Stream running through Atkins Acres Community Park in Chesterfield County

Celebrating CRLC Women Conservationists

On any given week, I field five to ten calls from landowners wanting more information about easements and how they work and whether CRLC would consider their property a good candidate for conservation. At least half of those who call are landowners who have cared for and loved their land for decades. Landowners have many reasons to be concerned about the future of their property, be it because of potential development, that they have no heirs, or worry that their heirs will divide the land leading to uncertain outcomes. In these conversations, many have been brought to tears (as have I) by the thought of losing their legacy of land stewardship that filled them with so much satisfaction and joy.

Women’s History Month offers us the time to celebrate those women who have heeded the call of conservation. As with historic preservation efforts or the founding of so many museums, women have been leaders in making land conservation history as well. In fact, Capital Region Land Conservancy’s very first conservation easement was through the generosity of Powhatan County matriarch, Helen Graham.

Brick historic home with a signpost and sign reading RoseneathHelen championed the cause for conserving her family’s 337-acre historic homeplace, “Roseneath” which had been in her family for over a hundred years. While I never had the pleasure of meeting Helen, her legacy lives on because her land is forever protected.

Since our early beginnings, CRLC has recorded easements on almost 700 acres in our region thanks to over a dozen conservation-minded women. I’ve had the honor and privilege of personally working with all of them, each seeking to protect their land by either donating a conservation easement or by donating their land directly to CRLC.  

Thanks to the foresight of four strong women, over 300 acres in Hanover County have been protected including a llama farm with an historic house, as well as acres of undeveloped land protecting Totopotomoi Creek where the landowner “…want(ed) the woods to continue to welcome deer, raccoons, wild turkey, forest birds, and the wood ducks on the creek.”

Arial view of Cherrywood property in Hanover County, Virginia

Another landowner’s master naturalist knowledge led us to understand her untouched property was an important location for a diversity of native bird species and the value of her land as breeding and wintering habitat for them as well as a migration or travel corridor. The agricultural significance of prime forest and farmland as well as the rural landscape where her grandmother had shared tales of walking from the property to the historic Patrick Henry’s Scotchtown (where they danced throughout the night in its central hall!) led another passionate property owner to conserve her lands. “We couldn’t bear the thought of the land being sold off for development. The sunrises and sunsets are as magnificent as any you want to see. I just have a strong personal belief that we need to do whatever we can to preserve our land and outdoors for future generations.”

On the other side of town, we worked with a landowner who sought to protect 10 acres of family land her grandmother had worked hard to assemble in Henrico County so that it could continue as a farm. I was profoundly touched when she shared, “without your help and perseverance, I would never have succeeded in saving my land.”

In Charles City County, where increasing pressure to convert forested land to solar is happening, we helped a landowner protect rare plant habitat on her 58 acres.

Over the years, I’ve heard many people comment that they have invested their whole lives into their properties, which makes land conservation a meaningful endeavor on so many levels.

Oakdale in Powhatan County

For example, CRLC has helped four women landowners conserve a total of 330 acres in  Powhatan County where together they have protected: property that could be described as a cathedral of mature hardwood forest; a stately historic home with rolling fields and riverfront; and a bucolic equestrian center where the landowner is proud of what she has been able to do by putting the farm to agricultural use that preserves Powhatan’s rural heritage. “I have tried over the years to be a good steward of the land and protect the wildlife and streams on the farm…and I don’t want another subdivision here in the future.”

In Richmond, thanks to a long-time resident, an iconic view of the mighty James River has been protected with an easement. And in Chesterfield a generous landowner determined to protect islands in the Appomattox River, donated them so that they could remain in their natural state and be preserved for the enjoyment of many.

Hikers on a CRLC guided hike stand around a vernal pool located on the Atkins Acres landAnd last but certainly not least, some landowners may not see their dreams realized while they are with us, but their wishes are manifested through the efforts of CRLC and their estates and partners. Thanks to the dying wish of Anna Atkins, who I had the pleasure of meeting and bearing witness to her kind spirit and her tireless dedication to realize her dream of leaving her land for others to enjoy, over 100 acres are protected in perpetuity in Chesterfield County and designated to become the future Atkins Acres Community Park.   

Hats off to these women and to all future conservationists for making history for the benefit of us all!

Picture of Jane Myers

Jane Myers

Director of Land Conservation