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Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Every bit of unused land doesn't need to be developed: Conservation Trust offers an alternative

By Alan Rowsome, executive director of the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust. 

As residents of Northern Virginia, were witnessing our communities develop rapidly with an influx of new businesses that are soon to call this region home.

There are many positives to living and working in such a thriving area, but it is also crucial that we protect the natural, outdoor places we love so that present and future generations can enjoy them the way we have.

With more than 1.1 million people living in Fairfax County alone, we must actively preserve green spaces, clean water sources, and wildlife habitat or risk the health of the community we call home.

The Northern Virginia Conservation Trust (NVCT), based in the Packard Center in Annandale, has protected more than 7,000 acres of land throughout Northern Virginia over the past 25 years. In fact, we’ve protected more than 650 acres in Fairfax County alone.

From one-acre parcels to much larger tracts, we look for land with conservation value that is  worthy of protection. NVCT is your region’s land trust working to safeguard the places you love by keeping property undeveloped and intact for future generations. We preserve the beauty and sustainability of our lands and waters, our quality of life, and the air we all breathe.

Northern Virginia’s lands offer rich natural and cultural heritage while providing spaces to decompress, opportunities for outdoor recreation, and wildlife habitat that are enjoyed by all ages.

One of the ways we protect these natural places is through conservation easements. These are legal agreements between a landowner and a land trust that relinquishes developable rights on a property, thus protecting the lands’ natural values.

The state of Virginia and the federal government offer significant tax benefits to property owners who put a conservation easement on their land. A property owner who executes a conservation easement continues to hold private ownership of the property while safeguarding its natural land. The land trust is then a partner with the owner to ensure the terms of the easement are upheld.

This all might sound scary and complicated, but it’s really a simple process that an organization like ours can walk you through. Conservation easements are flexible tools and they do not always have to apply to an entire property. The Northern Virginia Conservation Trust is an expert in land conservation tools and works closely with property owners to ensure protection of open space in perpetuity.

Conservation easements can be tailored to individual landowners and their needs as long as they are preserving the conservation value of the land. An easement on a property that is home to a rare plant species, for example, could prohibit further development, while a working farm could allow for additional structures to support agriculture.

If you own property or land that doesn’t have developable rights, there are additional options to consider for conservation, as well as financial benefit. 

Donating land outright to an organization like ours would potentially allow for the tract to be protected and managed by us as a pocket park or nature preserve, with the landowner no longer having to pay property taxes on the parcel and likely receiving significant tax benefits from the charitable gift. This can be done on full or partial lots depending on the situation. 

NVCT now owns 21 such places around our region which, when possible, will be opened up for public access and managed for the values that we all hold near and dear.

In addition to land conservation, NVCT is an active participant in your local community. We offer a number of volunteer events annually, such as trash cleanups, invasive plant removal, wildlife and nature hikes, educational events, photo contests, and much more.

If you feel as we do that we have an obligation to future generations to leave our community as thriving and livable as it is today, then we’d love to get you involved with our volunteer events. This is an excellent opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors, meet great people, and give back to our neighborhoods.

There’s still so much more you can do. You can become an advocate for our environment or make a donation to us in support of the clean water we drink, the plants and animals we love, and the land we cherish.

Do you own land in our area that has woods, a stream, a farm, or a historic site? A place, no matter how small, that matters to you that you don’t want to see lost? If so, then we want to hear from you. Call us at 703-354-5093 or check us out at

NVCT wouldn’t be successful in this work without partners like you, so please let us know how we can help.


  1. Thank you!

  2. How about educating the newly arrived immigrant homeowners to stop cutting down our mature tree inventory? We need enforcement; I cannot count the number of trees that have been brocolli headed or cut down in my neighborhood, because the tree choppers come into town every fall and spring and scare the wits out of these people. If trees are cared for: watered, fed and pruned they can sustain most storms. Cutting them from the top weakens the trees, thus providing less food source to the roots. These people should be fined to stop this savagery. We all suffer when these trees get eliminated thus incrasing the heat island effect, runnoff and natural polution filters. But no the County is too busy pandering to nonsense rather than investing in its future.

  3. The difficulty is members of the BOS who actively encourage development rather than conservation e.g. the Malbrook parcel in Mason District. then smugly congratulate themselves on their excellent stewardship of the land.

    1. I couldn't agree more! It is so frustrating to watch them take campaign contributions from these developers and then help them line their pockets by rubber stamping their projects. The BOS are like the Lords of the Manor, nothing happens in their districts without their approval. This is a corrupt system and it should be cleaned out. Good luck with that happening in Virginia.

  4. Hooray!!

    I know who's getting a big chunk of my donations for Christmas this year.... ;)