NNLC Celebrates 15th Year with Easements Large and Small
The sights and sounds of a vast tidal marsh at dawn thrill Tom Tullidge and his family when they visit their Essex County farm to hunt waterfowl and delight in what the rural property has to offer.
Pictured above: Wild geese in flight near the Gwynnfield site in Essex County.
“It’s stunningly beautiful,” he says of the 750-acre tract called Gwynnfield which juts into the Rappahannock River just upstream of Tappahannock. “There are birds working and the dogs are eyeing the sky.”
Miles away and across the Northern Neck peninsula, a tiny, 13-acre parcel holds an equal appeal to another proud landowner: Catherine Gordon built a cabin beside a tributary of the Coan River years ago and retreats there regularly from her work in Washington D.C.
When she drives up to the property and spots Mill Creek sparkling through the trees, “I feel like I’m home,” she says. “I’m grateful for my plot of heaven on the Northern Neck.”
Mill Creek as seen from the Gordon property in Northumberland County
Tullidge, the chief financial officer of a Richmond investment firm, and Gordon, a nurse practitioner for a Catholic charity in D.C., are just two of the people who have turned to the Northern Neck Land Conservancy to protect the land they love. Since just 2018, landowners have placed more than 3,000 acres in the Northern Neck and Essex County in conservation easements with NNLC. The voluntary agreements place binding legal restrictions on the properties designed to preserve farmland and open space forever.
The Tullidge family’s Gwynnfield farm is one of the largest tracts that NNLC protects. Gordon’s is the smallest.
In both cases, the easements help protect the environment from the harm that real estate development causes to water quality. They preserve the natural landscape that provides wildlife habitat and the beauty of the region that enhances everyone’s quality of life.
“We thought it was the right thing to do,” Tullidge says when he and his children decided that Gwynnfield was best kept in its natural state. “We thought it was the best thing to do for the long-term quality of the Rappahannock River.”
Gordon had similar concerns. “I’ve known for a long time that my place is very beautiful “Mother Nature left us with a lovely natural environment. I came to the conclusion that I didn’t want it to become subdivided into lots.”
The owner has placed paths and benches around the Gordon property in Northumberland County
Gordon says she initially thought she could protect her property by merely stating in her will that she did not want it ever to be developed. “Then, I found out that no one would respect your wishes five minutes after you’re dead. As I was asking around ‘How can I preserve the land?’ (NNLC) came to the top of the list.”
NNLC is celebrating its 15th anniversary of conservation works this year by focusing on landowners who have made a lasting commitment to preservation by placing their land in perpetual conservation easements. In those 15 years, landowners on the Northern Neck have permanently protected 20,000 acres with NNLC’s help.
NNLC is overseen by a volunteer board of local residents. It is accredited by a national alliance of land trusts which requires it to comply with various quality standards.
“Easements can be written that allow a limited number of houses on a property or restrict or limit the number of parcels that can be subdivided from a tract,” NNLC executive director Elizabeth Friel explains. “The land remains privately owned. There are no requirements to allow public access.”
Conservation easements will be highlighted at the NNLC’s annual Boots & BBQ celebration this year on Saturday, Sept. 28.
The event, featuring live music, barbecue and fried oysters will be held at Ditchley, a well-known historic waterfront tract in Northumberland County that illustrates the value of land conservation and its role in enhancing the local economy.
Geese provide natural pest control at Ditchley’s orchard in Northumberland County
Ditchley’s owners, Cathy Calhoun and Paul Grosklags, worked with NNLC to secure a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant that helped them buy the property in exchange for placing it in a conservation easement. The land had been subdivided into 70 waterfront lots by its previous owners.
The couple recently planted an orchard of 2,000 apple trees to support a farm cidery and agri-tourism venue that includes a heritage livestock operation.
Far from stifling growth, conservation easements, such as the one at Ditchley, that has spurred a new farm and “agri-tourism” enterprise, are economic development tools, NNLC president Kirwan King, of Richmond County, points out.
“Every property NNLC protects helps strengthen our local farm economy,” he says. “Easements that protect family farms ensure a local market for agricultural and forest supplies and services and improves water quality and the health of the Chesapeake Bay to benefit the region’s seafood and tourism industries. The decision to preserve your land forever is completely voluntary and is the ultimate private property right,”
For more information about Boots & BBQ and NNLC’s mission, contact Elizabeth Friel at the NNLC’s office in Lancaster at 804-462-0979.
Photo's and Story provided by: Executive Director, Elizabeth Friel of the Northern Neck Land Conservancy