RICHMOND, VA – The allure of the James River Park System attracts thousands of visitors to its woods, trails, and shorelines annually. Its 600 acres along the north and south bank of the James River provide flood protection and riparian areas while also providing critical natural habitat for terrestrial and aquatic species being impinged by downtown neighborhoods such as Riverview, which is more commonly known as Maymont due to its adjacent grand-estate namesake.
For some nearby residents, the proximity of the James River Park System is an important factor for choosing a home in the neighborhood. For Chris and Jody Liesfeld, raising their family amidst the setting of the park was a primary goal as they set to build their dream house on Carter Street. Yet as development pressure increased in the area, long-time residents of Riverview began to worry that the attractive natural character of their neighborhood and its nearby parks may be under threat, and the Liesfeld’s purchase only heightened that worry.
“It had been a property neighbors cautiously watched as we witnessed the transformation of surrounding streets,” said Mark Brandon, President of the Maymont Civic League. “We were very suspicious upon learning that someone had bought the property.”
However, to the delight and relief of many neighbors, the Liesfelds share a deep appreciation for environmental stewardship, and as they planned their home, the Liesfelds worked with Capital Region Land Conservancy (CRLC) to set aside a 3.036-acre area of deciduous woods along the North Bank Trail connector between Texas Beach and Maymont along the historic Kanawha Canal to be protected by a conservation easement in perpetuity. The conservation easement restricts development so that no dwellings can be built and the woodlands will be preserved to protect water quality and native species. Through a separate agreement, the Liesfelds have also committed to combatting the invasive species and removing debris from the property.
The Liesfeld’s journey to protecting these 3 acres included community and civic engagement with the Maymont Civic League and Richmond City Council both of whom endorsed their conservation plan.
“After having held several neighborhood meetings with the Liesfelds and having gained the conviction of the Capital Region Land Conservancy, we can say now that we are forever grateful to those who listened and helped accommodate our neighborhood’s wishes,” said Mark Brandon of the Maymont Civic League.
“What’s most remarkable about the Liesfeld easement is how responsive it was to the needs expressed by the people in the community. It was an exemplary case study of ‘community conservation’ that uses the strengths of the land trust to meet specific needs expressed by people,” said Parker C. Agelasto, CRLC’s Executive Director.
Furthermore, preservation of the Liesfeld’s property through CRLC’s protection achieves a number of conservation goals important to the region. The property preserves the scenic and aesthetic integrity of adjacent historic and cultural attractions such as the Historic Falls of the James Scenic River, Middle James River Water Trail, James River Heritage Trail, and the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. The property also serves as a green infrastructure connection with the James River & Kanawha Canal Historic District that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and identified in ConserveVirginia as being in the Top 10% of places to safeguard.
These conservation merits make it clear that the Liesfeld’s vision to protect their new land extends benefits far beyond their property line, making the new property an asset to the family, neighborhood, and natural community alike.
“We recognized how lucky we were to have a woodland property in the city and especially one along the river and park system. Because properties like these are scarce, it became clear to us that we needed a plan for our new home that included protecting the woodlands. With the help and support from CRLC and the Maymont Civic League we were able to make this protection a reality. We look forward to moving into the neighborhood where we’ve already made great friends with families on our block,” said Chris Liesfeld.
“We’re fortunate to have the abundance of parks and open space in the 5th District,” remarked City Council Representative Stephanie Lynch. “However, when a private citizen steps forward and seeks to conserve more land and provide a permanent natural area buffer to our trails and support the community’s vision, we’ve reached a synergy that doesn’t happen often enough in Richmond.”