Drinking water supply, wildlife habitat protected with easement in Isle of Wight County.

Published 10:33 am Thursday, May 20, 2010

ISLE OF WIGHT — Virginia Outdoors Foundation has helped preserve a wildlife-rich cypress swamp in Isle of Wight County, thanks to a conservation easement recorded last week.

It is the first easement in the county for VOF, which now protects land in all but four Virginia counties.

The 38-acre easement protects a section of Great Swamp known as the Millpond tract, which is owned by the county. At one time the swamp had been dammed, forming Courthouse Millpond, named for its proximity to the county courthouse.

The dam eventually blew out and drained the pond, leaving behind a mature cypress swamp. The swamp flows into Burnt Mills Reservoir, which supplies drinking water to the City of Norfolk and drains into the Nansemond River.

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries surveyed the property and found amphibians, reptiles, fish, birds — many of them identified as “Species of Greatest Conservation Concern.”

The easement includes development restrictions that will help to keep the water clean and the habitat intact.

“This property outlines our courthouse complex and it provides an excellent opportunity for us to take another step forward in protecting and preserving our environment for future generations,” said Phillip A. Bradshaw, chairman of the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors. “We hope that we will be able to offer opportunities in the near future for the public to enjoy this natural amenity, perhaps with a walking trail and a gazebo.”

“The public benefits of this easement — clean drinking water, pristine habitat, recreational and educational opportunities — are tremendous,” added VOF Chairman Hank Hartz of Goochland. “It’s a great example of how local governments can protect those values that define their community’s quality of life.”

Working with local governments, state agencies, and private conservation groups, VOF has protected more than 580,000 acres across 103 Virginia counties and cities. It holds about 3,000 easements — more than any land trust in the nation. Many of the easements protect private forestlands and farms, which represent the Commonwealth’s largest industry, contributing $79 billion to the economy each year.