A Blacksburg-based nonprofit is working with the state to protect sensitive wetlands and rare species in Floyd County.

The New River Land Trust recently purchased 67 acres adjacent to the state's 80-acre Camp Branch Wetlands Natural Area Preserve with a loan from the national nonprofit Conservation Fund, and hopes eventually to see the property added to the preserve.

"Given the fact that the property was … going up for sale and likely would have been lost for conservation purposes, it’s great that the land trust could do this," said Rob Evans of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Greasy Creek flows through the Floyd property and eventually into the New River.

"It’s an important piece of conservation property, but the state needs specific legislative approval to make additions to existing natural area preserves," Evans said. "And they haven’t granted that to us at this particular area."

This project is a first for the land trust, executive director John Eustis said. The nonprofit holds conservation easements on land and has received property donations in the past, but has never purchased a property.

According to county records, the land trust paid $175,000 for the property last month, buying it from Calvin Cannaday. Records show it is assessed for tax purposes at $286,600.

Cannaday could not immediately be reached for comment.

The land trust used the loan from the Conservation Fund to secure the land, Eustis said. It's meant to be a bridge purchase, with the trust holding the property until DCR can petition the General Assembly to add it to Camp Branch.

With legislative approval, DCR could buy the property from the land trust, and the Conservation Fund loan would be repaid, Eustis said.

The Conservation Fund provides short-term loans to governments and nonprofits, and even small businesses, to conserve environmentally-important lands and to encourage economic and community development, said Heather Richards, the fund's Virginia state director.

Applicants must develop conservation and repayment plans and demonstrate financial stability, Richards said. This is the first loan the fund has given to the New River Land Trust.

The land trust seeks to protect farmland, forests, open spaces and historic places in the counties of Bland, Carroll, Floyd, Giles, Grayson, Montgomery, Pulaski and Wythe, and in Galax and Radford, according to the organization's website.

If all goes as planned, the 67-acre Floyd property eventually will become part of the state's natural preserve system.

Virginia has 64 preserves around the state that protect endangered and rare plant and animal species, as well as waterways and habitats. Most of the reserves are owned and managed by DCR. Some, like Camp Branch, remain under private ownership but are managed with DCR guidance, Evans said.

Some are open to the public, like Floyd's Buffalo Mountain Natural Area Preserve; others, like Camp Branch, are too environmentally sensitive to allow general access, Evans said.

The land trust's Floyd property was previously used as a Christmas tree farm and hay operation, Eustis said. But it, like Camp Branch, comprises wetlands, which are home to rare species.

Both Evans and Eustis declined to name the species that would be protected, saying that doing so could put those species at risk.

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