On December 1, the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation announced the award recipients for the 2005 grant submission. The Merrimac Farm conservation project did not receive funding from this grant.
The purpose of the Merrimac Farm conservation project was to (1) permanently conserve, not temporarily conserve, more than 100 acres of forested wetlands adjacent to an impaired waterway in the upper reaches of the Occoquan Reservoir watershed and approximately 200 additional acres of upland fields and forests, and (2) support Quantico Marine Corps Base goals, which named Merrimac Farm as the Marine Corps number one priority nationwide for their encroachment partnering program.
Merrimac Farm was owned by Col. Dean McDowell, who purchased the property more than thirty years ago. Col. McDowell was one of Prince William's foremost conservationists and a supporter of many conservation organizations, including conservation efforts in Prince William County.
Col McDowell managed the land for wildlife diversity and operated the Merrimac Farm Hunting Preserve until his unexpected death in February 2001. At his passing, this property – totaling approximately 300 acres along Quantico Marine Corps western edge and along the northern bank of Cedar Run – became part of his trust to be administered by a corporate trustee.
The McDowell trust is managed by Wachovia Bank, which holds the sole decision-making authority for the management and sale of the property. The bank listed the property with Avery Hess Realtors in 2004. The bank is required by the terms of the McDowell trust to sell the property at full market value, as determined by their independent appraisal. They submitted an application requesting early removal from Prince William's Agricultural District in 2005.
Activities and decisions that established the sales price for Merrimac Farm were initiated and completed solely by Wachovia Bank, as part of their fiduciary responsibility as Trustee for Col. Dean McDowell's trust.
The Merrimac Farm conservation project aimed to protect a great natural resource for the betterment of Virginia citizens and to support Quantico Marine Corps Base, a significant part of Prince William communities.
The Prince William Conservation Alliance, whose mission is to conserve and restore Prince William's natural resources, has worked to support the conservation of Merrimac Farm by helping to form a partnership between the federal government, state agencies and local organizations, including the Prince William Conservation Alliance.
The Prince William Conservation Alliance sought to have the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries acquire the farm, but that agency determined that other funding priorities superseded Merrimac Farm. On September 20, 2005, in order to maintain a viable conservation project, the Prince William Conservation Alliance submitted a grant request to the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation requesting funding support for the acquisition of Merrimac Farm and to cover administration costs.
Although the grant application was completed with a tight deadline, both conservation opportunities and development pressures were factually and thoroughly presented. The grant application described both community benefits and the potential for purchase by developers, including information on Wachovia Bank's application requesting removal from the Agricultural District.
The Board of Directors of the Prince William Conservation Alliance unanimously supports the conservation of Merrimac Farm. Should the project have received funding from the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation, our Executive Director Kim Hosen, whose salary is solely determined by the Board of Directors, would have been charged with forming a partnership between federal, state and local organizations and agencies to ensure that long-term management goals were focused on enhancing wildlife diversity and maximizing water quality benefits while ensuring that the site was available for public use as quickly as possible. No funding in the grant request would have financially benefited individuals.
Although we are glad the conservation of Merrimac Farm is of such interest to Northern Virginia, we are surprised and perplexed by the controversy this conservation project has generated within Prince William County.
Merrimac Farm conservation appears to have no downside and offers one of the last opportunities to conserve a large parcel with such significant community values. Acquisition would provide:
- Support for Quantico Marine Corps, which named Merrimac Farm as the number one national priority for their encroachment partnering program.
- Permanent protection for more than 100-acres of contiguous, nontidal wetlands adjacent to Cedar Run, listed on the Nation's “dirty waters” list.
- Permanent protection for 200 additional acres of high quality Piedmont habitat.
- A high quality natural area for public use, including wildlife watching and nature walks, in Northern Virginia.
- A major step forward for implementation of the Prince William County Open Space Plan.
- Acquisition of a high quality natural area for outdoor education uses for Northern Virginia public schools and universities.
- Protection for the Occoquan Reservoir, a significant regional public drinking water supply.
- Direct support for Virginia 's goals as a signatory partner to the Chesapeake Bay 2000 Agreement.
Many people were involved in trying to protect Merrimac Farm. Although the conservation of Merrimac Farm was not funded by the Virginia Land Conservation Fund and future opportunities to conserve the site now must take a backseat to development, it was incredibly encouraging to see such strong community support for a conservation project in Prince William County.
The Prince William Conservation Alliance directors and members thank everyone who sent us kind, encouraging emails and calls, and we are proud to have had the opportunity to work with so many terrific people from organizations and agencies, the short list includes ...
Quantico Marine Corps
11th District Congressional Office
Members of the Prince William County
Board of Supervisors
Lake Ridge Occoquan Coles Civic Association
Nokesville Civic Association
Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District
Piedmont Environmental Council
Prince William Wildflower Society
Virginia Dept. of Conservation and Recreation
Virginia Dept. of Game and Inland Fisheries
The Board of Directors of the Prince William Conservation Alliance thanks everyone who supported this effort to conserve land in Prince William County. Please contact us at 703.499.4954, alliance(at)pwconserve.org, with questions regarding the Merrimac Farm conservation project or other community programs.
Board of Directors of the Prince William Conservation Alliance
|Charles A. Grymes, Chairman
Michael C. May, Vice Chairman
John Gray, Treasurer
Marilyn Schultz, Secretary
Kim Hosen, Executive Director
Christopher G. Miller