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Posted December 26, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Izaak Walton League protects its land

By Alex Bridges

The Izaak Walton League of America's Warren County chapter has promoted conservation and the outdoors for nearly 85 years. But only recently has the chapter sought to protect its 155-acre home from development by donating its site as a conservation easement to the Virginia Outdoors Foundation.

The chapter's decision to put its property into protective easement falls in line with its support for conservation, said President Harry Reed.

Not all Izaak Walton League chapters have put their properties in protective easements. But the Warren County chapter may have an edge that attracted the Virginia Outdoors Foundation. The Izaak Walton League property includes a long border with the Shenandoah National Park and can be seen from overlooks along Skyline Drive, Reed said.

"This, in their eyes, makes us more valuable," Reed said.

The chapter property also includes a large swath of wetlands, a native trout stream and many unique plants, he noted.

"I'm very much an outdoorsman in that there's not much of the area I haven't been over in my life," he said. "It's still one of the prettiest places I've ever seen in my life."

The chapter leadership decided to protect the property it also uses for numerous educational and interactive outdoors activities.

"We're trying to have a piece of property that's never really developed, subdivided, turned into housing, things like this," Reed said. "This conservation easement puts everything into the deed. In other words, if this land ever passed into private hands they couldn't develop it."

The league chapter's site doesn't face any immediate threat of development, Reed said.

"Basically that's one of the principles of the Izaak Walton League is that they want to keep open space," Reed said. "We don't want anything developed."

While the chapter's property remained safe from development all this time, Reed explained that putting the land into conservation also reduced its value and makes it less attractive to private developers. The easement cuts the property value by 40 percent, Reed explained. Likewise, the property would provide less value to anyone who sought to sue the chapter, he added.

"But the thing of it is, litigation and stuff like this, somebody gets hurt and they want to sue. It makes this property less valuable for most people because it can't be developed. We haven't had any problem, but there's so much litigation and suits going on at the drop of a hat."

He described the chapter's deed and its included restrictions as a large tome of a document that took a lot of work and help from an attorney.

"We knew what the restrictions were and as a conservation group agreed with it,"

While the league also has no intention of selling its property, any future owner would have to abide by the easement restrictions.

The Izaak Walton League's conservation "is a lot more common sense," he said.

"There's so much conservation out there that's pie-in-the-sky," Reed said. "In other words, there are so many organizations they want to jump on the first thing that comes along without considering the ramifications."

Conservation easements can allow some development on a piece of property.

"We're limited, and what we use for recreation and everything like that I can't foresee that we need to do that much development in the future even way down the line," he said.

The chapter bought the 155-acre property in 1955 when much of the land's forests had been cut. The property looks different now with nearly total tree cover, he said.

The chapter can't build or disturb the soils within a certain proximity of Gooney Run.

For nearly 85 years the chapter has promoted clean air, soil, woods, water and wildlife in the Northern Shenandoah Valley. The chapter uses the property for outdoor recreation, education and wildlife habitat. Buildings on the grounds, including the chapter house, date back more than 100 years, according to information from a foundation press release.

The Virginia Outdoors Foundation recorded two other easements in Warren County this year to protect 730 acres in the Rockland Rural Historic District. One of properties fronts the Shenandoah River for more than one mile. The Virginia Outdoors Foundation holds easements protecting approximately 6,500 acres in Warren County.

Protections along Gooney Run qualified the easement effort to receive an $8,000 grant from Trout Unlimited's Coldwater Land Conservancy Fund to help cover the legal and appraisal costs associated with recording the easement.

Visit https://sites.google.com/site/warrencountyvachapter/ for more information about the league in Warren County.

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

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