Conservation Celebration Will Honor Longtime Supporters

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George and Louise Kegley will be recognized for their support of conservation easements.
George and Louise Kegley will be recognized for their support of conservation easements.

by Gene Marrano

Longtime supporters of the outdoors, George and Louise Kegley, have put their money where their mouth is – or at least their land, by putting a conservation easement on their 116-acre farm in northeast Roanoke City. That means their property near Tinker Creek will not be developed, and will remain green for future generations.

The Kegleys will be honored for that commitment on Sunday, September 18, during the Conservation Celebration (4-7 p.m.). The event is sponsored by the Western Virginia Land Trust, which has helped protect over 80,000 acres in the region though conservation easements and donations or purchases of land since 1996. The WVLT itself holds 39 conservation easements that protect 15,500 acres and 33 miles of streams in a 10-county service area.

George and Louise Kegley will accept the A. Victor Thomas Environmental Stewardship Award for their commitment to open space preservation in Virginia. George Kegley, a retired journalist, said setting an example for others was one reason he and Louise put a conservation easement in place, but added that “the main reason for doing it was saving the land.”

Lands placed under easements can be sold, but those agreements must remain in place. “Hundreds of years after we’re gone it will still be green,” said Kegley. Their daughter can build a home on the Kegley property – the only development that can take place. His wife Louise “has been very supportive” of the Land Trust’s efforts, noted Kegley.

Many of the easements agreed to are actually held by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, a state-backed agency. The Western Virginia Land Trust acts as more of an educational outreach program in many cases, informing people as to how the tax credits would work. “Generally [easements] of 100 acres or more are held by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation,” said Kegley, who still makes pitches himself to property owners on the benefits of such an easement and works on a newsletter.

Kegley is also interested in maintaining old buildings via the Preservation Foundation of the Roanoke Valley, which publishes a yearly list of endangered buildings that have some historical significance. The Foundation honors those that have renovated older structures – and has tweaked others who have bulldozed land before there was any solid development plan in place.

Kegley chairs the awards committee for the Foundation. “They’re often better constructed than the things we put up now,” he noted of older buildings, like the warehouses and former retail stores that people like Ed Walker have turned into living spaces downtown. “We’ve given him all sorts of awards,” chuckles Kegley about Walker; “he does something every day.”

Kegley added that warehouses on Salem Avenue now being turned into residential units by a Richmond developer might “look awful,” but are structurally sound and viable. “There seems to be a good market for it.”

Tax credits offered by land trusts can relieve the property tax burden that often forces landowners or those that inherit property to sell it to developers. Instead, property can be preserved as open space or with a stipulation that very little building can take place, perhaps by an heir who wants to build a home on the land.

The Conservation Celebration at the Braeloch Retreat and Conference Center just outside of Vinton on Hardy Road is also a fundraiser for the Western Virginia Land Trust; admission is $60 per person and includes a catered dinner, beer from Big Daddy’s Brewing Company and Valhalla Wine, hard cider from Foggy Ridge Cider in Floyd and Carroll counties, live music from the Ephraim Vause Memorial String Band, and a silent auction.

“I think it’s growing,” said Kegley of the interest shown by farmers and other property owners when it comes to conservation easements, “it’s spreading.”

See westernvirginialandtrust.org/celebration/ for more details on purchasing tickets.