RD593 - Virginia Outdoors Foundation 2016 Annual Report
Land conservation in Virginia reached two major milestones this past year. First, several pillars of Virginia’s land conservation program, including the Open Space Land Act, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, and the Board of Historic Resources, celebrated their 50th anniversary. Second, the state recorded its one millionth acre protected by conservation easements.
To celebrate our 50th anniversary, VOF hosted several regional events for partners and landowners. The main event, called the Virginia Outdoors Festival, was held in October at Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve in Loudoun County. Banshee Reeks was once a private farm. The owner passed away in 1979. In his will, he provided for an easement to be placed on the land “for the education and scenic enjoyment of the general public.” The easement was recorded with VOF in 1984. In 2001, the property became a county nature preserve and has since provided thousands of area families with opportunities to connect with nature through education and recreation.
Banshee Reeks is a shining example of the work that VOF set out to do when it was created by the General Assembly in 1966. At that time, the urban and suburban areas in Virginia were growing rapidly. Citizens recognized that they needed to preserve open spaces so that future generations would have places where they could connect with the outdoors. Conservation of open space would also help to ensure protection of clean water and air, wildlife habitat, and productive farms and forests.
In 1965, led by Senator FitzGerald Bemiss, the Virginia Outdoor Recreation Study Commission published Virginia’s Common Wealth, which served as the blueprint for one of the most progressive statewide conservation initiatives in the nation. That blueprint resulted in the 1966 legislation that created VOF. The foundation’s job was to facilitate private philanthropy in support of these goals.
Since that time, VOF has been one of the most successful land conservation programs in the nation. We have protected open space at a rate of nearly two acres every hour. Our portfolio of 800,000 acres is almost the size of Rhode Island. Today, 95% of all Virginians live within 10 miles of VOF-protected land. Most of this land is farmland and forestland, but VOF also protects parks and preserves that serve thousands of families throughout the Commonwealth. Public polling continues to identify public access as a major concern in the Virginia Outdoors Plan, especially as people better understand the relationship between outdoor experiences and health, especially children’s health.
What is the best role for VOF to play in meeting this need? That is the question we are asking policymakers and partners as we position VOF for the next 50 years. Competing priorities for state funding means that it will be more important than ever for VOF to facilitate the kind of private philanthropy that Senator Bemiss and other authors of Virginia’s Common Wealth envisioned. We believe we have a strong foundation to build upon, but we will need your help. Together, we can make sure that future generations will be able to enjoy the cultural and natural treasures of our “Common Wealth” for decades to come.
/s/ Brett Glymph