A national environmental group has named the hunt country of Loudoun and Fauquier counties as among a dozen areas across the country most threatened by sprawling development.
The dubious distinction as a "Last Chance Landscape," bestowed by the Washington-based group Scenic America, is intended to focus attention on grass-roots efforts to protect natural and historic landmarks from residential and commercial growth.
"The hope is that this is going to put a national spotlight on these problems and raise the profile of the efforts underway to preserve the landscape," said Ray Foote, Scenic America's vice president. "These are areas worth preserving, whether it's rural landscapes or scenic roads.
"We're not saying there shouldn't be any development; we're saying people should be sensitive to how it's done," Foote said. "Growth and change are inevitable, but ugliness is not."
The local area outlined in the group's report, which was released Tuesday during a presentation at the Willard Hotel in Washington, is about 80 miles across and 40 miles wide, stretching from the Shenandoah Valley to the Catoctin Mountains. It is bordered by Route 15 to the east, Interstate 81 to the west, U.S. 211 to the south and the Mason-Dixon line to the north.
Peggy Maio, the Loudoun representative for the Fauquier-based Piedmont Environmental Council, said she hopes the attention drawn to the region will cause state and federal officials to notice the rampant growth and assist the local government in protecting farmland and forests.
"This area is a resource for the nation's capital," Maio said. "It's a drive in the country."
The council counts the designation as the latest victory in some local efforts to slow growth in Loudoun, the nation's third fastest-growing county.
Earlier this month, a slate of slow-growth candidates swept the elections for the county Board of Supervisors.
Board of Supervisors chairman-elect Scott K. York (R-At Large), who campaigned on promises to slow development, said his transition team is meeting with residents, builders and environmental groups to come up with specific plans to manage growth.
"It's what we hope to work on in the next four years," York said. "We're focusing on the national beauty that's there and making sure it's here in hundreds of years for people to enjoy."
The Scenic America report recommends that Loudoun follow the recommendations of the county's Rural Economic Development Task Force, a citizens group appointed in 1997 by the supervisors to develop a rural economic development plan.
Recommendations offered by the task force include creating a lending program for farmers, beefing up marketing of the county's locally grown produce and rural tourist attractions, and providing a tax break to horse owners who keep large lots.
In Fauquier, the council is asking county and state officials to carefully consider the effects of widening roads and creating new interchanges, said Kathleen Rogers, the council's chief staff counsel.
"These are areas of important agriculture reserves," Rogers said. "It's small-town America, incredibly scenic and historic."
The Shenandoah to Catoctin region outlined by the group also includes sections of the Appalachian Trail, Skyline Drive, Harper's Ferry, W.Va., and many Civil War landmarks, including Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg.
Scenic America, best known for its work targeting billboards, started its threatened landscapes program this year and plans to prepare an annual report highlighting different areas nationwide, Foote said.
To prepare the report, the group sought nominations over the summer by sending mailings to local governments and environmental and historic preservation groups across the country, Foote said. Scenic America received 47 applications and selected 12 regions based on the threat to the area and the efforts of residents to preserve natural resources.
Foote said the region that includes Northern Virginia and portions of West Virginia and Maryland caught the attention of Scenic America officials because separate parts of the area were nominated by several groups, including the Piedmont Environmental Council, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Land Trust of the Eastern Panhandle.
Other areas named by the group as threatened landscapes include the Missouri Ozarks, where activists worry that a proliferation of billboards is destroying the view; Kennett Pike, a rural Delaware roadway that state transportation officials have proposed widening; the Moab Rims in Utah; Guanella Pass in Colorado; the Swan River Mile-Wide Corridor in Montana; the Liberty Prairie Reserve in Illinois; Walden Woods in Massachusetts; and downtown Fort Pierce and the Indian River Lagoon in Florida.