9,000 Acres Protected in Western Virginia
By Cat Lazaroff
HOT SPRINGS, Virginia, March 18, 2002 (ENS) - More than 9,000 acres on and around Warm Springs Mountain will be permanently protected through the Nature Conservancy's single largest land purchase ever in Virginia. The property, bought for $6.2 million, lies next to The Homestead, the famed National Historic Landmark resort in the Allegheny Mountains of western Virginia.
The Conservancy purchase helps stitch together surrounding undeveloped public lands, including 170,000 acres in the Warm Springs District of George Washington National Forest. The tract shares its eastern boundary with the national forest for about 13 miles.
"Warm Springs Mountain is as steeped in American history as it is rich in scenic beauty and ecological resources," said Michael Lipford, Virginia state director of The Nature Conservancy. "This acquisition allows us to protect and restore rare natural communities on the mountain, but also affords us the opportunity to partner with public land managers and the local community in maintaining a huge intact area of critical habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife."
The Nature Conservancy identified Warm Springs Mountain as one of the largest and most biologically significant privately owned forest blocks in the Central Appalachian Forest eco-region. This 23 million acre landscape of wooded mountains and pastoral valleys encompasses large portions of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.
Large private forests like Warm Springs Mountain have become increasingly scarce in the East. This habitat supports wide ranging animals such as migratory songbirds and raptors, as well as black bears.
Other common animals on Warm Springs Mountain include bobcat, wild turkey, ruffed grouse, timber rattlesnake, wood frog and red-spotted newt. Virginia's Department of Conservation and Recreation has documented three rare plants, eight rare invertebrates and three rare natural communities on the mountain.
One of the most visually striking landscape features is a globally rare montane pine barren. Here, in Virginia's only substantial occurrence of this arid, fire dependent habitat, the common hardwood forest gives way to dense, head high thickets of stunted pitch pine, catawba rhododendron, mountain laurel, scrub oak and other shrubs.
The conservancy acquired the property from Virginia Hot Springs, Inc. (VHS). Former VHS president Fay Ingalls acquired Warm Springs Mountain in the 1920s due largely to concerns about inappropriate development on the ridgetop towering above The Homestead.
The Ingalls family formed VHS about 130 years ago, and established The Homestead as a premier resort destination. The resort includes natural hot springs from the same system that feeds the Jefferson Pools, a site where President Thomas Jefferson frequently bathed.
"We are looking forward to a successful partnership with The Nature Conservancy of Virginia and towards working together to preserve the natural beauty of the Warm Springs Mountain," said Gary Rosenberg, president and chief executive officer of The Homestead. "The rural landscape, scenic rugged forest terrain and abundant wildlife found in this valley are an essential part of the resort experience here at The Homestead. This partnership will ensure that the natural beauty and wild environment is both preserved and enhanced for many generations to come."
Warm Springs Mountain and lands stretching for miles to the east originally were part of the Douthat Survey, a huge land grant dating to colonial times. Other portions of the Survey now are part of George Washington National Forest and Douthat State Park.
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