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Supervisors eye County Farm for parks, agriculture

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

WOODSTOCK -- An effort to expand Shenandoah County's park land and turn the County Farm into an agricultural tool moved forward after months of talks between two interested groups.

The Board of Supervisors heard an update at a work session Thursday on the discussions of two committees looking at how best to delineate the County Farm property near Teaberry Road and the locality's park. County Administrator Douglas Walker told supervisors that the County Farm Advisory Committee and the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee the two groups reached a consensus on how to divide the 232-acre site, which contains the former alms house.

But at least one supervisor already has expressed concern and voiced opposition to any effort that would take land out of farming use. Supervisor David E. Ferguson told board members present he would not support the delineation proposal.

Supervisors saw a map presented by Walker that showed where the panels decided the county should draw the lines for the property uses. Walker explained the county sought a consensus from the committees on how to divide the property, allowing for the parks department to expand its area while retaining the farm portion to continue its current agricultural use. Walker noted the panels worked hard to reach the consensus.

The plan would call for the parks department to receive approximately 62.23 acres of the property for its use. Some of that land would include parts of the property unsuitable for farming such as a pond and the surrounding area. The county then would issue a request for qualifications seeking a farmer or farmers to lease the remaining land, excluding the nearly 2-acre alms house site, for a period of 10 years. The farmer or farmers awarded the lease would use the property as a demonstration farm for pasture and grazing, forestry and other agricultural purposes. Plans call for a portion of the land that has become overgrown to be turned into more area for the pasture, according to Walker.

"The idea was to minimize the impact on the farm, right, but to still create an opportunity for the Parks and Recreation to accomplish their goals, and the consensus of the groups was that this would accomplish that," Walker told the board.

The county may need to make some investments into the project, a fact Ferguson said he also opposed. But local Virginia Cooperative Extension Agent Bobby Clark explained that the investment made by the county to make needed repairs to the farm -- fencing and other amenities -- would be covered by the rent paid for by the farmer. The County Farm panel had been given some data in the past which illustrated this, Clark said.

Ferguson, in explaining his opposition to the proposal, went so far as to recommend the County Farm be placed in a conservation easement which would protect the property from future development in perpetuity.

Several members of both committees also attended the work session and gave their input. Board Chairman Conrad A. Helsley Jr. applauded the efforts of the two committees.

Supervisors may revisit the issue at their regular meeting Aug. 14 at which point they could take action on the request for qualifications for the lease.

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