Conservation group lauds bequests by N.Va. homeowners

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McLean and Great Falls landowners who placed their properties in conservation easements pose for a photo at Great Falls Village Centre after receiving awards Nov. 16 from the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust and the Chesapeake Bay String of Pearls Project. (Photo by Brian Trompeter)

Some gifts keep on giving, but land preserved in conservation easements benefits the public and environment in perpetuity.

Leaders of the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust (NVCT) and the Chesapeake Bay String of Pearls Project on Nov. 16 honored owners of seven Virginia properties who over the years have placed conservation easements on their lands, forever protecting them from development.

“We wanted to memorialize their efforts so that generations of the future can look back to days like this and see who has been generous enough to preserve their property for all of our benefits into the future,” said Maryland state Sen. Edward Reilly (R), who chairs the String of Pearls Advisory Committee.

“We all breathe the same air, we all drink the same water, we all enjoy the outdoors,” Reilly added. “Nature knows no political boundaries. We’re in this together.”

Conservation advocates bestowed the awards at the gazebo in Great Falls Village Centre on a lovely, if windy, late-autumn afternoon.

The environmental groups honored the following landowners:

• Great Falls residents Richard and Joan Bliss, who in 2000 donated a conservation easement for their 5.6-acre property along the Potomac River.

“If people knew what the possibilities were, we’d have a lot more participation,” said Richard Bliss, who founded NVCT in 1994.

• Douglas and Barbara Cobb, who donated an easement for their Great Falls property in 2001.

• Daniel DuVal and Karen Keys DuVal, who in 2005 donated a conservation easement to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and Fairfax County Park Authority for land surrounding their historic Salona home in McLean.

• Fredette and Tabitha Eagle, who in 2006 gave a conservation easement for their “Bois Doré” (French for “golden woods”) property along the Potomac River in McLean. The family eventually hopes to add 10 more acres to that tally.

• Jeffrey and Sally Lindsay, who in August 2001 donated a conservation easement for their 5.1-acre Matildaville Farm in Great Falls.

• Edward and Molly Newberry, who in 2016 donated an easement for their 4.4-acre “Pine Hill” property in McLean.

• Adrienne Stefan, who in 2011 donated a conservation easement for her nearly 1-acre property in Oakton, which is home to the last remaining trolley station from the Washington and Fairfax Electric Railway line.

Before being handed their honorary citations, award recipients signed the Register of Pearls of Chesapeake Bay, which usually is on display at the Annapolis Circuit Courthouse.

The honorees also received laudatory letters from U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and were told U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-10th) would place a passage in the Congressional Record thanking them for their contributions.

Dick Lahn, director of the String of Pearls Project, said the initiative tries to stimulate preservation of land throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. That area now has 75 “pearls,” or parcels of conserved land, most of which are in Maryland, but some in Virginia and Pennsylvania.

“We’re in a race,” Lahn said. “The prevalent thinking is that the highest and best use of natural resources, including land, is to use them and develop them. The opposite view is to preserve the aliveness of the land, and I think that is what we’re about.”

Society must balance development with the need to preserve nature, he said.

“Is there a compromise?” he asked. “I think so, but I think the balance point is unknowable, so we need to bias decisions on the side of preserving land.”

Alan Rowsome, who recently became NVCT’s executive director, said the honorees had acted boldly to protect their properties from future development.

“These lands are home to wildlife and plant habitat, protect clean-water sources and ensure that even as many things around us change and grow and modernize year after year, some things stay the same,” Rowsome said.

NVCT has helped protect nearly 7,000 acres in Northern Virginia, from 1-acre backyard “pocket parks” in Arlington to 100-acre farms in Loudoun County, he added.

Northern Virginia is developing quickly, which creates traffic problems and imperils clean-water sources. The honorees’ generosity with their properties has made the region a better place for all, Rowsome said.

Fredette Eagle ran her idea for an easement past her children, and was proud that they all agreed to forgo what would have been princely sums from developers.

“All three of them said, ‘Go for it, Mom,’” she said. “I have lived there for 50 years and I could not stand the thought if it being developed.”

“We all decided that we would take the loss and preserve a quarter-mile of the Potomac Gorge,” said her daughter, Tabitha. “We all recognized that the woods are most beautiful the way they are now. You need to preserve these places. You can’t renew them.”