For more than a decade, land developments have been an increasingly active area of real estate enterprise. The developer buys a large tract at a relatively low price, subdivides it and sells the individual lots.

This may sound simple but it really isn't. There are a lot of costs involved in this big business, which has had its problems as land projects proliferated in Florida and the Southwest.

One of the really large enteprises in this region was Lake of the Woods, west of Fredericksburg, Va., which set a new development pattern when it carved 3,800 one-third-to-one-half acre lots out of 2,600 acres.

Smaller recreational land areas have also been assembled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains near Virginia's Skyline Drive and the Shenadoah River.

The search for small farms or mountain acreage retreats has also brought a number of suburban subdivision-oriented Washingtonians to West Virginia.

One of the them was Samuel P. Ashelman, a former general manager of Greenbelt Consumer Services, Inc., who became a consultant here. (His 17-year career with the Co-op and Scan-operating, consumer-owned corporation saw annual sales mount from $1 million to $22 million.)

Like many other urban residents. Ashelman was looking for a way back to the land. He found it in 1963. On a camping trip in the Berkeley Springs area of West Virgina, he was seeking shelter in a snowstorm when he saw a "For Sale" sign.

"Not only did I find a place to stay overnight," he recalled. "I also made a deal within 24 hours to buy several hundred undeveloped mountain acres" a few miles from the juncture of Routes 9 and 522. The site included a 15-room mansion that built early in the century by a naturalist-writer-scholar named Herbert Quick. Built on a spring, Quick's mountain retreat was called Coolfont.

Ashelman invested about $500,000 in the development, amassing about 1,800 acres. He created two lakes and named them for his daughters, Lisa and Sari, and built a a restaurant called Treetop Lodge. In the past decade, some 40 houses and chalets have been built and 90 lots sold, many of them to Washingtonians.

Earlier this year a 24-room apartment-hotel called Woodland House was also completed.

Although he is now 64, remarried and snug in the Coolfont manor house - where he keeps an eye on the feeding and "re-creation" activities handled mostly by a young staff - Ashelman is not without a new project.

Called Whiting's Neck, it is located closer to Washington inside a big bend in the Potomac about seven miles north of Shepherdstown, W.Va. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held this spring on this 600-acre site, which assembled from farmland.

Unwilling to be part of anything that could be labeled as just another land development, Ashelman enlisted his own three sons (Peter, Randy and Erie) and his wife's son, Stephen Crane, to create an area of five-acre lots that will be tied both to farming and equestrian activity.

Some of 85 lots are wooded and located on a bluff above the river. The cheaper ones are are open and rolling. Land prices range from $18,000 to $35,000. Houses are required to have a minimum 1,400 square feet of enclosed living area. Ashelman says two lots have been sold and several transactions are pending.

"In addition to the beautiful home sites, we are creating a large equestrian center under the direction of professional horsewoman Mary Rose, a fellow of the British Horse Society," he added. "The indoor area, about 16,000 square feet, is already under roof. Stables will be available for 65 horses."

Because the development is in a farm area, Ashelman has set up a farm agent program for lot purchasers who want some of their land to be cultivated.

"We think the Ehiting's Neck concept is unusual in terms of both recreation - with an emphasis on horses and riding - and farming," the developer said. "We are getting many visitors who are thinking about semi-retirement in an environment that is serene without being sleepy."