Over the past 25 years we can see how easements have reflected the priority the land has been for the community. In the early days (1997-2004), the first easements of the Land Trust protected forested landscapes, wild life habitat, streams, and historically important property. The first 3 easements in 1997, 1998, and 2000 were very important in demonstrating the Land Trust’s role in protecting the Eastern Panhandle. All 3 easements were straight donations to the Land Trust by people who lived on and loved the land for its natural beauty of forests, fields, natural habitats, wildlife, springs, streams, and history.
The first conservation easement in 1997 was on 70 acres of land in Berkeley County owned by the McMurray family. The property was located east of Hedgesville at Harlan Spring along Harlan Run. The property is historically important having been in the same family since the original Land Grant around 1744. It has historic structures and it was the site of a Civil War encampment. The easement protects the agricultural landscape, and history of the area, as well as protecting Harland Spring and Harlan Run, which flows into the Potomac River.
The second conservation easement was established in 1998 by Charles and Margret Biggs in Morgan County adjacent to the Sleepy Creek Wild Life Management Area. The 50-acre easement provides a buffer from development and additional forested habitat adjoining Sleepy Creek Wild Life Management Area, preventing sprawl in a rural area. The tract has a headwaters tributary of Mountain Run, which is a tributary of the Potomac River.
The third conservation easement in 2000 was placed on 125 acres in Morgan County near Great Cacapon by William and Judy Belton. A mile-long ravine containing Willet Run a tributary of the Potomac River is a distinctive feature of the protected property. The easement protects a natural forested landscape, with wildlife habitat. William Belton, a renowned ornithologist, protected the property for breeding habitat for forest interior birds, and a refuge for neotropical migrant birds. William believed and demonstrated that private citizens play an important role in preserving what we value. Read more about the Belton conservation easement here.
In 2004 partnerships began with the newly formed Farmland Protection Boards (FPB) and 7 easements were added 2 by the Land Trust, 2 with the Berkeley FPB, and 3 with the Jefferson (FPB). The Land Trust implements easements that are donations from landowners, who accept a tax credit in exchange for the easement value. Partnerships with the Farmland Protection Boards provided money to purchase easements with a portion of the county real-estate transfer tax, which they were allocated and matching funds from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Read more about the Bishop conservation easement here.
From 2005 to 2012 mostly in partnership with Farmland Protection Boards, 35 easements were added with an average of 5 per year and a range of 2 to 11 easements per year, protecting over 3900 acres. Most of the preservation focus was on farmland under cultivation. Farming has been an important part of the economy of the Panhandle and continues to be (view more about agricultural easements here). Also, easements protected land around 2 historic homes, as well as a 100-acre working forest. Six easements preserved Civil War Battlefields.
From 2013 -2019 farmland continued to be protected with conservation easements. In 2013 the Land Trust began a partnership with the Jefferson County Land Marks Commission to preserve the Shepherdstown Battlefield located along the route of General Lee’s retreat where he crossed the Potomac after the Battle of Antietam. Also located in the preserved area is the historic cement mill, which made the special water capable cement used to build the C&O Canal. A forested easement was added protecting a forest floor ecosystem, and also protects a steep bank along Opequon Creek from erosion.