Four members of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors were escorted up to the top of Dudley Mountain earlier this week to inspect land a couple wants to donate to the county.
The owners of the property, Montgomery “Bird” Woods and Jose V. Lambert, want an answer this week as to whether the county will accept the 405-acre gift.
“It was his grandfather’s farm, and in a moment of weakness, we bought it,” Lambert said. “We’re very happy to share it and we want to share it with the residents of the county of Albemarle and their guests.”
“We’re looking forward to something that will keep it,” Woods said.
Supervisors decided at a closed-door meeting in September to pass on the property, but Woods and Lambert persisted with an official offer. They set up a personal tour with members of the county’s Natural Heritage Committee serving as guides.
Staff from Albemarle’s parks and recreation department drove the supervisors and one supervisor candidate in county-owned vehicles.
The tour was led by Devin Floyd, co-founder of the Blue Ridge Discovery Center and a member of the Natural Heritage Committee. He said the mountain is of different geological composition than Monticello and Carters mountains.
“[Dudley Mountain] is actually an outlying island of the Blue Ridge,” Floyd said. “It’s erosion resistant. The bedrock is partially responsible for soil chemistry that results in a rare habitat.”
The group’s first stop was near the highest point of the mountain. A stone wall marks the last remnants of an apple orchard.
“At one point, this was a meadow and it had a loading platform,” Woods said.
The group ventured out — carefully – onto a rocky outcrop of completely exposed rock that is home to some incredibly rare species. A sheer drop of hundreds of feet awaited anyone who lost their footing.
“You look out on Carters Mountain, Monticello and down into Walnut Creek,” said Brian Fuller, assistant director of stewardship with the Virginia Outdoors Foundation.
“It’s just an impressive view to the southeast,” he added.
While the view has aesthetic value, the tour was arranged to show off the ecological attributes of the mountain. Floyd said the land contains one of the rarest habitats in the county, and is also one of only 10 known examples of this kind of ecology in the world.
“Any time I see a great variety of species over short distances, it strikes a chord with me,” Floyd said. “It’s a place to look for new species. It’s a place to teach others. It’s a place to bring your kids.”
The site is a 10-minute drive from Charlottesville. Its proximity to town was noted by Supervisor Rodney S. Thomas, who pointed out that he had five bars on his cell phone.
On the descent down the mountain, Floyd took the group to inspect a creek bed that has carved out a deep ravine over millions of years and created the rich ecological system. The mountain curves up, and Floyd described the terrain as being shaped like a bowl.
“This is a good example of an upper Piedmont cove forest,” Floyd said. “The soils in here are deep and rich. It’s a cool micro-climate, so what you have in the springtime is a phenomenal array of ephemeral wildflowers.”
Such a wide variety of flora leads to an abundance of fauna, as well. Floyd pointed to one northern red oak that he said supported hundreds of butterflies and moths.
But, will the county accept the land?
“We have a lot of information to get,” said Supervisor Ann H. Mallek. “I am hopeful that we’ll have some partnerships that can go forward to help with us.”
Mallek said one of the challenges will be preserving the rare species that make the place so special.
“I think it’s an amazing piece of property that definitely needs to be preserved,” Supervisor Duane E. Snow said. “I think it should be brought into a park system and a careful plan should be laid out so that if we do open it to the public, we preserve what’s here.”
“When individuals come with property to give the county like this, supervisors should talk to the biodiversity committee and the Natural Heritage Committee and use some of the wonderful resources we have in this community to look at properties before they turn them down,” Palmer said.
Thomas said he thinks the land is beautiful, but that he is not ready to agree that the county should accept it.
“But if it does, it needs to be preserved and protected,” Thomas said. “It’s also got some dangerous spots. Beautiful, but dangerous. We’d have to put fences up or something to keep people away from them.”
Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd also went on one of the tours. Only Supervisors Dennis S. Rooker and William “Petie” Craddock did not attend. Both will soon be leaving county government.
The land is currently under an easement held by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation. That does not preclude its use as a park, according to Fuller.
“A passive park would be consistent with the easement, but wouldn’t permit any active uses such as ball-fields or community centers,” Fuller said. “It’s a great resource where you have a lot of the old logging trails already in place for hiking, and there’s very little development that would need to happen to create a trail system up top.”
Fuller said the outdoors foundation would ask the county to ask for an official determination of whether a park or preserve would be consistent with the terms of the easement. He suggested one model for development of the park is Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve in Loudoun County.
Meanwhile, Woods and Lambert await an answer from the county.
“We desperately need places like this, especially if they are close to an urban area,” Woods said.