When I started my job with Capital Region Land Conservancy in 2009, the organization had been in existence for 4 years. There were 5 conservation easements on 1,175 acres, all co-held with other land trusts or conservation organizations who CRLC relied upon to lead the way. There was only one other paid staff person, and CRLC was not yet accredited. I spent my days doing outreach to landowners in Richmond and all seven counties of our region working to ignite a land conservation ethic that we hoped would slowly take hold. Education and trust take time. I think it’s safe to say, a flame has definitely been lit, and a lot has happened in the last 13 years!
Today, Capital Region Land Conservancy holds easements or owns land on over 2,623 acres across 25 properties and we’ve helped to protect major landmarks like Malvern Hill Farm and landscapes like the “View that Named Richmond” on the James River. The trajectory is good and strong! No longer do I spend my days doing outreach, but rather working to respond to the demand of citizens from our entire region who have learned the value of conserving their land and hope CRLC will be able to assist them. Alongside our 25 protected properties, I have relationships with over 35 landowners and family members, 2 friends groups, localities and even homeowners associations.
Stewardship is as much about protecting the land as it is about engaging with the people who are closest to it. As the Land Conservation Manager, the best part of my job has always been meeting and working with people who love their land and want to protect it. Landowners spend more time day to day, year after year getting to know their land than CRLC can. When a landowner really cares for their land, it makes my job a whole lot easier. The majority of the time, landowners go above and beyond to ensure the natural, historic, and other resources on their property are cared for and protected for future generations.
Equally as awesome is getting to “meet” the land, walk it, hear about it, and learn why landowners love and have loved it so much. I’ve walked through pine woods, beside sandy bottomed streams and marshes on the Chickahominy, through thickets and upland hardwood forests, stood beside expansive agricultural fields, and seen many a view of the mighty James! As folks say, even a bad day in the field beats any day at a desk!
I can’t deny that the hardest part of my job is when things don’t go as planned. At worst, that could mean a landowner’s activities on a property may have affected its conservation values. We’ve had very few stewardship “issues” on our 2,623 acres over the last 13 years, for which I am very grateful. I’ll take some credit for that success. Likewise, for the “issues” we have had, I have to take some responsibility. Stewarding conservation easements is really about relationships and communication. And the few times a landowner has not understood the implications of not following the terms of the conservation easement and done something we had to have corrected… well, maybe that’s just a sign there’s more relationship building to be done.
As CRLC grows, so grows the responsibility and privilege of relationship building and maintenance. Every year, from my outpost here in Hanover County, I get a great natural reminder of how I should approach this work. As I bemoan the copious amounts of leaves that fall on our yard from the surrounding woods and the thought of interminable raking enters in, I am reminded to not stress over getting it all done in one day, but to pick an area, something I can accomplish, put in the work, and move on. It’ll get done.