|HALIFAX COUNTY—Governor Ralph Northam celebrated Earth Day yesterday by announcing that the Commonwealth has received a gift of approximately 7,300 acres of privately-owned land in Halifax County, the single largest private conservation land donation in Virginia history.
The tract, known as Falkland Farms, will be owned and operated by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) as the first-ever joint Natural Heritage and State Parks project. In what will be called the Southside Virginia Conservation and Recreation Complex, the property will be managed for biodiversity conservation and eventually provide public outdoor recreation opportunities.
“This announcement represents one of the most significant conservation successes in Virginia history,” said Governor Northam. “Falkland Farms is exactly the kind of priority land we want to conserve and by setting it aside for conservation, we will protect the natural habitat and ecosystem, increase floodplain resilience, and preserve its scenic views. I am deeply grateful to conservation philanthropist Tim Sweeney for his generosity and vision in conserving this land and for entrusting the Department of Conservation and Recreation with this tremendous opportunity.”
Governor Northam’s ConserveVirginia land conservation initiative uses technology to identify the highest value conservation areas in the Commonwealth based on 19 mapped data inputs in seven categories. ConserveVirginia has designated the entire property as high priority for conservation.
The tract will serve as a connector between the Difficult Creek Natural Area Preserve and Staunton River State Park, creating the largest DCR-owned land holding and one of the largest state-owned conservation lands in Virginia. At more than 10,000 contiguous acres, this new complex will be larger than any of the Commonwealth’s existing state parks. Nearly 40 miles of streams and 1,000 acres of wetlands, including mature forested wetlands, will be permanently conserved.
Hailed by conservationists as an area of high biodiversity, 17 species of rare plants and animals have been documented on the property to date. DCR’s Virginia Natural Heritage Program will embark on one of the largest habitat restoration projects in the southeastern Piedmont region at the site, using prescribed fire to restore the Piedmont savanna and forest ecosystems the tract once supported.
In addition, the tract forms a key link in a landscape-scale network of natural lands with the Kerr Reservoir, Banister River South, and Wolf Trap federal wildlife management areas. These state and federally owned properties will total 40,000 acres of conserved, contiguous wetlands, floodplains, and upland forests.
“The conservation of Falkland Farms is an extraordinary investment in large landscape conservation that offers opportunities to restore globally significant natural communities and habitat for imperiled species,” said Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew J. Strickler. “This will make the entire region more resilient to changes in climate and land use.”
In the future, DCR plans to offer public access in a way that complements outdoor recreation activities at Staunton River State Park and expands the biodiversity management and restoration at Difficult Creek Natural Area Preserve, both of which are adjacent to the property. DCR will soon kick off a series of public meetings to update the master plan for Staunton River State Park and collect input on how Falkland Farms should be put into recreational use.
“This project provides opportunities to restore Piedmont natural communities at an unprecedented scale, and it ultimately will grow the local economy by meeting increasing demands for recreational trails and water access,” said DCR Director Clyde Cristman. “This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fulfill not one, but multiple, missions for our agency and the Commonwealth.”