an enhanced land conservation tax incentive program. With this program Congress permanently established the enhanced conservation easement tax incentive. In brief, that majority vote represented a huge win for the land trust community of owners and organizers with over $1.8 trillion slated for numerous conservancy project in all states.
In 2014 the Farm Bill provided billions of dollars for land conservation, including over $1 billion over 10 years just for conservation easements. The Natural Resource conservation Service (NRCS) now runs these programs. The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) provides matching funds that ODLC can use to purchase conservation easements on agricultural land, grasslands, and wetlands. The amount of funding is dependent on the type of land being conserved. Generally the value is 50% of FMV but that figure is dependent on the type and size of the land to be placed in conservancy. For example: grasslands can be valued at 75% if their FMV, wetlands can be valued as high as 100% of their FMV if a permanent easement is granted.