Valley Conservation Council Has Worked to Preserve Land and Assist Land Owners for 30 Years
The Valley Conservation Council is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. It’s a member supported, non-profit, nationally accredited land trust, that is based in Staunton, Virginia. It serves eleven counties including Highland and Bath.
Genevieve Goss is the Upper James Program Director for the Valley Conservation Council.
“It goes back to 1990,” says Goss. “A small group of people gathered in Staunton then. They were faced with unprecedented growth in the Shenandoah Valley. Things that people just had not seen before. They met to see what they could do, not to stem development because we realize that it is inevitable, but to protect key lands and to direct development to the right places.”
The Valley Conservation Council works to conserve land, water and regional ecosystems. It strives to preserve working farms, forests, open spaces and scenic views. And it also promotes best practices in land use and development and supports cultural and historical heritage.
“Well, I think that we have to look to the future,” says Goss. “There are very few things that you can do right now that make a difference a hundred years from now, but protecting your land is one of them.”
The Valley Conservation Council also works with landowners to develop tools for land conservation, such as conservation easements.
“We are not a state or a federal agent, we are a private land trust,” says Goss. “We don’t get a financial benefit from doing it. Conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust that protects land and its conservation value permanently. The landowner still owns their property, but the conservation easement is recorded and it is a permanent legal document that transfers with the property to future owners. The easements themselves offer people the opportunity to protect their property. We have people that have had farms in their families for six generations and they’re concerned about how that farm can stay in the family. And one of the ways that can happen is through a conservation easement credit. So when the easement is recorded there are both federal and state credits allowed, and of course that can be discussed with professionals, but it does give the landowner some financial tools to keep the land in the family.”
There can be some confusion surrounding conservation easements.
“You don’t have to be an easement donor or a big landowner to be part of VCC,” says Goss. “We welcome memberships from all walks of life. Secondly, easements are not just for very large properties. In today’s world, each parcel is judged on it’s individual merit. Another myth is that you can’t use or develop or build on a property with a conservation easement. Actually, traditional uses, agricultural uses or forestal uses are allowed, as well as some division or building sites depending on how large the property is. And a final myth is that by doing the easement you are not granting public access, you are not creating a state park for everybody. A conservation easement protects public interest, but the public does not have to traipse all over your land.”
For more information, contact the Valley Conservation Council office at 540-886-3541 or visit valleyconservation.org.