By Alex Bridges
WOODSTOCK -- A federal agency's plan to buy land east of Mount Jackson could protect forestland and that town's water supply.
Stephanie Chapman, an interpretive specialist with the U.S. Forest Service, told the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors this week that a private landowner has asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture if it had an interest in buying part of an area called The Knob, located east of Mount Jackson, between a residential development and the George Washington National Forest.
As Chapman explained, acquiring 137 acres of The Knob would protect the land from future residential development. The purchase also would help protect the North Fork of the Shenandoah River and the Chesapeake Bay.
"We are trying to protect the Chesapeake Bay watershed," Chapman said. "Watershed [protection] is a critical part of what we do as forest managers.
The specialist also noted the local, protective angle of the purchase.
"I didn't realize until working on this project that a third of Mount Jackson's water supply would be protected if we could protect The Knob," Chapman said.
Chapman pointed out that two wells or reservoirs located near the base of the property in question serve the town's water supply.
"It would also help us to protect the unbroken mountaintop viewshed," Chapman said.
The agency manages the Massanutten Trail, a national recreation trail that runs in federal forestland adjacent to the property in question. Chapman said the agency could allow access to the viewshed by way of the trail. This would expand recreational use of the site and give visitors a "gorgeous view" of the Shenandoah Valley, Chapman said.
A nesting pair of Peregrine falcons also has been sighted on the property.
"Unfortunately, people are accessing The Knob," Chapman said. "They're going on private land to do it ... so by us having the ability to acquire the land we'll make it open to everybody."
Chapman described The Knob as "the iconic view" seen from Interstate 81 heading north from New Market.
"It's one of those views that everyone just loves and so we want to try to protect it from any further development," Chapman said. "The nice thing is the owner is very anxious to sell it to us."
County Planner Patrick Felling provided a map to the board and staff that shows the property in question and the surrounding area. The map indicates that the property lies between national forest land and a housing development east of Mount Jackson.
The agency has submitted a proposal seeking federal money through the land and water conservation fund. Two parcels are for sale. The agency is interested in buying the larger of the two parcels that covers 137 acres.
Chapman explained that the agency has put four parcels near the George Washington National Forest in its funding proposal. The Knob parcel lies in the Lee Ranger District. The other parcels lie in the southern districts of the forest, Chapman said.
However, if approved, the agency doesn't expect to receive funding until 2015. The agency would then try to buy the land if available, she said.
The agency sought a letter of support from the board for its effort in obtaining the federal funds needed to buy the property. Chapman said a letter "would go quite a ways in making our application more viable."
The agency already has received letters of support from Mount Jackson and a group of volunteer partners, Old Dominion Endurance Ride.
Acting County Administrator Mary Beth Price pointed out the tax value of the land in question is $438,700, and that $52,100 is in land-use assessment. Real estate tax on the property for 2013 was $281.34.
Supervisor David Ferguson voiced support for the proposal.
"I think it's a good thing if the forest [service] could get that parcel of land to protect the viewshed of the mountain," Ferguson said. "I think one of the things that the mountain has at night, it's such a beautiful mountain and then you see the lights creep up the mountain.
"I'd hate to see lights at the top of that mountain, and so anything that we can do to protect that, especially that high," Ferguson added. "That's such a prominent attraction to look at, I think we should do it, especially if we're looking at less than $300 in tax on that property."
The board likely will consider a letter of support at its regular meeting Aug. 13.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org