Restoring Riparian Forests in the Blue Ridge of Virginia
In 2013, the Civil War Trust purchased 195 acres of land alongside the Shenandoah River near Bluemont, Virginia. This site was the location of the July 18th, 1864, Battle of Cool Spring. As part of the site’s historical preservation, the Trust sought to transform the property from an abandoned golf course back to a native mix of woodlands and warm season grasslands.
After the Virginia Department of Historical Resources placed the battlefield under preservation, the Civil War Trust engaged Shenandoah University to manage and restore the property and to build it into an outdoor classroom and public space. Gene Lewis, the Cool Spring campus property manager, and the rest of the Shenandoah University stewardship team sought to expand upon the existing thirty acres of forest on the property by reforesting the four short tributaries running off the Blue Ridge Mountains through the property and into the Shenandoah River.
When part of the golf course, these tributaries were likely significant sources of pollutants into the Shenandoah River. Poorly managed fertilizer application to turfgrass leads to increased nutrient loss into waterways during storm events. Excessive nitrogen and phosphorus pollution are among the major causes of the Chesapeake Bay’s poor health. Riparian forest buffers significantly reduce the amount of nutrients reaching our waterways, and also help stabilize stream banks, sustain fish habitat, reduce air pollution, and increase in-stream processing of nutrients.
Lewis faced an early road block in his reforestation campaign. The existing primary federal cost-share program for riparian forest buffers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the USDA FSA Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), is designed for farmers. In order to qualify for this program you must own “agricultural” lands, a term strictly interpreted to be land currently or historically supporting livestock or crops. This definition encompasses the majority of rural landowners who have streams on their property.
However, the Alliance has identified a growing audience of what we call “non-typical, high priority” landowners, who can offer significant nutrient reductions to the Chesapeake Bay community by placing forest buffers on their property, but are ineligible for federal cost-share. The Alliance created the Chesapeake Forest Fund in 2014 to support the reforestation efforts by these landowners left behind by federal programs. Thanks to financial support from the Altria Group and our partnership with the Virginia Department of Forestry, the Alliance and our contractor planted five acres of riparian buffers on the property this April. Over their lifetime, the mix of native oaks, red maples, tulip poplars, persimmons, and dogwoods will sequester an estimated 844 metric tons of carbon.