our community. We recognized, and the [park exploration] committee recognized, the need to set aside some open space or parkland.”
Merely a mile west of Strasburg, the Keister property includes a steep sided hill overlooking the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. It was named for the Keister family, who grazed dairy cattle on the land from 1945 to 2000. “It’s a marvelous piece of land and was highly sought after,” said Marcus Ordonez. “It was well worth the local taxpayer dollar to help acquire it.”
Last August, the county unveiled a master plan for its newest park (available online at http://co.shenandoah.
va.us/parks). The plan proposes campsites, hiking trails, and boating and fishing access to the North Fork. It calls for restoring riparian buffers along the river to improve water quality and increase wildlife habitat.
The master plan also calls for making the most of stunning views available from the hilltop. Visitors can gaze south across the North Fork to Signal Knob, a prominent local landmark that was once the site of a Confederate signaling station. During the Battle of Cedar Creek, Confederate troops crossed the North Fork just west of the Keister property in their final, vain attempt to retake the Valley. Views north from the hilltop take in much of Cedar Creek battlefield, home to Belle Grove Plantation and scene of annual reenactments.
“We’ve received good support from the locals and had great participation at some of our planning meetings when we set our master plan up,” recalled Marcus Ordonez. “We’re actually moving into phase one in January. Hopefully we’ll start construction this spring or summer.” In the first of three phases, Shenandoah County will construct roads and a parking lot, locate utility infrastructure, and build a boat ramp.
Improvements at the Keister Tract won’t come cheap. Fully implementing the master plan, including a 3,000 square foot interpretive center and small amphitheater, would cost more than $2 million.
Marcus Ordonez said he sees the state’s initial investment through VLCF as the catalyst that prompted county residents to dream big for their new park. Winning the VLCF grant enabled his department to stretch limited resources. Public enthusiasm following the acquisition then prompted Shenandoah County officials to go forward with the proposed improvements.
“I would encourage parks and recreation departments and localities to participate,” he said of the VLCF grant program. “It’s allowed us as
a parks agency to leverage local funding for park resources. So the program has not only opened local decision makers eyes to help finance programs, but also helped us to meet our goals as an agency as well.”
For more information on the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation, including how to apply for 2006 grants, visit www.dcr.virginia.gov/vlcf or email DCR Land Conservation Coordinator Sarah Richardson at sarah.richardson@dcr.virginia.gov. VR
Many of the tools that VLCF experts use when evaluating grant proposals are available to the public and can help local governments and nonprofits identify properties with high conservation value.
Virginia Conservation Land Needs Assessment
The Virginia Conservation Lands Needs Assessment (VCLNA) uses geographic information system (GIS) technology to map land conservation priorities. Now online at www.dcr.virginia.gov/dnh/vcln, phase one of the effort identifies natural lands and wildlife corridors in Virginia’s coastal zone, which includes Hampton Roads, Virginia Beach, Richmond and the Northern Virginia suburbs. Despite these population centers, VCLNA maps show more than 2,200 cores, or unfragmented natural areas, and documents their ecological significance. Additional maps identify potential wildlife corridors that could be restored and existing habitat vulnerable to development. Work is underway to expand the VCLNA to include maps and data for the entire Commonwealth.
Virginia Outdoors Plan
The Virginia Outdoors Plan (VOP) is a comprehensive plan for meeting the commonwealth’s outdoor recreation, land conservation and open space needs. It serves as a guidance document to local governments and state and federal agencies. A new plan is developed every five years, with
the last published in 2002 and the next due in 2007. The plan identifies communities in need of expanded outdoor recreation facilities, potential corridors for rail trails and greenways, and potential scenic roads and rivers. Download or order the plan at www.dcr.virginia.gov/prr/vopfiles.
Virginia Landmarks Register
Like the National Register of Historic Places, the Virginia Landmarks Register identifies structures, objects and places that played an important role in history or embody the cultural foundations of the nation. Administered by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR), the list is available online at www.dhr.virginia.gov/registers/
register.htm and also published in book form, complete with photos and descriptions.
Virginia Forest Resource Information Mapper
Maintained by the Virginia Department of Forestry (DOF) at www.forestrim.org, the Virginia Forest Resource Information Mapper is an interactive tool that allows users view the commonwealth’s forested lands atop topographic maps and aerial photos. Optional map layers depict infrastructure, gauge forest health, and wildfire risk.
Virginia Agricultural Vitality Program
A joint project of the Virginia Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services (VDACS) and the Virginia Farm Bureau, the Virginia Agricultural Vitality Program helps to keep farmland in production. Online at www.savefarms.org, the program aids local governments in the purchase of development rights to farms within their jurisdiction. The program also administers FarmLink, which connects young and aspiring farmers with retiring farmers looking to sell land. As part of its mission, the program educates farmers and the public on farmland preservation. VR
For more information:
Nathan Lott
Public Relations Specialist
Dept. of Conservation
and Recreation
203 Governor St., Ste. 213
Richmond, VA 23219
(804) 786-7951
Identifying land worthy of conservation