Preserving the past

Shenandoah Valley Battlefield Foundation acquires key historical site

By Katie Demeria

STRASBURG — The Shenandoah Valley Battlefield Foundation has made an “unprecedented victory in historic preservation,” according to CEO Keven Walker.

The foundation recently developed a partnership with several groups to place a conservation easement on over 179 acres in Strasburg, known as the Island Farm. The land is entirely within the bounds of the Cedar Creek battlefield.

Walker, Allen Louderback, the foundation’s chairman, John Hutchinson, the foundation’s director of conservation, and Eric Campbell, chief of interpretation at Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park, announced the acquisition at a news conference Wednesday.

“In the early stages of the battle, when the Army of the Valley, under Jubal Early, was in the midst of executing one of most audacious and risky attack plans ever developed during the Civil War, one of their three attack columns actually crossed along the southern part of Island Farm in order to reach their positions and launch their predawn attack,” Campbell said.

With the land now under easement, the foundation plans to allow the public access to the area through trails near the creek, which runs along the Island Farm for about 900 feet.

“By this time next year we’ll start the plans for the connecting trail from Fisher’s Hill,” Walker said.

The battlefield at Fisher’s Hill has an extensive trail system that, according to Walker, the foundation has been working on for quite some time.

“The idea is to have that trail connect through the town of Strasburg to the battlefield trail system here at Cedar Creek,” Walker said. “A key linkage could possibly be the trail access across Island Farm.”

The project has taken five years to complete. According to the foundation’s news release, the land came close to development several times since the early 1990s.

“All totaled, 228 residential building rights have been extinguished by the easement with only one building right reserved by the owner,” the release states.

It cost $2,272,000 to place an easement on the land. The foundation contributed $329,063, the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation contributed $238,937, and the United States Department of Agriculture Farm and Ranchland Protection Program contributed $1,704,000.

Walker said that the landowner, Doug Boyd, “left over $1,500,000 worth of value on the table at the end of the day, and donated $150,000 in cash of his own money to make sure this came to fruition.”

“This type of partnership is relatively rare,” Walker said. “Over the last 30 or 40 years of what we call the modern preservation age, there have been very few times when such an eclectic group of people have come together for such a relatively obscure piece of land that has such significant importance.”

The easement will work not only to ensure that the land is preserved for historic use, but will also allow for agricultural use. Boyd will continue to farm on the property, as has historically been the case. According to Hutchinson, 89 percent of the soil on the property is ideal for growing food.

Walker also cited Strasburg as a key player in the easement as well. He said the town took a look at its resident’s tomorrows, “and a hundred thousand tomorrows after that.”

“The town of Strasburg took an unbelievable risk in backing a project like this,” Walker said. “Strasburg made this happen.”

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com