Mount Jackson asked to help buy mountain land

The Shenandoah Valley-Herald

MOUNT JACKSON — A national environmental group is asking Mount Jackson for help in preserving a piece of area property, but disagreement exists over whether the town should be responsible for it.

Heather Richards, senior representative of The Conservation Fund, asked Town Council during its meeting on Aug. 8 to consider contributing all or some of the $50,000 the group is trying to raise to purchase a 137-acre parcel of the Massanutten Mountain ridge colloquially known as “The Knob.”

The Culpeper-based nonprofit must raise $75,000 by the end of the year, Richards told council.The amount represents a gap between what property owner Patricia Blackbourne is asking for the land and what the nonprofit can pay, she said.

The group has received $25,000 from a private donor in Northern Virginia, she said. Blackbourne lives in Kingsbury, Texas, and no longer wants to maintain the property, Richards said.

The land is valued at $383,900, according to Shenandoah County land records. Richards declined to reveal the sale price as it is a private real estate transaction.

The Knob lies along the southwesternmost ridgeline of Short Mountain, which stretches seven miles from Mount Jackson to Edinburg. No public roads lead up to it, and it is only accessible to hikers through the Massanutten Trail, Richards said.

If the money is secured, she said, The Conservation Fund plans to work with the U.S. Forest Service to incorporate the parcel into the George Washington National Forest. Otherwise, Blackbourne can sell the land to a private owner, who would likely develop it, Richards said.

In addition to the town, Richards is working with regional nonprofits to secure funding, including the Woodstock-based Shenandoah Forum, she said.

Planning Commissioner Robert Whitehurst, who attended the meeting, asked council why the county Board of Supervisors shouldn’t provide the $50,000 since the land is outside the town limits.

“Nobody wants houses on The Knob, but I don’t like the town paying for county property,” he said.

According to Town Manager Kevin Fauber, Mount Jackson’s responsibility for the land is linked to the town’s reservoir system, part of which sits near the property.

“We own a couple hundred acres that adjoins this land,” he said. “If that area is developed, it could impact the watershed.”

The mountain is also home to peregrine falcons, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists as a threatened species, Mayor J.G. “Bucky” Miller said.

Councilman Rodney Shepherd said making the land part of the national forest would spur the development of public roads and hiking and biking trails, thus increasing local tourism.

Miller favored funding at least part of the purchase gap to protect both the falcon population and South Mountain’s aesthetic value to the town.

“We would be doing a disservice down the road if we didn’t do our part to preserve a piece of Mount Jackson,” he said.

Council will revisit Richards’ request during its next meeting on Sept. 12, he said.

If the town commits to funding the gap, the money would likely come from its enterprise fund, which covers water and sewer projects, Fauber said.

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