By Isabella O’Brien
Tadpole Land & Trail Conservancy purchased land bordering Ballenger Creek in Palmyra to form Ballenger Creek Nature Preserve, in July 2021. The 73 acres of land is covered in cascading streams, forest and recovering forest and is diverse with wildflowers, ferns, and cliffs of Mountain Laurel.
Before the land was owned by Tadpole, it was owned by a developer interested in building a rural cluster housing development by Ballenger Creek. About half of the land was clear cut in preparation for the development. Due to the steep nature of much of the land and the fact that there was no public water to serve the development, the developer sought for a Special Use Permit to allow the installation of one septic pre-treatment system for every 2 homes and a subsequent drain field for every 2 systems or 4 homes.
Generations of neighboring landowners had explored the greenspace, cliffs, and meandering creek on this land, during its previous ownership and were not keen to see the unique landscape transformed for development. Others had concerns about the proposed water and drainage system and the supply of the water table in Ballenger Creek. The special use permit for the proposed combined sewer system was ultimately denied by the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors in July of 2021.
Early in the planning process, neighbors discussed their shared concern with the developer who agreed to sell a portion of the parcel on the west side of the creek. The group began looking for a conservancy that could purchase the land for natural preservation and public access.
However, the neighborhood group had trouble locating an organization to purchase the land for long term conservation. They heard back from various conservancies stating that that the 73 acres of land was not large enough in size for purchase, or the plants on the land were not quite rare enough, or that it was too far from the city centers of Virginia to manage. Many organizations were willing to put the land under conservation easement, but unwilling to own the land long term and maintain public trails.
The Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) echoed the need for a conservation organization to hold land for conservation purposes, specifically in parts of Virginia further from the urban centers. Determined to find a way to share the parcel with the public for years to come, the neighbors banded together to forge a solution.
The informal neighborhood group formalized as Tadpole Land & Trail Conservancy on March 2, 2021, and purchased two thirds of the developer’s land July 16th, 2021. The neighbors had collectively raised $330,000 and donated it to TL&TC to purchase the land on the west side of Ballenger Creek.
Today, Ballenger Creek Nature Preserve is making progress as Tadpole works with the Virginia Outdoors Foundation to form a conservation easement on the property and an engineer to build a parking lot to local water quality standards. Once complete, Tadpole will welcome volunteers to build trails, plant meadows and trees.
Tadpole plans to plant a small native wildflower meadow, reforest the clear-cut portion with hardwoods, and construct public trails alongside the banks of Ballenger Creek and on the cliffs above the creek. They also plan to prohibit timber harvesting, construct information kiosks and install informational signs. In 2021, the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation granted Tadpole nearly $65,100 to support these efforts.
Today, Tadpole Land & Trail Conservancy is partnering with property owners to conserve their land in perpetuity in Central and Southside Virginia. Tadpole welcomes financial donations to support the acquisition and conservation of future preserves. TL&TC continues to welcome land donations and looks forward to partnering with landowners looking to conserve their land and share green space access for generations to come!