Samuel Miller District land gift turned down by Albemarle County

December 9, 2013

The view from the top of Dudley Mountain.  Photo by Ted Keefe

The view from the top of Dudley Mountain. Photo by Ted Keefe

By Ted Keefe

Montgomery Woods has many stories about Dudley Mountain, a 410-acre plot of land that he and his partner Jose Lambert own in the Samuel Miller District of Albemarle County, Va.

“I have a story for almost every rock and tree on this mountain.  Some are even true,” Woods said.

Recently, Woods and Lambert made the decision to donate the land, land Woods’ family has lived on since around 1860, to Albemarle County to be used as a county park.  However, the county board of supervisors voted not to accept the gift.

At the time of the board’s decision, Duane Snow, who represented the Samuel Miller District, voted no with the rest of the board.

“When the land was offered we were already considering another property within the county,” Snow said.  “As a board we didn’t feel like the county could afford both.”

“We couldn’t believe it,” Lambert said.  “And what made it worse was that they hadn’t even seen the land.  They didn’t know what they were saying no to.”

Bob Crickenberger, director of Albemarle Parks and Recreation, said the board was right to be hesitant.

“Adding that amount of land would cost between $11,000 and $15,000 just to maintain,” Crickenberger said. “That figure excludes the cost of building the necessary facilities to open it as a county park.”

Crickenberger said that the every acre of land owned by the county costs the Department of Parks and Recreation about $325 per year, and adding another 400 acres would have put a strain on the departments budget.

Despite concerns over funding, Snow said the reaction by district residents was overwhelming in support of accepting the gift.

“I started getting calls from people saying we need to take a second look at this,” Snow said.

Albemarle County has 3,300 acres of park land, plus more than 14,000 acres of Shenandoah National Park. Of all that acreage only one park, the 500-acre Walnut Creek, is found within the district. However, Walnut Creek is not found on a major road and is nearly a 30 minute drive on a narrow road from the southern outskirts of Charlottesville, where much of the district’s population lives. Contrarily, Dudley Mountain is just minutes south of Charlottesville and lies on the county’s primary north-south artery, U.S. Highway 29.

“The closest county park [Walnut Creek] to my home is more than 20 minutes away, so it would be nice to have one closer,” district resident Bonnie Gill said.

Proximity isn’t the only reason district residents are asking the board to reconsider.  The board had ignored a report on the land written by the Albemarle County Natural Heritage Committee.  The report cited a number of reasons why the county should accept the gift, including a unique ecosystem, cultural resources, and an already established trail system.  The report closed by stating, “Dudley Mountain is a cultural resource and natural resource asset that any agency, county, state, or national, would be ill-advised to not procure, nurture, interpret, and conserve.”

Recently, Snow and other supervisors were given a guided tour of the mountain.

The board was told they had until Nov. 30 to make their final decision, but that has been extensied into the first two weeks of December.  Snow lost his seat on the board to Liz Palmer in this month’s election.  Woods said that Palmer has told him she believes the district could use another park. However, Woods and Lambert say they will not wait for the new board to take control.

“This has gone on since September, so we want the current board to decide,” Lambert said. “A number of groups have told us they’d be very happy to protect the land if the county says no again.”

Even if the county does accept the gift, Crickenberger said there is no guarantee that it will be a public park.

“For the immediate future it would be managed as natural preserved land,” said Crickenberger. “It could be years before the public gets access to the land.”

Woods says he hopes the county accepts the gift because his family ties run deep in Albemarle County.  His ancestors first arrived in the county in the 18th century and at one time owned large segments of Albemarle.  Over generations land has been sold and family members have moved away, making Woods feel a park bearing his family name in Samuel Miller District would serve as the perfect legacy.

“This place has been special to my family for many years, but I feel it’s time to share it with others,” Woods said.

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