Photo Essay: A Behind-the-Trees Look at One Virginia Conservation Easement

Conservation Easement Spotlight: Frederick County, Virginia

Images and descriptions by Tracy Lind, Potomac Conservancy Stewardship & Outreach Specialist

Every property that is protected with a Conservation Easement holds unique characteristics.  With each monitoring visit, the Potomac Conservancy staff is reminded that we are not only protecting the physical landscape, but are working to protect vital habitats for a variety of plants and animals, healthy soils for agriculture, and natural buffers for clean water.  All of these photos are from just one protected property in Frederick County, Virginia.


Back Creek


Back Creek is a tributary of the Potomac River.  It runs approximately 109 nautical miles, from Frederick County, Virginia to Berkeley County, in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle.  It is “classed” by the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources as a “High Quality Recreational Stream” for fishing, swimming, canoeing and kayaking.  Properties, like this one, and other protected lands contribute to the cleaner water and beautiful environment of Back Creek that make it healthy and enjoyable for us to swim, fish, and boat in.


Back Creek


One thing to remember is things float downstream!  What happens here, at the headwaters, ultimately affects every person that uses the creek, the Potomac River, and even the Chesapeake Bay.  


Wild Turkey Tail Feather


Like many of the protected lands in the Potomac River region, this property has rafters (groups) of wild turkeys that visit or inhabit it, often.  According to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Virginia's wild turkey population is estimated to be approximately 180,000 birds, but is not uniform across the state.


Wild Turkey Prints


Acorns are turkeys favored foods, and unlike deer, wild turkeys have a poor sense of smell and taste and they normally select acorns based on their size and shape.  


Beaver Lodge


This conservation easement is one of the few pieces of private land where beavers are allowed to do what nature has taught them to do.  Often seen as a nuisance, beavers are important in that they create new habitats that benefit a variety of other animals including reptiles, amphibians, and waterfowl.  Their nuisance behavior is attributed to the physical damage that comes along with cutting trees and causing flooding.


Beaver Dam


Beaver dams slow the flow of moving waters and allow new wildlife and plant species to colonize areas, while also causing other species to no longer be able to survive in these newly formed habitats. In this case, the dam has stopped water from flowing out of a pond, keeping it full of water and attracting wood ducks each year.


Sassafras sapling


Sassafras is an aromatic tree with three distinctive leaf shapes: entire, mittenshaped, and threelobed.  It can grow in thickets formed by underground runners from parent trees.  The fruits are readily eaten by wildlife.   Black bears, beavers, rabbits, and squirrels, also, eat the bark and wood.  Sassafras plants are often cultivated for their leaves, bark, and wood to create tea, oil, and soap.  


White-Tailed Deer Prints


A deer’s home range is usually less than a square mile and in wooded areas.  In some places, overpopulation is a problem.  Gray Wolves and Mountain Lions used to be predators of White-Tailed Deer and helped keep their population under control.  However, due to hunting and human development, these predators’ populations have dropped significantly in many areas, lessening their impact on controlling deer populations.


Wildlife Food Plot


Many conservation easements, like this one, are used and/or protected for agriculture and outdoor recreation.  Wildlife food plots are valuable for attracting deer, turkeys, rabbits, and other wildlife to specific areas for hunting or viewing.  They are areas of agricultural type planting intended to benefit wildlife by providing them with a nutritional source of food.  


Northern Red Oak Sapling


Northern Red Oak is widespread in the East and is one of the more important lumber species.  It provides good cover and nesting sites (including cavities) for a variety of birds and mammals.  Its seedlings and acorns are eaten by a wide variety of small and large mammals and birds.


Chestnut Oak Sapling


Chestnut Oak is commonly found in the Appalachian region on dry, infertile soils, and rocky ridges, but grows best in well-drained soils along streams.  The acorns of this tree, along with those of the other oaks, are an important food for many wildlife species.  Chestnut oak lumber is similar to and marketed as white oak.




This property contains different soil and rock compositions.  One is limestone, a sedimentary rock composed primarily of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) in the form of the mineral calcite.  There are many different names used for limestone. These names are based upon how the rock is formed, its appearance or its composition and other factors.

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