Two retired architects who built their careers in San Francisco and New York City say they are ready to help build a legacy for Albemarle County’s park system.
If county supervisors accept the gift later this year, Montgomery “Bird” Woods and Jose V. Lambert will transfer 410 acres in Red Hill along U.S. 29 south for use as a public trail park.
“It’s a gorgeous piece of property and would be a great multi-use trail park,” said Bob Crickenberger, the county’s director of parks and recreation. “The only thing we have received is a verbal commitment, but I know a formal commitment is coming.”
Arrowhead Farm was bought by Woods’ grandfather in 1881. The land to be donated was owned by Woods and eight of his cousins until December, when he and Lambert bought them out.
“If we were younger, we would build a lake and sit right here,” Lambert said gazing at a creek descending through a gorge in the center of the property. “We could have gotten our money back by just cutting these trees, but we didn’t want to ruin all this.”
Woods grew up in Richmond, the son of attorney William Sharpless Derrick Woods. He will request that the park be named in honor of his father, formerly of the law firm of McGuire, Woods & Battle of Richmond.
Lambert’s family fled Cuba during Fidel Castro’s rise to power. He grew up in Miami and the two became partners in life, and then work, after they met at the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture in 1961.
The move from Charlottesville to San Francisco was a natural, satisfying both the couple’s lifestyle and professional goals.
“When I graduated, we decided to ‘go somewhere,’ and where would you go in the 1960s? — San Francisco,” Woods said. “The music, the ballet, everything was so perfect. We met lots of great people and ended up hanging our shingle up with little trouble.”
Around 1989, with their architectural firm now in New York, Woods and Lambert carved off a 21-acre parcel around a chestnut log cabin on the farm dating to the 1760s. During the next two years, they designed their forested retreat home from Manhattan.
In 1994, a conservation easement held by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation was placed on the property. The foundation is a public organization created by the Virginia General Assembly that focuses on land conservation through protective easements.
Ches Goodall is a family friend, forestry consultant and coordinator of the county’s conservation easements program. He supervised selective tree harvesting on Arrowhead Farm two decades ago.
“Bird really loves that property, and the best timber was in the most sensitive areas,” Goodall said. “I suggested they could create an easement and generate some revenue that way and preserve the property’s beauty.”
Now Woods and Lambert will take those protective measures even further by putting the land permanently in the hands of Albemarle residents as a park.
“Because they are going to remove the rights to timbering, which is worth quite a bit, remove two development rights and donate land to the county for a recreational park, there is a new conservation vale not protected by the original easement,” Goodall said.
“It would be our pleasure to know it is in someone’s hands to protect,” Lambert said.
Crickenberger has been involved in other land donations. Albemarle County opened Byrom Park in the northwestern part of the county in 2008 after a gift four years earlier from Robert Byrom.
“If there is anything I have learned in this process, it’s to get on the phone with [the Virginia Department of Transportation] immediately,” Crickenberger said.
Crickenberger said he already has asked VODT to look at the site and evaluate road access issues. He said he hopes an at-grade railroad crossing can be avoided through use of a deeded easement on adjoining land.
“I think it would be a great thing if the county accepts this,” said Goodall. “It has all the history of the Woods family … and it’s a really interesting property ecologically and geologically. It has a lot of trails, streams and old artifacts from the orchards.”
While the exact timing of the gift is uncertain, Lambert says they hope to complete the transfer by April.