ROANOKE, Va. (Oct. 31, 2019) — The Open Space Institute (OSI), USDA Forest Service, and the Chesapeake Conservancy today announced the completion of a large-scale conservation project in western Virginia. The project, which adds property originally protected by OSI to the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, was completed through the use of federal Land and Water Conservation Funds, as well as private dollars.
The 4,660-acre “Grace Furnace” property is one of the largest tracts to be acquired for conservation purposes in Virginia in decades. Its protection will preserve a local historic asset, enhance recreation access, and protect the water quality of Craig Creek, a tributary to the James River and the Chesapeake Bay.
The land was purchased by OSI in 2016 with funding from the Wyss Foundation. This month, OSI then conveyed the property to the Forest Service, which prioritized the project for funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
“Permanently protecting the ‘Grace Furnace’ property is a tremendous achievement in large-scale land conservation that will benefit both nature and people,” said Kim Elliman, president and CEO of OSI. “We are grateful for the support of the Wyss Foundation and to all those who advocate for our nation’s Land and Water Conservation Fund. And we congratulate our partners at the USDA Forest Service and the Chesapeake Conservancy for their unwavering commitment to protecting this property.”
“The protection of the Grace Furnace property is the result of a public-private partnership that will safeguard this unique natural area for generations,” said Greg Zimmerman of the Wyss Campaign for Nature, a Wyss Foundation initiative to accelerate the pace of land conservation. “This land will forever be open to the public for recreation and available to wildlife for habitat; and all the while protecting critical water resources, including the James River and the Chesapeake Bay.”
The acquisition of this tract, which is bordered by the National Forest on three sides, not only enhances Forest Service management, it also ensures protection for freshwater streams in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The tract supports 14 freshwater springs, 10 miles of trout streams, and borders 1,000 feet of Craig Creek. The tract contains potential aquatic habitat for the federally listed endangered James spiny-mussel and two State-listed threatened species (Atlantic pigtoe mussel and Orange madtom fish).
The addition of the property to the Forest System Lands protects an historic structure, for which the property is named: an iron-ore furnace located on the property that dates from the early 19th century. The property is located adjacent to the Forest Service Hoop Hole National Recreation Trail and the property provides access to Craig Creek, a popular recreation waterway for boating and fishing.
“The George Washington and Jefferson National Forests are committed to managing lands to sustain healthy forests and clean water. The addition of the Grace Furnace tract to Forest System Lands highlights the success of collaboration among federal agencies and partners that help us sustain our natural resources,” said Joby Timm, Forest Supervisor.
“This important acquisition continues the legacy of the Jefferson National Forest in protecting water resources, conserving wildlife, and providing recreational access to public lands,” said District Ranger Dan McKeague.
“With its beautiful trees and wild trout streams at the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay, the Grace Furnace property is big, special and inspiring,” said Joel Dunn, president and CEO of Chesapeake Conservancy. “This successful project highlights the importance and power of combining philanthropic and public investments in protecting our planet, which are both required to conserve land of this caliber and size. The addition of these 4,664.5-acres to the National Forest makes a significant contribution toward our goal of protecting 30 percent of the Chesapeake watershed by 2030, but we still have a long way to go.”
A celebration event this spring will kick off a public engagement process following guidance set forth in the National Environmental Policy Act and the Jefferson National Forest Plan to determine how the property will be managed into the future.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund is a bipartisan, federal program that uses a percentage of proceeds from offshore oil and gas royalties — not taxpayer dollars — to acquire critical lands and protect our country’s best natural resources.