Cecelia Mason Published

Houses Won't Ever Be Built Here


Snow crunches under foot as Jim Baker gives a mid-December tour on about 170 acres his hunting club just acquired. The property sits along the Morgan-Hampshire County line in the shadow of Cacapon Mountain bordering Cacapon State Park.

“Basically some rolling hills at low elevations before you see the larger Cacapon Mountain in the background,” Baker said.  “It gives you an idea of what I call the diversity in topography around here.”

This diversity in landscape is one of the factors that make this property resilient, which is why the Cacapon and Lost Rivers Land Trust worked to obtain an easement preventing future development.

This property is part of an area in the Potomac Headwaters region of West Virginia designated as some of the most resilient land in the eastern United States.

David Ray is the southern field coordinator for the Open Space Institute, a New York State land trust. The Institute created a $6 million fund with a goal of protecting some of the most resilient land in the northeast and mid-Appalachian region.

Four areas are targeted: Southern New Hampshire and Maine forests, the highlands and Kittatinny Ridge on the New Jersey-Pennsylvania border, the Middle Connecticut River and the Potomac headwaters region of West Virginia and Virginia.

“A good way to think about it is sort of like actors on a stage and you may have a stage or a theater where the play is going to change over time, the actors will come and go, but you have that stage and it’s a place where things happen,” Ray said.

The program’s goal is to focus on that stage, in this case natural places where plants and animals can thrive and adapt to changes in the future.

Ray said the hunting club property meets the criteria of being resilient that include variety in the landscape, having the right kind of soil and the connection to other unbroken land- in this case about six thousand acres of Cacapon State Park.

Credit Cecelia Mason / West Virginia Public Broadcasting
Landowner Jim Baker describes his property to David Ray of the Open Space Institute and Kelly Watkinson of the Cacapon and Lost Rivers Land Trust.

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“We have choices we have to make with the limited funding that’s available for conservation,” Ray said. “By protecting the land areas that are going to be more enduring, we’re going to protect as much of the broad range of biodiversity that we have as possible.”

And Ray pointed out protecting these highly resilient areas also benefits humans.

“The sort of side benefits to that kind of work includes things like maintaining the quality of water that goes into our drinking water sources, preventing flooding from occurring and recreational opportunities,” he said.

The Open Space Institute gave the Cacapon and Lost Rivers Land Trust a $210,000 grant to help acquire an easement on a total of about 900 acres owned by the hunting club that will prevent the property from being developed in the future. Land Trust Executive Director Nancy Ailes says her organization raised matching money that included about $60,000 and an easement donation from the hunting club. 

“We always like to hug our landowners,” Ailes said. “If it isn’t for them and their willingness to do this and desire to protect their land none of us would be here at the table today.”

Baker said it’s comforting to know that this rugged piece of property that he and other shareholders have come to love since the hunting club was founded in 1962 will remain untouched.

“You become attached to it over time after hunting on it, walking on it, maintaining it, seeing it through all the seasons and knowing that it’s yours,” Ray said.

“For some of us anyway we want to see that piece of property as it is so at night we can think that’s the way it’s going to be forever,” he added.

The Open Space Institute’s work protecting resilient landscapes is supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation