CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A 918-acre tract in Morgan and Hampshire counties is the first property to be protected through a $6 million initiative launched six months ago by the New York-based Open Space Institute to preserve climate change-resilient landscapes in the eastern U.S.
"This tract really stood out among other properties we've looked at in the east," said Peter Howell, OSI's executive vice president. "There's a lot of variation in elevation, soil types and topography. It has a lot of cliffs and ravines that will provide temperature and sunlight variations, making for different climates if it gets wetter and hotter."
About half of the hunt club tract lies atop relatively rare calcareous soils -- calcium carbonate-bearing soils that have high pH content, supporting a greater diversity of plant and animal species. Sinkholes and caves add to the tract's diverse landscape.
Also significant is the fact that the tract, owned by a hunting club for the past 50 years, adjoins 6,000-acre Cacapon Resort State Park, allowing animal and plant species to "move through the land without running into roads or other barriers" as the climate gradually changes, Howell said.
A grant of $210,000 from the OSI allowed the Cacapon and Lost Rivers Land Trust to buy a conservation easement for the property, which will remain in its natural state and continue to be used for hunting for generations of club members.
"When you can protect nearly 1,000 acres in this small valley, it's significant," said Nancy Ailes, executive director of the Cacapon and Lost Rivers Land Trust.
In addition to connecting to Cacapon Resort State Park, the hunt club tract also links to two parcels totaling about 700 acres that had earlier been protected through the land trust, Ailes said. The hunt club, which did not wish to be identified in news accounts, used money from its conservation easement to buy and protect a neighboring 160-acre tract on which a residential development had once been planned, she said.