A Good News Story
by Nicole Hamilton
It was March 2007 and we had just started our Loudoun Amphibian Monitoring Program. With the excitement of the program launch, people started telling us about special spots where amphibians may live and breed. One of the leads I got was from Liam McGranaghan for an area in Lucketts known for its undulating forest habitat and sink holes.
After asking for permission to visit Gum Farm, Mike Hayslett of the Virginia Vernal Pools Program, John DeMary and I ventured out. It was 10:00pm, 45 degrees, and there was a cold steady rain coming down. This was my first official night foray for amphibian monitoring, and I will never forget it.
The three of us met at the Lucketts Community Center – it felt like we were on a mission – and indeed we were. With headlamps donned and winter coats zipped, we carpooled to the site and headed into the woods. As we approached the vernal pools, what we encountered was simply magical.
1,000+ eyes reflected back at us through the darkness of the pool. The calls of Wood Frogs and Spring Peepers filled the night. Salamanders swam through the water. The woods and the ephemeral wetlands kept secret in their midst, were alive, and a rhythm of life that has gone on for thousands of years in this forest was playing out before us.
In days that followed, we determined that these woods and pools were home to Wood Frogs, Spring Peepers, Jefferson Salamanders, Spotted Salamanders, Marbled Salamanders and Fairy Shrimp. It was magnificent both in species diversity and the sheer number of individuals thriving here. We also discovered that this property was in the midst of being developed. The pink tape that ringed the trees around the pools told the story.
Mike Hayslett and I stood at the edge of one of the pools. Knowing that these amphibians spend 360 days of the year living in the forest habitat, I asked him, “How much of the forest needs to be saved to save these amphibians?” He gazed at the habitat and said, “All of it.” My heart sunk. I had seen other special places developed and knew the likelihood of this property being preserved was slim.
Nonetheless, we looked at options, offered ideas, and even looked at ways to purchase at least the forested wetlands. We worked with David McCarthy, Mike Kane of Piedmont Environmental Council and others and helped keep the dialogue going.
I share this story because today, 5 ½ years later, something amazing happened. Susan Lee and her son Jeremy Lee who own Gum Farm, engaged the Land Trust of Virginia to discuss conservation. Working with John Magistro of the Land Trust, the family not only put the 42 acres of wooded wetlands (identified as a Globally Rare Wetland Habitat) under conservation easement but their entire 239 acres! These additional acres are rich with bird life that includes Savannah Sparrows, Grasshopper Sparrows, Field Sparrows, Barn Swallows, Scarlet Tanagers, vireos, Wood Thrush, Wild Turkeys, Red-tailed Hawks, flycatchers, orioles, and more. The milkweeds in the field support Monarch butterflies and the grasses are rich with insects.
The property is also rich with cultural significance. Being situated on James Monroe Highway (Route 15), it is part of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area and protects one of Loudoun County’s oldest known cemeteries, the Oxley family cemetery, which has been cared for by the family since Isaac Dyer and Gertrude Yeager Gum purchased the property more than 100 years ago. Indeed, this is one of Loudoun’s Great Places.
The Land Trust of Virginia, with input from Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy and the Piedmont Environmental Council and widespread support from the community, filed the conservation easement just before Thanksgiving. This easement marks a historic move by the Lee Family that needs to be applauded and celebrated by all of Loudoun. It is a gift to the future generations of Loudoun that we are thankful for and is a model for conservation and historic preservation that I hope other families and developers will follow.
Please read the press release from the Land Trust of Virginia and if you know of great places in Loudoun that should be protected, refer landowners to this example as a model to follow. And, join us in our monitoring programs as we identify more special habitats. The beauty and richness of nature surrounds us, and through efforts like this, it will into the future.
Thank you, John Magistro, for leading the negotiations and process for establishing the easement.
Thank you, Jeremy and Susan Lee, for this great gift.