Trust aims to link the green across N.Va.

By Christy Goodman
Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Northern Virginia Conservation Trust's goal for the next 15 years is to ensure that area residents will be connected to some kind of green space in their everyday lives -- be it a park, stream, trail or preserved natural area.

"Green space should be as much a part of our infrastructure as roads . . . or a power supply," Rich Bliss, the trust's founder, said to people at its annual fall fundraiser at Oak Hill in Annandale.

Since the trust's founding in 1994, the organization has preserved 5,370 acres throughout Northern Virginia. It holds 93 conservation easements and owns 22 properties.

"Our survival depends on our stewardship of what we've been given. It is not all just about man-made changes to our daily behavior but interacting with the natural world," Bliss said in an interview. "I know that sounds kind of ethereal and all that, but it is true."

The group is setting out to connect green spaces across the region, including privately owned properties, trail systems and parks. Group members pour over aerial photos and find green areas, said Michael Nardolilli, the trust's executive director. Then they locate property owners and try to explain the federal, state and local tax benefits of conserving their property, as well as the environmental benefits, he said.

They work with local governments to incorporate those targeted passageways into their comprehensive plans, Nardolilli said.

The City of Alexandria, for example, has a partnership with the trust to work with people whose properties are within the Green Crescent. The crescent, a targeted green space area for the city, runs from Four Mile Run, along the Potomac River to Jones Point Park, said Laura Durham, the city's open space coordinator.

Green Crescent property owners "and the city get a lot of benefits through a voluntary conservation easement," Durham said. She also said the city is working to protect more land with each new development, which is helping it to reach its larger goal of having 100 acres preserved by 2013.

Another example of the trust's work is Oak Hill, a home dating to the 1790s. The house and the 2.6 acres it sits on is preserved in perpetuity by the trust.

Fairfax County officials and the trust worked with a developer who had bought the house and surrounding property to place easements on the land. It includes boxwood plantings more than 200 years old and some Georgian-influenced and Colonial Revival architecture, said Sharon Bulova (D), chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

Including Wolf Trap, parkland and easements such as at Oak Hill, more than 35 percent of Fairfax County is preserved green space, Bulova told guests at the fundraiser at Oak Hill.

"Over time, as more and more people become aware of the benefits of this type of environmental structure, I think more people will buy into it," Bliss said. As they do, more and more of the "tapestry of the environmentally friendly outer circle for" the District will be created, he said.

The fall fundraiser netted about $15,000 for the conservation trust.

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