Story and photos by Heidi Baumstark

Forever. It’s a pretty powerful word. It implies permanence, no turning back. When it comes to protecting the permanence of Virginia’s countryside, the Land Trust of Virginia (LTV) specializes in it. For over a quarter of a century, LTV has been protecting Virginia’s heritage of open spaces, natural resources, farms, forests and water forever.

On May 19, LTV held their 21st annual “Garden Party to Save Virginia’s Countryside” at historic Hickory Tree Hall located on Hickory Tree Farm, a 300-acre Thoroughbred breeding, training and horseracing facility on a farm of rolling pastures and spectacular views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Guests mingled and marveled at this historic Middleburg property, stewards of Joseph Gargan and Susan Pope.

The event was graciously hosted by Mimi Abel Smith who once lived at Hickory Tree Farm and who still lives nearby. When Gargan and Pope were asked if Hickory Tree could be the site of this year’s garden party, they happily agreed, according to Sally Price, LTV’s executive director since 2017. These annual garden parties are hosted by various Virginia farm and estate owners and provide the perfect venue for hundreds to gather to celebrate the success of LTV and to honor heroes dedicated to this notion of “forever” when it comes to preserving the Commonwealth’s natural and cultural heritage through conservation easements.

Founded in 1992, LTV is a nationally accredited private 501 (c) (3) organization that partners with private landowners who wish to preserve their working farmland, natural lands and/or water resources for the benefit of the community and future generations. Currently, LTV holds 175 easements across 15 counties in the Commonwealth, which comes to just shy of 20,000 acres. Loudoun ranks first at 8,679 protected acres (98 easements) with Fauquier ranking second at 4,784 acres (38 easements).

Awards were presented in three categories: Steward of the Year, Landowner of the Year and Conservationist of the Year. A special Conservation Award went to Tony Buffington, Jr., Blue Ridge Supervisor for Loudoun County.

Food was catered by Pampa’s Fox, wine and beer was provided by local Slater Run Vineyards and Old Bust Head Brewery, flower arrangements by Barbara Sharp, plus local art with this year’s special feature, Painting for Preservation, as well as a Silent Auction. The Painting for Preservation project was the idea of Lilla Ohrstrom, LTV board member, local artist and owner of Youngblood Art Studio in The Plains. Artists were positioned in various parts of the farm to paint the scene in front of them, which were then auctioned off as “wet paint” pieces at the end of the party. Artists included Anthony Barham, Misia Broadhead, Teresa Duke, Helen Hilliard, Laura Hopkins, Chris Stephens and Lida Stife.

Final auction winners could take home a fresh art piece as a commemoration of the event, beautifully memorialized in art. Local businesses donated tempting auction items arranged in categories such as Fashion/Jewelry, Equestrian Sports, Experiences, Getaways/Stays, Culinary/Wine, Goods, and Wellness/Beauty.

The Rev. Weston Mathews, rector of Grace Episcopal Church in The Plains, opened with a blessing and thanked all for “being good stewards of God’s creation.” LTV board chairman, Christopher Dematatis, welcomed guests dressed in festive spring attire, some topped with stylish hats. He thanked everyone for coming and asked by show of hands, anyone who has land under easement—whether with LTV or another conservation group. A sea of hands went up signifying the core value of preservation among the crowd.

Dematatis presented the Steward of the Year award to Stephen and Carole Napolitano, landowners along the Blue Ridge in Round Hill who exemplify ideal land stewards by employing best management practices, enhancing water resources and farmland soils on their 59-acre property they have protected over the past 36 years. They have also acquired neighboring properties to add to their protected acres.

Landowner of the Year was awarded to The Montebello Rosse Trust in Orange County for its efforts to protect a 543-acre estate. Originally established as a farm in 1728, the property has been in the Rosse family for generations and includes historic buildings, formal gardens, fields, forests, rolling hills, a perennial stream and wetlands. With an easement, this eliminates the possible division of the property into what could have been 250 building lots. Accepting the award were Colin Rosse, Andrea Rosse, Rob Rosse and Leslie Rosse Foster.

