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ROCKBRIDGE AREA CONSERVATION COUNCIL
NEWS RELEASE
15 July 2015

Contact Info:

Barbara Walsh, Executive Director
Rockbridge Area Conservation Council (RACC)
P.O. Box 564, Lexington, VA  24450
540-463-2330
racc@rockbridge.net

or

Lee Merrill, Co-President
Rockbridge Area Conservation Council (RACC)
540-463-6096
merrill@rockbridge.net

For Immediate Release:  July 15, 2015 

Lexington, VA  

The Rockbridge Area Conservation Council (RACC) filed suit today in Rockbridge County Circuit Court seeking a Declaratory Judgment from the Court that the Agreements signed by RACC and the Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) in 1988 and 1989 remain in force. These agreements defined the terms under which the 876 acre House Mountain Reserve would be purchased, held by VOF, and jointly managed and preserved for the benefit of future generations.

The suit is in response to a resolution passed in June by the VOF Board of Trustees claiming that these agreements are no longer valid and asserting exclusive control over management of the land by VOF staff.

During discussions leading up to VOF’s action, RACC expressed a willingness to make adjustments in the Agreements such as changes to the structure of the House Mountain Management Committee, which has responsibility for management of the Reserve. RACC has not, however, been willing to relinquish a meaningful level of local control over activities undertaken on the mountain, the goals for preservation and maintaining a primitive setting, and the limits on future ownership which are all critical aspects of the original Agreements signed by both RACC and VOF.

In addition to discussions about the Agreements, for the past three years the House Mountain Management Committee, RACC, and VOF have talked about updating the plan for management the area containing the peaks of both Little and Big House Mountains along with the saddle area between these peaks. These discussions have included proposals by experts from Washington and Lee University (W&L) based on current science, to achieve the original goal in the Agreements of preserving wildlife and plant populations, by continuing to leave the forested areas of the property untouched, with the ultimate goal of naturally forming a large area of ‘old growth’ forest – the rarest forest ecosystem in Virginia.

With VOF’s concurrence, RACC has also proposed recording a Deed of Dedication that would strengthen the legal protections of the Agreements including limiting activities on the mountain to the traditional recreational, scientific, and aesthetic uses described in the original Agreements which the thousands of donors sought to protect when they contributed to the land’s purchase.

While these discussions have often been encouraging, VOF has been unwilling to finalize any of these efforts, moving instead to pass a Board Resolution to assert its exclusive right to manage the mountain as it sees fit.

“We think an agreement that satisfies all parties should still be possible,” said RACC co-president Lee Merrill, “but we believe that opportunity must come within the framework agreed upon by all the parties to the purchase of the land which describes the desires of the people whose financial contributions and other support made the purchase possible.”

For further information about today’s legal action, please contact RACC attorney, Jared R. Jenkins at (540) 572-4574, jared@jenkinsesq.com, or www.jenkinsesq.com.  Additional information about House Mountain and RACC is available at http://rockbridgeconservation.org, or by contacting RACC Executive Director, Barbara Walsh at 540-463-2330 or racc@rockbridge.net.

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