Easement Can Ensure Farm’s Future
Shenandoah County Brothers Seek To Shield Land From Development
Posted: January 5, 2013
Larry Vance feeds the donkeys on Island Ford Farm, which he owns with his brother, Gary. The historic 173-acre farm, near Toms Brook in Shenandoah County, is a candidate for protection from development under an easement. (Photos by Nikki Fox)
The Island Ford Farm, owned by brothers Larry and Gary Vance, may soon be protected from future development by an easement.
Island Ford Farm started with a 1771 grant from Lord Fairfax.
Larry Vance walks along the North Fork of the Shenandoah River, the boundary for Island Ford Farm, which he owns with his brother, Gary. The 173-acre beef cattle farm is likely to be under an easement soon that will protect the farmland from becoming developed.
He was just a kid then, but now Vance, 61, owns the 173-acre Island Ford Farm near Toms Brook with his brother, Gary.
After about four years of planning and work, the farm may soon come under a conservation easement that would protect the land from development.
Shenandoah County’s Conservation Easement Authority gave its support to the easement Wednesday, and the matter is due to go before the county Board of Supervisors for final approval in February.
The county is in talks to become co-holders of the easement with the Potomac Conservancy, a group dedicated to preserving land in the Potomac River region, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a federal agency. The county’s involvement, according to Patrick Felling, Shenandoah County’s natural resources planner, is required to secure some of the grant funding for the project.
The farm holds a special place in the history of the area, originally granted to Peter Black in 1771 by Lord Fairfax.
Samuel Kern bought the farm in 1811 when he and his large family operated a small mill he built along the river. Kern, his wife and daughter are buried on the farm.
One of Kern’s daughters, Helen, married C.D. Stickley, Vance’s grandfather. The couple purchased the farm in 1946 from Helen’s aunt.
Vance said that although he was young at the time of his grandfather’s death, he still has vivid memories of helping him milk the cows, and watching him perform other farm duties.
“I must’ve been about 6,” he said.
Most of his childhood, Vance spent a week in the summer at his grandparents’ home doing farm work.
“That was my summer vacation,” he said.
On butcher days, Vance remembers being taken out of school to participate.
“They used to give me the pigtail and tell me to plant it to grow another pig for next year,” he said.
The roughly one-mile-around island situated in the portion of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River adjacent to the farm was added to the property during Samuel Kern’s ownership.
For years, before the construction of U.S. 11, passage straight through the farm was the main route into Strasburg.
Travelers would take their horse and buggy through the farm, ford the river and head northwest to town.
“My mother recalled that,” Vance said of Elizabeth Vance, who willed the farm to her two sons when she died in 2007. “She was afraid of the water, so she used to close her eyes.”
Vance said his mother, who was born in the property’s main house in 1922, is one of the reasons he decided to pursue an easement on the farm back in 2008. Just before she died, he said she charged him with care of the farm, where she spent most of her life.
Besides, Vance said, he didn’t want to see the farm broken up and developed into smaller properties with new houses the way many surrounding farms have done.
“I’m a preservationist at heart,” he said. “I have a tremendous sense of history.”
The Vances plan to donate half the easement value of $493,000. They will receive compensation through state and federal funds for the other half.
Still, with an appraisal value of $1 million and 9,000 feet of road frontage, selling the farm or parts of it for development would have been a far more lucrative option.
Felling said that without the easement, the owners could have subdivided the parcel into 16 lots.
But Vance said the idea never occurred to him or his brother.
“It was not a temptation,” he said. “Besides, I can’t just think about me. I have to think about, ‘What’s it going to look like in 100 years?’”
Island Ford Farm remains a working farm, with more 150 beef cattle and continuous hay pastures.
Gary Vance, who works as a cattle broker, resides on the property. Larry Vance, a government teacher at Strasburg High School, lives in Maurertown.
Contact Kaitlin Mayhew at 574-6290 or email@example.com