A piece of Brush Mountain in Montgomery County will benefit from payments made by the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline to offset forest land impact caused by the project’s construction.
The Richmond-based Virginia Outdoors Foundation board has approved $1.2 million to go toward 553 acres just west of Gateway and Heritage parks in northwest Blacksburg.
The plan is for a local conservation group, the New River Land Trust, to use the bulk of the grant to buy the private land and then hand the property to Montgomery County and the town of Blacksburg. The culmination would be turning the land into a nature park with trails.
Of the seven projects that the VOF approved funding for this past week, the Brush Mountain plan got the biggest slice of the $3.6 million provided during the first round of grants.
Before starting work on the pipeline in February, Mountain Valley struck an agreement with several state agencies to compensate for forest fragmentation and impacts to water quality that were expected from clearing land and digging trenches for the massive buried pipeline.
The state then passed the funds on to four conservation groups. The largest share of $15 million went to the Virginia Outdoors Foundation.
Blacksburg is slated to get 218 acres of the Brush Mountain land, while Montgomery County will receive the rest, said New River Land Trust Executive Director John Eustis.
“We’re excited about it,” Eustis said Thursday.
Elected officials for Blacksburg and Montgomery County also praised the grant.
“I think it’s a fine thing for the town. It will enhance the recreational opportunities that we already have in place,” Blacksburg Mayor Leslie Hager-Smith said.
Among the other recreational opportunities Hager-Smith referred to is the ongoing extension of the popular Huckleberry Trail toward Brush Mountain.
Recent plans call for the Huckleberry to extend near Prices Fork Road in Blacksburg toward Heritage Park, which itself serves as an entry into the Jefferson National Forest.
“The connection will go all the way from the national forest to Christiansburg,” Hager-Smith said in reference to how the Huckleberry also currently extends south to the Christiansburg Recreation Center. “If we had our choice, we would do without the pipeline, but that’s a choice that was taken out of our hands.”
County Board of Supervisors Vice Chairwoman April DeMotts echoed Hager-Smith’s points about connecting the Huckleberry to some of the existing recreational amenities at Brush Mountain.
“I think this represents a wonderful opportunity to expand recreational access to the Jefferson National Forest,” DeMotts said. “We know those are extremely popular resources for our citizens, but also popular tourist attractions.”
Eustis said that his group has been in discussions with the town and county and hopes to nail down a land transfer agreement in at least a few months.
“Certainly before the end of next year,” he said.
The Poverty Creek Trails Coalition, which helped the New River Land Trust in applying for the grant, is expected to assist the town and county in trail design and implementation.
The New River Land Trust will also seek additional funding to cover the cost of park infrastructure and trail development, according to a press release from the organization.
In the press release, the land trust emphasizes the importance of preserving Brush Mountain and its surrounding area.
Beth Obenshain, a VOF board member based out of the New River Valley, praised the recent work done by Eustis and the land trust.
“It’s a major conservation achievement for Blacksburg and Montgomery County as it will protect several hundred acres of forests on Brush Mountain, the defining scenic view of our community,” Obenshain wrote in an email.
The land trust has in recent presentations described itself as a group that has conserved more than 51,000 acres of open and natural space since 2002.