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Brothers seek to save family farm from developers

2013_01_10_Vance_Easement1.jpg
Emily Warner, left, land protection director for the Potomac Conservancy, looks over a map with Larry Vance on his family farm in Strasburg on Thursday. Warner has been assisting Vance with putting his family farm into a protective easement. Rich Cooley/Daily


By Alex Bridges

STRASBURG -- Larry Vance knew at a young age he wanted to save the family farm from developers.

Decades later Vance can do that by putting the 179-acre Island Ford Farm into a protective conservation easement.

"I think we have a duty to preserve what is good and right for people in Shenandoah County," Vance said at his farm Thursday.

Vance, a government teacher at Strasburg High School, runs the family farm with his brother Gary. The brothers raise beef cattle on the remaining farmland and hay that they harvest to feed the livestock.

The farm occupies more than 190 acres and the entire property eyed for protection includes a 6-acre island in the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. The property lies along a bend in the river. The tip of that property was subdivided from the main tract and sold years ago.

Now the Vances plan to put the farm into a conservation easement that would protect the property from development for years to come. The Potomac Conservancy began working with the Vances in 2011 to draw up the easement and other steps in the process. Emily Warner, land protection director for the organization, explained on Thursday that the process has involved many trips around the farm, assessing various attributes of the land. Warner uses a GPS to mark points around the farm and along the property line. She also takes photographs that go into the records for the property easement.

Baseline documentation, Warner explained, helps define the easement restrictions. For example, the easement deed limits the development on the Vance property to less than 2 acres and restricts the land around and including the home on the site. The documentation shows the condition of the property at the time of the easement signing.

"Baseline documentation is important because it helps determine whether easement restrictions have been followed," Warner stated in an email Friday. "Also if a violation were to occur, the baseline provides evidence for how the property used to look, which can help in defending the easement terms."

Warner's work continued Thursday as she and Larry Vance took another ride in his all-terrain vehicle to a different section of the property.

Vance recalled that the developer of the nearby Deer Rapids Lane neighborhood came to their mother, Elizabeth Stickley Vance, in the 1960s and made her "a tremendous offer" for the family farm. Back then, Vance said, development in the county usually meant subdividing land and marketing parcels as temporary vacation spots. Vance said his mother asked him for advice.

"I said 'keep it,'" Vance recalled.

The farm is designated a century farm under the state

"I don't know that this farm changed history," Vance said. "But I do think it made a contribution."

The farm, including a mill that no longer exists, did survive U.S. Gen. Thomas Sheridan's ride through the valley in the Civil War that left many farms burned.

The farm dates back to 1771 when Thomas Fairfax, Sixth Lord Fairfax of Cameron, deeded property to Peter Black that eventually would include the Island Ford Farm. By late March 1811 Samuel Kern owned more than 226 acres of the property and began a farming and mill operation. Kern and his daughter Rebecca are buried on the Vance's property. Rebecca and her sister Susan, who married William Stickley, made their home on the farm.

The Stickleys had six children, including Frank Kern Stickley Sr., great-grandfather to Larry and Gary Vance.

Two of the Stickley children owned the farm in the mid-1940s and then sold the property to Clydess D. Stickley, son of Frank Stickley Sr., according to information from Vance.

Clydess Stickley farmed the property until he died in 1956. He grew seed corn, hay and small grains; milked cows and kept other animals to support the farm. Horses made way for tractors as farming changed for Clydess Stickley over the years, according to Vance.

The farm passed to his widow, Helen F. Mitchell Stickley, and, upon her death in 1977 to the Vance's mother, Elizabeth Stickley Vance. Their father, James Vance, had died in 1994.

The farm operators replaced the milking operation with beef cattle in the mid-1960s. The farm involved the producing and selling of beef cattle using brood cows. This approach continued until the Vance's mother's death in 2007. The brothers switched to strictly raising the cattle they could sell and move off the farm.

The next year when the brothers finished the process to take ownership of the property, Larry Vance recalled their attorney, Kevin Black, asked what he intended to with the farm. Vance responded, "Nothing." The brothers planned to keep running the farm as it operated since the beginning.

Vance then learned of another more immediate and financial benefit to protecting the farm - tax credits. Putting land into a conservation easement can qualify the owner for certain tax credits.

But beyond the financial gains from protecting the property, Vance said he sees the move as a way to keep the land in farm use for years to come.

"I think this farm is a local resource well-deserved the protection from development," Vance said.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com


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