The Margaret and Charles Biggs Story
by Susan Whalton, LTEP
“For the Good of the World”
Each individual’s connection to the land is personal. Sometimes that connection is so deep that it becomes a vow of protection.
The connection that Margaret and Charlie Biggs had with their land was deep, heartfelt, and it was sealed by a sense of responsibility they both shared. Charlie’s career in civil engineering had inspired a reverence for land and an interest in land management. He realized the need to keep land in its original form. Margaret, a student of the humanities and history, recognized that the act of protecting their land was a way to leave behind something for the common good – “for the good of the world.”
Their awareness, which was farsighted and enterprising back in the 1990’s, when many landowners in Morgan County viewed land as an inexhaustible commodity, helped lay the foundation for the concept of conservation easements in the Panhandle.
The Biggs first reached out to the Nature Conservancy to explore the possibility of placing their 50 acres under a conservation easement.
Said Margaret, “ Rodney Bartgis with the Conservancy walked our property and did not find anything significant to protect in terms of their group’s mission.” Mr. Bartgis did, however, see value in conserving the property, and he suggested that the Biggs contact the Land Trust of the Eastern Panhandle. “We were delighted to make that connection,” said Margaret.
The Land Trust was delighted as well.
In 1998 the Biggs property was placed under a conservation easement with the Land Trust of the Eastern Panhandle, and the Biggs fulfilled their vow of protection. For the Land Trust, the Biggs easement represented only the second easement on which the fledgling organization had ever closed. Mr. Biggs passed away in 2012. His legacy as a conservationist in Morgan County cannot be overstated; the Charles Biggs Recycling Center is named for him. The Land Trust is grateful to the Biggs for their trust in our organization. And we are extremely proud to tell their story.
From her current residence in Westminster Canterbury in Winchester, Margaret shared some of the history of her land, which includes the history of the Swaim family and their extensive holdings in Morgan County.
The Biggs purchased their first tract of land from a developer to whom the Swaims had sold land, and added additional tracts and acreage over the ensuing years. Their property, which is beautifully situated next to Sleepy Creek Wild Life Management Area, is primarily woodlands and habitat traced by small runs. Margaret recounted memories of the couple’s rich and fulfilling lives together on the property.
They are memories redolent in the joy of walking out each day with their dog, Dixie, usually after lunch, along paths that crossed the grassy areas and wound into the woods. Seeing the wild azalea, the witch hazel and fox glove. Watching the leaves on the bushes and trees change with each season. Witnessing the wonder of each spring, when life would burst out to begin the cycle of the seasons all over again.
“We built a house, which was fun for us. Charlie loved working with wood, and he placed the house so that we could use solar panels and install geothermal heat.” In her dialogue Margaret was always linking the past and the present, noting that the young man who has been tending the house and property will continue to live there. “He is a great conservationist.”
She will leave the property to her daughter, also named Margaret, and her son in law Peter. “That pleases me”.
“Charlie and I both loved it so much, living there. It was a perfect retirement. I am so grateful for the things I have in life that I can share. And it is nice for me to think of it (the land) always being the way it is.”
Margaret’s security in knowing that the future protection of their beloved property is guaranteed, no matter who owns it, is because of the conservation easement.
“I would encourage anyone who is even thinking about conserving their land to do it, and urge everyone to think about their land – even if it’s a small property – to think about what they can do to take care of it. We are seeing more and more how we need spaces where green things are growing.”
She professes faith in the present and future generations. A faith that is amply justified in the outlook and actions of her children and grandchildren. Besides her daughter in Morgan County, Margaret has another daughter who retired with her husband to a farm in Highland County, VA; they have placed their farm under a conservation easement with the Nature Conservancy.
The wisdom, realism, and hope of Margaret Biggs, and her husband, Charlie, are a shining light in today’s world where uncertainties can sometimes obscure our vision. Their faith in the Land Trust of the Eastern Panhandle in its earliest days cemented our own vow – to continue to help protect what remains of the wonders of our landscapes, streams and creeks, and to ensure that these irreplaceable resources are preserved forever. As Margaret said, “for the good of the world.”