CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A quote from Rand Wentworth, president of the Land Trust Alliance, pretty well sums up the book "Listening to the Land: Stories from the Cacapon and Lost River Valley":
"Stories about the why of saving the land, not just the how."
The handsome softcover book of photos, stories and quotes -- text by Jamie S. Ross and photos by Tom Cogill -- is newly out under the banner of the West Virginia University Press, and at one level the book is that rarity: a positive and hopeful publication about West Virginia.
At a subtler level, the book is also a well-put-together argument for the efficacy and power of land trusts at a time when development, from subdivisions to Interstates and power line corridors threaten the land. Nancy Ailes, executive director of the Cacapon and Lost Rivers Land Trust since 2000, helped to spur the book project on to underscore that it is the connection to the very land itself that makes land conservation work.
"Nearly every time we sit down to sign a conservation easement in an attorney's office, the landowners who are protecting their land burst into tears -- and I don't mean quiet tears. I mean sobbing out loud," Ailes said.
"It took me off-guard. It was that deep feeling for what they had done for their land and what it meant for them that gave me the idea about this book. I wanted to capture the stories behind those tears."
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"This place IS my mom and dad. The moment I drive into the lane I feel their presence. They're that much a part of this place." -- Becky Rudolph, from the book
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Land trusts work to put legal limits on how a piece of land may be used in the future in order to protect its status. The Cacapon and Lost Rivers Land Trust is by far the largest independent land trust in West Virginia. And -- with 13,000 acres projected to be protected by the end of the year -- is one of the top eight trusts (by acreage) protected in the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed.
"This is the most biologically diverse watershed in the Chesapeake Bay drainage," Ailes said. "It's the most biodioverse watershed in the whole Potomac River drainage. It's because people have taken care of it. It didn't happen accidentally."
There's also another reason for a book of stories about what the land means to people who've lived on it for generations, just like Ailes, an eighth-generation Hampshire County resident.
"I also wanted this book to help other land trusts understand that, I think, to be an effective land protection leader, you have to be able to empathize with the people that you're working with and understand where they're coming from."
The stories about the land and family homesteads are important "in that, land protection relies on neighbors talking to neighbors," Ailes said. "And that's how we get our work done. It's not me going out there and trying to sell land protection. It's about me getting to know a person who wants to do it and then having that person knock on their neighbor's door."