A farm just shy of 400 acres in Bedford County is one of the latest land parcels to become protected under a conservation easement through a Virginia land conservancy organization.
The most recent addition to protected acreage under Central Virginia Land Conservancy and Blue Ridge Land Conservancy is a 390-acre farm in the northern part of Bedford County.
The farm off Big Island Highway was not for sale when Wendy Schumann first drove by it in the late 1980s, on a trip away from her home in the Virginia Beach area where she worked as a paramedic and volunteered with various charitable organizations, but she knew it was where she wanted to live.
“I got tired of the city,” Schumann said. “I said, ‘I’ve got to find a place to hide. I need to get out of the city.’”
Having grown up in a small, fairly rural Midwest town, the countryside was calling.
Schumann inquired with a local real estate agent, who in turn spoke with the farm’s previous owner, but since the owner was not interested in selling at the time, Schumann started looking elsewhere in the area.
After seeing some other properties, Schumann’s dream came true: the owner decided to sell the farm. Schumann purchased the property in 1988, finished having a new house built on it in 1999, and has spent the last 35 years living there in harmony with nature, what she calls a symbiotic relationship.
A lifelong gardener and self-described conservationist since childhood, Schumann cultivated an organic garden on the property, and shared apples with the wildlife from the trees scattered about the grounds. She also operated a greenhouse for a few years, and attempted to start a business with a blueberry patch. Schumann shared eggs, herbs and vegetables with colleagues and community members, and got her house running on passive solar.
Turkeys, bears, coyotes, deer and birds of all kinds are among the myriad wildlife that find a safe haven on the 390-acre expanse, which is protected from hunting.
“I sit out on the porch, and I can watch them. I just love sitting out there and watching their life cycles,” Schumann said. “I hear the coyotes at night, and the whip-poor-will just started a few days ago. It’s peace to me.”
The land features about 200 acres of forest, Schumann added. It was selectively logged in 1985, and the operation resulted in a series of trails on the property. These trails made for perfect walking and ATV riding, she said.
The farm was not only a sanctuary for Schumann and local wildlife. For 29 years, it also functioned as a retreat for her former EMS and paramedic circles, mainly from the Virginia Beach area. Groups got together for camping and cookouts, and a respite from the busy city.
“It’s been anywhere from a dozen people, to 40 people. We’ve done it every single year,” she said. “We just had a blast.”
Schumann heard about the land conservancy organization and conservation easements while reading an article about another property recently protected on the other side of her mountain.
“The land has been getting piecemealed all the way up and down U.S. 122, and I said, ‘I don’t want to see that happen here.’ This is so beautiful right here, and I’d like it to stay as one piece. No subdivision, no extra buildings, no businesses,” she said. With this in mind, she reached out to the land conservancy organization.
Getting a conservation easement for the farm was easy, Schumann said. All she had to do was call.
“They sent somebody out, and I talked to a couple of ladies. We got everything surveyed and done. They came out and walked all the property, and made sure I had strings, requirements, and buffer zones. It’s an easy process, because they do a lot of the work,” she said.
The Central Virginia Land Conservancy (CVALC) is one of three branches in a nonprofit Virginia land conservation organization. The Central Virginia branch merged with Roanoke-based Blue Ridge Land Conservancy in 2019, growing the organization into a more cohesive entity to work together and protect more land, according to Kyle Simpson, program manager for CVALC.
So far, the organization as a whole has protected more than 31,000 acres of land in the Commonwealth with conservation easements across 16 counties and the City of Lynchburg, Simpson said.
“The goal is to always keep the property a viable source of income for the family who lives on it, but to limit how much development can happen to it so it maintains those aesthetic and natural qualities that make it so special,” he said.
CVALC works with properties of all sizes, and landowners from all backgrounds, Simpson said. While larger programs such as state-level ones tend to work with large swathes of land, CVALC can offer more flexibility.
“Our niche is that we are a little bit more flexible than some of the other organizations that handle conservation easements in our area, and we can work with families who own less acreage,” Simpson said.
The average land size the organization works with is about 100 acres, Simpson said, and the smallest easements tend to be in the ballpark of about 50. The largest easement so far covers 1,000 acres.
“We run kind of the whole range of sizes there,” he said.
A variety of land types are eligible for these conservation easements, Simpson said. Farms; forests; crop lands; scenic properties like acreage along the Appalachian Trail or the Blue Ridge Parkway; ecologically important areas. All these and more may qualify for landowners who want their properties protected.
Landowners are able to choose parameters for their easements. Often, Simpson said clients with larger land parcels opt to allow their children to build a home on the property if desired, but otherwise limit development. Some landowners do not want any development at all, or find it incompatible with the property.
Beyond personal preferences landowners hold, Simpson said land conservation has broader implications and benefits for entire communities.
“When one farm decides to stay a farm, that improves all of the water that flows through it, so that affects all the people who live downstream. When that farm stays a farm, it means that there’s more agriculture in the area, which sustains the broader population,” he said. “When areas remain natural, it provides a lovely place that boosts tourism for the area and keeps that lovely scenic quality that I think we all love about this area.”
Once rural land has a conservation easement finalized with the organization, it is protected in perpetuity, Simpson said. The conservation easement is legally attached to the land’s deed, and the organization serves as the partner entity which holds the easement, so even under new ownership, inheritance, and any other changes, the organization sees the easement is honored.
“We’ll be working for our landowners long after they’ve passed away,” Simpson said.
Agriculture and forestry are Bedford County’s largest land uses and economic drivers, according to Pam Bailey, director of economic development for the county. Census data from 2017 showed 43% of Bedford County land is agricultural.
After more than three decades, Schumann is moving out of state to be closer to family. Aging and health have forced her to make the transition, although she hates to leave.
Schumann hopes the next steward of her beloved farm will share a similar vision for the land. She said she has been working with realtors and some other organizations to find just the right successor.
“I want someone that’s interested in conservation, wildlife habitats, natural food sources for the critters,” she said.
Commercial orchards, vineyards, or equestrian centers are not what Schumann has in mind for the property, she said, despite some inquiries that have been made.
Having the conservation easement in place gives Schumann some peace of mind as she has to move on.
“People are not paying attention to nature, and we’re losing balance,” Schumann said. “Everybody’s electronic, and it’s just, they forget about going outside and smelling the rain, and watching the storms, and watching the critters go by, whether it’s day or night. We’re losing how to be in touch with the earth.”
More information on the organization and conservation easements can be found at: cvalc.org
For more on land trusts around Virginia, the state has a searchable database: https://www.dcr.virginia.gov/land-conservation/landcon-organizations