Open Space Institute becomes one of Botetourt’s largest landowners

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New York-based conservation organization buys 4,672 acres near Oriskany; could become national forest land

Botetourt County’s GIS Bing aerial shows the property boundary for the 4,672 acres the Open Space Institute of New York purchased.

The Open Space Institute (OSI) Land Trust based in New York has become one of Botetourt’s largest private landowners.

OSI purchased 4,672 acres near Oriskany in the western part of the county in December, according to land records in the Botetourt Circuit Clerk’s office. OSI paid $5 million for the property that had belonged to Gorgica Asessores SL, a Madrid, Spain-based limited liability company that was established in 2006. The property was listed with Walker Commercial Services in Roanoke, according to the land records.

Known as the Grace Furnace Property, it is part of the former Westvaco land that was sold in 2002 when the company divested itself of about 35,000 acres in Botetourt.

The Grace Furnace Property is part of the former Lignite mines area and is mostly bordered by the Jefferson National Forest.

Dene Lee was OSI project manager for the purchase. She said nothing will change on the property. “We buy it to protect it,” she said of this type of land purchase.

According to its website, “The Open Space Institute protects scenic, natural and historic landscapes to provide public enjoyment, conserve habitat and working lands and sustain communities.”

OSI was founded in 1974 to protect significant landscapes in New York State, and has partnered to protect 2.2 million acres from Alabama to southeastern Canada. “All of OSI’s work is directed by a consistent strategy emphasizing permanent protection on a landscape-level scale,” the website says.

Lee said the land conservation organization is dedicated to preserving open space property and the Grace Furnace Property is special because it is so large.

“That’s not very common,” she said. “When we learned it was for sale, we moved quickly to purchase it for conservation purposes.”

She called the parcel “fabulous for a number of reasons.”

She said it will protect water quality in Craig Creek, which is a tributary to the James River and the Chesapeake Bay. She said it has a lot of conservation attributes, too, and 10 trout streams.

The Open Space Institute will hold the land for the time being, Lee said. The organization would like to work with partners, and “would love to see it conveyed into Forest Service hands,” but that’s uncertain right now because OSI moved so quickly to buy the land.

OSI is New York based but has expanded its reach up and down East Coast, Lee said. “We can move faster than public agencies, so we can work to protect a piece of property to conserve it.

“This is a really nice one because there’s a lot of recreational areas nearby and some endangered species,” she added.

She said it’s probably the first parcel OSI has directly acquired in Virginia, but though not the first time OSI has worked in Virginia to conserve property through its Conservation Capital Program.

According to a sale synopsis of the property, 5.5 miles of it borders the Jefferson National Forest. It has elevations that reach 3,200 feet on Rich Patch Mountain, and has 1,000 feet of frontage on Craig Creek.

According to land records, it was accessed for tax purposes at just over $5.1 million. Gorgica Asesores SL bought the property in late 2008 for $5.6 million from TLG Holdings LLC in Washington, D.C.

Lee said there will not be public access to the Grace Furnace Property for the time being, but ultimately it would be open to the public. “We’re just not really ready to do that yet,” she said.

OSI learned of the property when someone saw the “For Sale” sign and reached out to the organization. OSI officials looked at it through GIS mapping.

She said the National Forest folks knew about the property as well, and OSI spoke with Virginia Department of Forestry (VDoF) State Forester Bettina Ring about the property. The VDoF manages Virginia’s state forests. The closest to Botetourt is the 2,353-acre Moore’s Creek State Forest just over the Rockbridge County line and off the Blue Grass Trail northeast of Eagle Rock.

— Ed McCoy