Conservationist of the Year is presented to the person who has made a significant contribution to Virginia’s land-trust movement. Price added, “The Board of Directors couldn’t pick one person, so they picked two: Harry F. Atherton of Fauquier County and Alfred P. Van Huyck of Loudoun.”

Atherton served on Fauquier’s Planning Commission for 18 years, was on the county’s Board of Supervisors for eight years and for three years, served as its chairman. Three initiatives during his leadership have promoted the preservation of Fauquier’s countryside: sliding-scale zoning, a Purchase of Development Rights program and the ability to hold conservation easements. Fauquier County has the highest percentage of privately protected land of any county in the state.

Since the 1990s, Van Huyck has focused on ensuring Loudoun’s growth protects the community that attracted him in 1969 to purchase a historic 1916 farmhouse at the base of the Blue Ridge. As a leader in promoting environmental protection and historic preservation organizations, Van Huyck co-founded the Loudoun County Preservation and Conservation Coalition. In 2013, he was named Loudoun’s Preservationist of the Year, and in 2016, was named a Mosby Area Heritage Association Heritage Hero. Last year he was inducted as a Loudoun Laureate, one of 24 fellow Loudouners honored for their community service to benefit citizens and developing leaders through scholarships and mentorships.

Dematatis ended with, “We can only do this with your help. We deeply appreciate your support today and throughout the year.” When it came to auction items, Price added: “Bid, and bid high. We don’t want this view to disappear,” pointing to the Blue Ridge Mountains behind her. To end the party, waitresses passed out “LTV”-inscribed sugar cookies decorated with scenes of green open spaces and bright blue skies.

For Laura Sullivan of Gainesville this was her first LTV garden party. She works for Madison Wealth Management in Leesburg and several of her clients are involved in LTV. “The company bought tickets for us; it’s great to support such a cause,” she said.

Ari Govoni-Young of Gainesville was born and raised in Nokesville and works at Middleburg Bank. She was a volunteer on the LTV’s garden party committee. “I have a nine-year-old daughter and I grew up with green space all around. Knowing there are areas that won’t be developed is amazing. I can drive for miles and see this beautiful country.”

Luke and Meg Barber of Middleburg attended the party in support of conservation. Meg said that 80 percent of their property in the village of St. Louis is under easement with LTV. “I’m a horse rider and wanted lots of land; I’m glad to know it’s protected.”

Regarding the history of Hickory Tree Farm, Suzanne Obetz, executive director of the Middleburg Museum, prepared displays with text and photos of the farm, originally part of a land grant from King George II of Great Britain (1683-1760) to Middleburg’s founder, Revolutionary War figure Lt. Col. Leven Powell (1737-1810). The farm was named for an old hickory tree used by Col. John S. Mosby’s Confederate soldiers as a rendezvous spot halfway between Middleburg and their camp during the Civil War. Lightening has since destroyed the tree.

Hickory Tree Hall, a large columned structure, was formerly known as Confederate Hall. Built in Jamestown, it was moved by the Daughters of the Confederacy and brought to Middleburg in 1909 from the Jamestown Tercentennial Exposition of 1907 first on the property of the current Exxon station at 208 E. Washington Street. To save it from destruction, in 1972, it was brought to Hickory Tree Farm.

Perhaps a quote from the late Audrey Windsor Bergner, former writer for Middleburg Life, says it best: “We take our surroundings so much for granted, wanting to believe that the magnificent Blue Ridge will always remain as background to our lush green valley, that cows will always gently graze on our verdant fields, that corn will always grow green under summer sun and the sound of the bugle will ever sound its rallying cry across the Piedmont.”

LTV accepts tax-deductible monetary gifts and gifts of land and securities. Their office is located in the Middleburg Professional Center, 119 The Plains Road, Suite 200 in Middleburg. Call 540-687-8441 or visit
www.landtrustva.org

This article first appeared in the June 2019 issue of Middleburg Life.