Albemarle turns down one park gift, prepares to accept another

Albemarle County has rejected a gift of 410 acres in Red Hill along U.S. 29 South for use as a public park.

Instead, it might receive a gift of land two miles away next to the Ragged Mountain Natural Area.

Arrowhead Farm owners Montgomery “Bird” Woods and Jose V. Lambert thus far have been unsuccessful in their efforts to give the county the property, ensuring its protection for future generations.

“For something that is intended to be a park, we look at criteria like links to other trails … if it can extend greenways and provide support for those types of assets already in place,” said Lee Catlin, county assistant for community and business partnerships.

“While we were very appreciative of the offer, we found it didn’t meet those types of needs to a level that justified us putting resources into it. So the decision was made to respectfully decline the offer.”

“Arrowhead Farm is a beautiful piece of property,” said Supervisor Duane E. Snow, a Republican. “I am very appreciative of them offering that property to us for parks and trails. It would have been a great addition.”

Snow, who is running for re-election to a second term, said he participated in a closed-door meeting of the Board of Supervisors when the gift was discussed and ultimately rejected.

“Even though it would be given to us for free, there are other opportunities [for a park] closer to town and we didn’t feel like we had the money to develop everything,” Snow said.

Snow’s Samuel Miller District opponent, Democrat Liz Palmer, said the decision “shortchanged” the citizens.

“It is very disappointing that the county has put itself in the financial position of not being able to accept a gift of 400 acres of beautiful forest, of historic significance, so close to town,” Palmer said.

Supervisor Ann H. Mallek, a Democrat, declined to offer details of the closed-meeting discussion, but said the county has to make sure it has “the ability to manage any property when it gets it.”

“We have to have the staff and financial means to supervise it,” Mallek said. “We don’t want it to become a place where trespassers start abusing the property and it gets destroyed.”

However, the county might accept the gift of another piece of property close to the Ragged Mountain Reservoir that, like Arrowhead Farm, is protected by conservation easements.

Bill Kittrell, director of conservation programs for The Nature Conservancy, said 356 acres adjoining the reservoir south of Interstate 64 were given anonymously to the organization in 2006.

“We have been contemplating the transfer of that to the county for them to have as an addition to their park system,” said Kittrell, who was unfamiliar with the Arrowhead Farm proposal. “We are ready to move forward with the transaction whenever we can come to terms with the county on the gift. We’d like to do it this calendar year.”

“That has been an important [property] for me,” said Mallek, referring to the conservancy’s land. “It is a very valuable property so close to the urban area, well-connected to an existing trail system at Ragged Mountain, and it has access on [U.S.] 29 South.”

Regarding Arrowhead Farm, Lambert said he met with Bob Crickenberger, the county’s director of parks and recreation, and that concerns were raised about vehicular access and the Virginia Outdoors Foundation’s conservation easement on the property.

“I had already talked to Brian Fuller at the Virginia Outdoors Foundation and he said he has worked with park people before and, of course, they would allow trails, toilets for visitors and a parking lot,” Lambert said.

Virginia Outdoors Foundation officials could not be reached for comment Monday.

Lambert said he and Woods still plan to make a formal written offer to the county.

“We are not young men, we have the money and we can afford to do this,” Lambert said. “We want to get this 410 acres out of our portfolio because we don’t want to leave behind a big fight for our heirs. We thought it would be such a nice thing to do.”

Lonnie Murray, chairman of Albemarle’s Natural Heritage Committee and an elected member of the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District, said Arrowhead Farm has a special piece of biodiversity from which the community can learn.

“It’s a rock outcrop that has plants that can grow on almost bare rock,” Murray said. “This represents a unique ecosystem in this area. We are just beginning to understand how plants like this can be used on green roofs in the urban area. If we lose this type of property, we are losing information that might help us deal with stormwater issues.”

Murray suggested the county could work with the landowners to find a solution.

“I understand the challenge of getting resources to manage the property until the county can take over ownership,” Murray said. “Maybe the county could ask the landowners to continue managing it until we can get the access issues worked out.”

Asked about the county’s priorities for future land gifts, Snow emphasized multi-purpose playing fields.

“One priority … right now is more soccer fields,” Snow said. “If you have got a good, level piece of land that’s open and ready to have some goals set up, we’ll take it.”