WV Land Trust protecting clean water and farms in Greenbrier Valley

(Photo by Matt Monroe)
Headwater stream

The West Virginia Land Trust joined with two private landowners in 2017 to protect headwater streams and springs by conserving the native forest and farming uses of their lands, located near Blue Sulphur Springs and Gap Mills, through the establishment of voluntary conservation easements.

Darlene Fife and Robert Head own a 111-acre mountain farm in the steep headwaters of Muddy Creek near Blue Sulphur Springs. Three perennial streams, fed by numerous springs and seeps from rocky ledges, flow through the land’s forest and a small homestead farm in the valley’s bottom.

“Ever since 1974 I have considered it my task to preserve the land, the animals and the waters, while at the same time maintaining a small homestead,” explained Fife.

The West Virginia Land Trust customized a deed of conservation easement to support Fife and Head’s vision that their land’s open areas remain in use as a small family farm and native forest be protected as a watershed and nature preserve. Fife said, “We believe the conservation easement with the West Virginia Land Trust will ensure the land will continue to be a wildlife refuge for both plants and animals, the waters will remain pollution free, and a small homestead can continue to be in harmony with its surroundings.” Through annual monitoring and defense of the terms of the easement, the West Virginia Land Trust will work to see this vision is secure into the future.

Evelyn Hansbarger and family, owners of Sweetwater Farm, teamed up with the West Virginia Land Trust and the Monroe County Farmland Protection Board to accomplish their goal to protect their land near Gap Mills forever as a working farm and forest.  Using the legal tool of a voluntary Agricultural Land Easement developed by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the farm’s conservation values are protected from subdivision, development, and land management that degrades soil and water.  The land’s agricultural uses, including forestry, and clean water resources are maintained through conservation of agricultural soils and Second Creek headwater springs, streams and wetlands.  Farm and forest management will continue to be guided by best practices outlined in Agricultural Land Easement plans and Forest Stewardship Plans, respectively.

The Sweetwater Farm project was supported by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Agricultural Land Easement program, the WV Outdoor Heritage Conservation Fund, the West Virginia Land Trust, the Monroe County Farmland Protection Board, and the landowners.

(Photo by West Virginia Land Trust)
Sweetwater Farm signing: Seated: Ashton Berdine, WVLT (left); and Evelyn Hansbarger; Standing: Jack O’Connell, NRCS (left); Matt Oliver, NRCS; Larry Burwell, Chairman, MCFPB; Anna Ziegler, Ziegler and Ziegler; Amy Cimarolli, WVLT; Clark Hansbarger; and Travis Hansbarger.

The purpose of the Farmland Protection Program is to preserve land for farm use.  The Monroe County Farmland Protection Board acquires conservation easements under the West Virginia Voluntary Farmland Protection Act §8A-12-21.  Since its inception in 2002, 19 easements and more than 4,051 acres have been placed under protection with the Board in Monroe County and 2,175 of those acres were donated.  Over the last 15 years MCFBP has successfully leveraged local resources to bring over $2,190,000 of State, Federal, and non-profit organization funds to protect farms in the County.  For more information about this program visit Monroe.wvfp.org.

The West Virginia Land Trust protects special places across West Virginia.  This is the third farmland protection conservation easement that the organization co-holds with the MCFPB.  The WVLT holds conservation easements on seven other farms in the Greenbrier Valley, from Greenbank to Greenville.  Founded in 1995, the West Virginia Land Trust is a statewide non-profit 501 (c)3 dedicated to protecting West Virginia’s natural lands, scenic areas, water quality, and recreational access.  For more information visit wvlandtrust.org.