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Open Space Institute helps protect 918-acre Panhandle tract

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A 918-acre tract in Morgan and Hampshire counties is the first property to be protected through a $6 million initiative launched six months ago by the New York-based Open Space Institute to preserve climate change-resilient landscapes in the eastern U.S.

"This tract really stood out among other properties we've looked at in the east," said Peter Howell, OSI's executive vice president. "There's a lot of variation in elevation, soil types and topography. It has a lot of cliffs and ravines that will provide temperature and sunlight variations, making for different climates if it gets wetter and hotter."

About half of the hunt club tract lies atop relatively rare calcareous soils -- calcium carbonate-bearing soils that have high pH content, supporting a greater diversity of plant and animal species. Sinkholes and caves add to the tract's diverse landscape.

Also significant is the fact that the tract, owned by a hunting club for the past 50 years, adjoins 6,000-acre Cacapon Resort State Park, allowing animal and plant species to "move through the land without running into roads or other barriers" as the climate gradually changes, Howell said.

A grant of $210,000 from the OSI allowed the Cacapon and Lost Rivers Land Trust to buy a conservation easement for the property, which will remain in its natural state and continue to be used for hunting for generations of club members.

"When you can protect nearly 1,000 acres in this small valley, it's significant," said Nancy Ailes, executive director of the Cacapon and Lost Rivers Land Trust.

In addition to connecting to Cacapon Resort State Park, the hunt club tract also links to two parcels totaling about 700 acres that had earlier been protected through the land trust, Ailes said.  The hunt club, which did not wish to be identified in news accounts, used money from its conservation easement to buy and protect a neighboring 160-acre tract on which a residential development had once been planned, she said.

"The hunt club has been a good steward of the land," Howell said. "This tract is a prime example of a varied habitat that will support all kinds of creatures way into the future."

The Potomac River headwaters area, which includes the Cacapon River Valley, is one of four top climate-resilient landscapes to be found in a 13-state section of the east, according to an analysis of data from a Nature Conservancy study of the region by the OSI. The other most resilient areas identified by the OSI are the forests of southern New Hampshire and Maine, the mid-Connecticut River region of Massachusetts and Vermont, and the highlands of Kittatinny Ridge in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

"It's new for us to be working in West Virginia, and we hope to do more there," Howell said. "We're very pleased to be working with Nancy Ailes and the people at Cacapon and Lost Rivers Land Trust."

About 20 percent of the land in the Potomac River Headwaters area is already preserved and protected by being part of the Monongahela or George Washington National Forests or being included in a West Virginia state park or wildlife management area.

Founded in 1974, the OSI has protected more than 116,000 acres in New York, and has assisted in the protection of an additional 2.2 million acres from Quebec to Georgia.

Since it was created in 1995, the Cacapon and Lost Rivers Land Trust has helped protect 13,000 acres.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.

 


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