Foundation continues conservation efforts

Tabitha Whitacre, development coordinator/research and advancement for Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, walks along this 24-acre site of the Fishers Hill Battlefield near Toms Brook, which the foundation is planning to purchase through state and federal grants. Rich Cooley/Daily
Tabitha Whitacre, development coordinator/research and advancement for Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, walks along the Fishers Hill Battlefield near Toms Brook, which the foundation is planning to purchase through state and federal grants. Rich Cooley/Daily

NEW MARKET – Over the course of the year, Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation moved forward with plans to preserve more than 80 acres of land with the assistance of around $700,000 in grant money.

Out of six total projects in development in 2015, four involve land in or around the 593-acre Third Winchester Battlefield Park, where the foundation opened the visitor’s center on the land preserved from its Kirby project in September. Conservation Director John Hutchinson said the foundation focused on Third Winchester as one of its premiere properties.

Most recently, the foundation received $123,000 from the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation to help acquire 30 acres of core battlefield land for its West Woods project, which is adjacent to already preserved Third Winchester land. All totaled, the match contributions for the project would come to more than $4.5 million, and Development Coordinator of Research & Advancement Tabatha Whitacre said the foundation is looking to move forward in the acquisition process in January.

Hutchinson’s application for the grants state that the West Woods land would contain an extension of the park’s trails that are already in use. It also states that the property provides for substantial wildlife conservation.

“West Woods is a pretty unique property,” he said. “It’s been under a contract a number of times over the years and fallen through, including for a big box store.”

“On one side it’s got that shopping center, but on the other side it’s got 600 acres of protected land,” he continued. “It’s a matter of capturing that last bit.”

West Woods is one of the larger projects the foundation took on in the area – the Kirby project land that hosts the visitor’s center is a five-acre parcel, while the Yost property that was up for residence sale is one acre. Those projects may seem like small change when compared with recent years’ acquisitions like the 180-acre Island Farm property, but Hutchinson said impending development made those projects a priority.

“They are the most urbanizing place where we were, so there’s a bit of urgency to acquire things there when they’re available because there isn’t a whole lot left,” he said. “While they’re smaller chunks, we’re a little bit more sensitized to doing things when we can there.”

Looking at potential projects in 2016 and in years to come, Hutchinson said the foundation is keeping up active communications in regard to 32 properties, which total more than 32,000 acres that are valued at more than $21 million.

“We try to be there ahead of time, and after 15 years we have enough of a relationship on most of the battlefields that … they know we’re interested,” he said.

Those relationships benefited them when the Gheen property in the core Toms Brook battlefield area went up for sale earlier this year and a local landowner notified the foundation because of its interest. Hutchinson said the foundation had those 24 acres under contract within three days of the sign being posted and Whitacre said it’s slated to close by the end of the year.

“All the property around it was completely protected, it has amazing viewsheds, so who wouldn’t want to come in and buy that?” she said.

The foundation has closed on three of their six projects from 2015, with the remainder still in some stage of deliberation.

“We’ve had a really great year,” Whitacre said. “Since July of 2014 we have preserved over 600 acres, which is pretty significant. Right now we’re saving land at about an acre and a half per day.”

Learn more about the foundation’s projects at http://www.shenandoahatwar.org/.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com

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