Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Kaine: Floating ideas on eco-tourism and land conservation

Gov. Tim Kaine spends a day on the James River...

The Roanoke Times
By Tim Thornton

Gov. Tim Kaine fishes on the James River near Eagle Rock on Monday. Kaine was touring Jack Leffel's property along the river, and the water, woods and rocks formed a backdrop for a discussion of land easement issues.

EAGLE ROCK -- Sometimes it's not easy being the governor.

You try to get out on the river for a little floating and fishing and maybe a little talk about one of your administration's most important goals and there are all these cameras all over the place...

... That's what a lot of Gov. Tim Kaine's Monday was like as he floated the James River through part of Botetourt County. But some of the trip was much better than that. Bank swallows skimmed above the river's surface, catching an afternoon meal. Giant folds of rock rose from the riverbank toward the sky, where a hawk circled and dodged diving attacks from a red-winged blackbird.

On the shore stood the stone and wood ruins of the James River and Kanawha canal system that was never quite completed....

...Kaine has made protecting land from development one of his administration's key goals. Before he leaves office in 2010, Kaine wants to add 400,000 acres to the Virginia land protected by conservation easements. It's about more than saving pretty views, he's said. Tourism is a big cog in Virginia's economic machine, and lots of tourists come for the mountains and the rivers. And then there's the work forest and open land can do for the environment. Improved water quality. Improved air quality. More wildlife habitat....

... The governor was standing on a very tangible target when he said that -- a farm owned by Jack Leffel. Leffel, who shared a canoe with the governor part of the afternoon, is working on a conservation easement deal on land that stretches along more than a mile of the James.

Leffel first saw the land when a friend was leasing it to farm it. Leffel fell in love right away.

"In my little small mind, this is paradise," he said.

Leffel, chairman of the Botetourt County School Board, grew up on a dairy farm. Now he's trying to learn to live without cattle. Leffel plans to turn the land he's owned for the past 25 years into wildlife habitat and hayfields. And he plans to see that it stays that way.

There's still negotiating to be done. The easement terms aren't settled. The sale of the tax credits Leffel will get for conserving his land needs to be arranged. But Leffel said that if everything works out, by September he'll put the Kaine administration 150 acres closer to its 400,000-acre goal.

Even if the land doesn't stay in the family, he said, it will stay like it is.

"I would like to think my great-great grandchildren will see this," Leffel said. "If mine don't, someone's will."

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