Embracing a Conservation Mindset in the Foothills of Western Virginia with the Chesapeake Forest Fund
Lori Keenan and her family purchased their 234 acre farm in 1999. At the time, the family sought an escape from their residence in the middle of the bustling Washington, D.C. area. They found relief in the foothills of the Blue Ridge in nearby rural Virginia. Their family retreat, Ballina farm, quickly evolved from just a weekend home to a catalyst for personal conservation discovery.
Soon after purchasing the property, the Land Trust of Virginia approached Lori and her husband, Sean, to protect Ballina farm under a permanent conservation easement. By selling or donating the rights to develop land, an easement allows a landowner to receive significant tax benefits. For Lori and her family, these benefits cemented for them that conservation was both environmentally responsible and financially feasible: “If we had known about easements, we might have purchased a larger farm. As is, the easement program has made our farm more affordable than we ever thought possible.”
A few years following the conservation easement acquisition, Lori and Sean learned that their farm was also eligible for a riparian easement if they agreed to keep cattle out of Chattins Run, the stream that traverses the property. Lori has noticed a dramatic response in the landscape since they established the riparian easement: “Watching the property rebound from cattle grazing has been amazing. The water in Chattins Run is much clearer, and the eroded banks are starting to repair themselves.”
The noted water quality improvements will continue to develop thanks to Lori and Sean’s most recent decision to participate in the Chesapeake Forest Fund. As participants, Lori and Sean received over 1,900 trees that the Alliance planted across nearly eight acres of Ballina farm in spring 2015. The majority of these trees were planted along Chattins Run as well as intermittently dry streams. Forested buffers improve in-stream processing of nitrogen by two to eight times that of a grass buffered stream. The Chesapeake Forest Fund will also assist Lori and Sean to combat invasive plants, a common management challenge.
Lori and her family permanently moved to Ballina farms in 2007. Today, Lori is a chair of the Goose Creek Association, the watershed of which Chattins Run is a tributary, and serves on the board of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters. As Lori puts it, “Conservation is a way of life out here and has become a large part of our lives.”