ELKTON — There were 24 state forests located throughout Virginia, and on Monday, the headcount was officially raised to 25 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Virginia’s state forests.
On the edge of the George Washington National Forest near Massanutten Resort sits 573 acres of hardwood and pine strands, open fields and more than 21,700 feet of stream frontage that the Virginia Department of Forestry sought to purchase in 2017.
The property, located off Bryant Hollow Road northwest of Elkton, was called Boones Run Farm and was owned by Boones Run Farm LLC of Albemarle. The farm had been in the Dofflemyer family for multiple generations, with the family owning and managing the LLC.
The land is now First Mountain State Forest, which Gov. Ralph Northam and other state and local officials dedicated on Monday in honor of the 100th anniversary of the state forest system.
Todd Dofflemyer, the oldest grandson of Alfred and Virginia Dofflemyer, who owned the property, said it was owned by the family for the last 70 years, operating as a “well-managed” tree farm until 2007.
“We couldn’t be more honored or proud that my grandfather’s vision of a tree farm gets to live out today,” Todd Dofflemyer said. “I speak on behalf of the entire Dofflemyer family in expressing our excitement that the family farm is now part of the state forest system and will be protected from future development.”
Dofflemyer said selling the land to VDOF was the best way to honor his grandfather.
“[Alfred] is smiling down on us today. … I don’t think we could have found a better legacy for my grandfather,” Todd Dofflemyer said.
Northam said the Dofflemyers’ decision to relinquish the property “speaks volumes.”
The land’s tax-assessed value was $1.03 million, according to county real estate records, but Michelle Stoll, director of public information for VDOF, said the land was valued nearly $2 million.
The property was purchased by VDOF through grant funding and a donation made by the Dofflemyer family.
Stoll said 11% of the estimated land value was funded by the Dofflemyer family and 19% was paid for by VDOF. The remaining 70% was funded by the DuPont-Waynesboro Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration settlement.
DuPont once operated a textile manufacturing plant in Waynesboro. Mercury from the plant polluted the South River and the South Fork of the Shenandoah River, impacting fish and wildlife and their habitats, according to VDOF.
Recreational fishing opportunities were also affected due to the fish consumption advisories on the South River and South Fork Shenandoah River.
The facility was required to pay a settlement valued at roughly $50 million, which is administered by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“Millions of dollars from the DuPont settlement have fueled projects like this to conserve land for future generations, restore wildlife habitat and streams and improve recreational opportunities in the region,” said Wendi Weber, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service North Atlantic-Appalachian regional director, in a press release. “We look forward to the benefits that this new state forest will bring to wildlife and nearby communities.”
First Mountain State Forest continues the groundwork laid by Emmett Gallion, who gifted 588 acres in Prince Edward County near Farmville to the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1919. The gift marked the beginning of Virginia’s state forest system, which today covers nearly 16 million acres.
Bettina Ring, Virginia’s secretary of agriculture and forestry, said there was no better way to celebrate the anniversary than with a dedication of a new state forest.
“Being a forester myself, I am extremely proud of how the VDOF has managed to do work all done without tax dollars,” Ring said.
Virginia’s state forests are self-supporting and receive no general state funds for operations, according to VDOF. Operating funds are generated from the sale of forest products, such as timber. Educational programs are funded through taxpayer contributions to Virginia’s State Forest Education Fund tax checkoff.
The overall economic output from Virginia forests is more than $21 billion annually, according to VDOF.
Rob Farrell, state forester, said 25% of the revenue generated by timber harvest from First Mountain State Forest will go back to Rockingham County.
Ring said the addition of First Mountain State Forest left her with a “new hope” in restoring the American chestnut tree.
The protection of the forest’s 43,422 feet of vegetated buffers and 21,711 feet of frontage on at least eight perennial and intermittent streams were also important to Ring, saying the protection makes “a huge difference moving forward.”
“When we talk about water quality we are also talking about healthy wildlife, resilient communities, and strong local economies. The common denominator is healthy forests,” Ring said in a press release. “The acquisition and protection of First Mountain State Forest demonstrates Virginia’s commitment to envisioning vital forests and associated ecosystems.”
Northam stressed the importance of taking care of Virginia’s forests and natural resources, saying they are important to the state’s economy.
“We need to keep [forestry] going,” Northam said. “Agriculture is our No. 1 industry in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Forestry is No. 3 and tourism is No. 2. Preserving these types of lands is really important.”
Preserving conservation value lands is the priority for one of the Northam administration’s programs called ConserveVirginia, which aims to protect and provide long-term benefits for all Virginians, including outdoor recreation, wildlife habitat and cleaner air and water, according to Matthew Strickler, secretary of natural resources.
“From tree planting to harvesting, Virginia’s state forests demonstrate the best practices in forestry, provide important recreation cultural and heritage resources, and scenery, help keep our air and water clean, and protect space for fish and wildlife,” Northam said in a press release. “For a century, Virginians have benefited from healthy and resilient forests, and I am delighted to announce our newest state forest, First Mountain, which will continue the legacy of sustainable forest management in our Commonwealth.”
Del. Tony Wilt, R-Broadway, said Northam’s visit and dedication of the First Mountain State Forest was a testament to the work being done to improve natural resources, mentioning the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan Phase III.
“What is happening here today is a huge part to what is happening to all our waters,” Wilt said. “I am glad to help our friends in the Chesapeake Bay, but glad to help ourselves here.”
First Mountain State Forest plays an important role in improving water quality, recreation and tourism opportunities and the health of the Chesapeake Bay, according to VDOF. The upper portion of the state forest reaches Boone Run, which is a designated Class II wild trout stream where brook trout is present.
“Water is what makes this place special,” said VDOF.