The few celebrants who ventured onto the Meadowlark Botanical Gardens outdoor deck gazed at the hazy sky and gauzy sun in the early evening of June 8, a Code Purple day, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG). Code Purple is a measure of air quality conditions and represents “very unhealthy levels for everyone, for fine particle pollution due to ongoing smoke from fires in Canada,” said COG’s alert.
Inside the atrium, the spirit was far from gray, as a crowd of 225 celebrated the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust’s work to “save nearby nature” through conservation easements, land purchases, proffers and other methods. NVCT has conserved over 9,000 acres in the region, Alan Rowsome, Executive Director, told the gathering and adds six to eight properties each year.
Urging attendees to “enjoy biophilia in the comfort of air conditioning,” Board member Shruti Kuppa, explained that a donor had offered a $30,000 matching challenge to support three or four new nature preserves. A silent auction offered weekend getaways, art, custom clothing, fishing trips, golf excursions and more. Donors met the matching goal.
NVCT awarded the annual Richard Bliss Award to Nancy Hyde, a long-time board member who devoted 18 years to the organization and shepherded NVCT through its accreditation process. The Peggy Stevens award went to Joe and Laura Braceland, owners of Oak Hill in Annandale. Richard Fitzhugh built the house around 1790 in a late Georgian style and 1940s owners renovated it in the Colonial Revival style. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said that the Code Purple alert is “a fitting reminder that the climate crisis takes all hands on deck.” He commended NVCT’s work to preserve River Farm, headquarters of the American Horticultural Society, in Mount Vernon district.
Del. Vivian Watts cited her work on the House of Delegates’ Finance Committee to preserve the land conservation tax credit.
Del. Marcus Simon said that in the verdant Meadowlark park the air seemed clearer than in the Tysons Corner area where there are few trees, emphasizing the positive effects of “trees and green space on the air that we breathe.”
Former House of Delegates Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn applauded the Northern Virginians’ many outdoor options and touted the 2020 Clean Economy Act, enacted by the General Assembly and former Governor Ralph Northam, a bill that “created a path to carbon neutrality.”
Mount Vernonite Christopher Morgan attended because, he said, “We need to ensure that everyone in the next generation has access to clean air, clean water and open park space.” Morgan is an independent candidate for the Mount Vernon Board of Supervisors seat.
Vienna resident Janet Peace was there because she wants to address climate change.
Mount Vernon residents Paul Siegel and Betsy Martin gave awards to three NVCT staffers – Alyssa Hemler, Rentz Hilyer and Amelia Wilt. Siegel and Martin, founders of the Friends of Little Hunting Creek, previously received a NVCT award for a conservation easement to protect property in a natural state along the creek.
Although the event’s theme was “An Evening in the Garden,” given the Code Purple air, it turned out to be mostly an evening inside the glassy atrium amid many indoor plants. Guitarist Will Morales lifted spirits with tunes like the Carter Family’s “Wildwood Flower,” one line of which is “with roses so red and the lilies so fair.”
The Northern Virginia Conservation Trust was founded in 1994 to “add to and sustain abundant, thriving natural places in our Virginia communities” and to conserve “land that has natural, historical and cultural value,” states the website. The trust works in multiple jurisdictions, including the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax and Falls Church and Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, Fauquier, Stafford and Prince William Counties.
The Virginia United Land Trusts, which has 18 regional land trusts and eight that work statewide, reports that 80 percent of Virginia’s land is privately owned.