A Sense of Place
Many Uses for Protected Land
by John Gavitt
Many people may think that having a conservation easement on your property means that you sit there and watch the trees grow, and that the land is normally not used for economic benefit. This is not the case with North River Retreat, my 437-acre property near Delray (Hampshire County), West Virginia. The uses of this land are many and varied. I lease some of my acres to a neighbor for cattle grazing, and I also allow timber harvest under the guidance of a forest management plan. Primarily, though, I use my property to offer outdoor experiences to hunters and anglers of all skill levels, as well as to hikers and campers.
My acreage features wooded tracts, open fields, ponds, and access to the North River, a tributary of the Cacapon River, in the Potomac watershed. I also plant wildlife food plots for deer, wild turkey and other game species. Migratory birds and other non-game wildlife benefit from these plantings and other habitat improvements as well.
Fall and spring are the busiest seasons at North River Retreat. We are a licensed shooting preserve, and during the fall months clients come to hunt bobwhite quail that are released on the property. My English setters, Molly and Leila, are available for those without trained dogs. Deer hunters show up around the same time with bow and gun to hunt from my tree stands and blinds. I supply all necessary gear and safety training, so beginners are welcome.
Spring turkey hunts, beginning in late April, round out the year. In addition, the Retreat offers shooting instruction, clay pigeon shooting at a “sporting clays” range, and fishing all year round. Anglers can test their skills at ponds stocked with trout and bass, or fish on the North River. We also offer camping and lodging in a rustic cabin to anyone who is interested in staying overnight.
This property is about people, too. It’s about friends and family enjoying the companionship of a day in the woods. I want to instill in others a greater appreciation for the beauty of the world God created for all living things, and I have shared experiences and built friendships with many visitors to the Retreat. Not all are hunters or anglers; in fact many live in the city and come here just to experience the peace and beauty of nature.
North River Retreat is only a few hours from Washington, DC. Sadly, large acreages such as this are becoming scarcer as development spreads westward from Washington. Rural areas like mine are not just woodland and fields that are waiting to be subdivided into squared off sites for suburban homes with lawns. Actually, these acres are a small part of a great watershed that is essential to the health of local communities and to the survival of many wild plant and animal species.
In 2000, I decided to protect my land permanently, donating a conservation easement to Potomac Conservancy and the Cacapon and Lost Rivers Land Trust. I have found comfort in making a contribution toward future land protection, and not just complaining about the unplanned development that is occurring in our cherished watershed.
Just taking time to walk over the property through the different seasons helps me understand the importance of preserving natural and scenic spaces. I am privileged to be able to protect and enjoy my land, and organizations such as Potomac Conservancy and the Cacapon and Lost Rivers Land Trust provide the opportunity to pass these wonderful benefits on to future generations.
by John Gavitt
Reprinted with permission from Potomac Conservancy’s RiverScape newsletter, Winter 2007