New 73-acre nature preserve slated for Fluvanna

Ballenger Creek preserve to offer public trails

Contributed by  Betty McGehee

A new regional non-profit organization has purchased land in Fluvanna County to create a nature preserve with public trails.

Tadpole Land & Trail Conservancy (TL&TC) has purchased 73 acres along Ballenger Creek, a mile east of Palmyra on Courthouse Road, and is in the process of creating Ballenger Creek Nature Preserve. The preserve will include three-quarters of a mile of frontage on Ballenger Creek, beautiful cliffs covered with mountain laurel, and a variety of native trees and wildflowers. The land will be protected in perpetuity with a conservation easement granted to the Virginia Outdoors Foundation.  

Local residents donated the majority of the funds for the land acquisition. The Virginia Land Conservation Foundation has also approved a grant for partial purchase of the conservation easement on Ballenger Creek Nature Preserve.

TL&TC is currently raising funds for this project and future preserves and trails in Central and Southside Virginia and has until June 30 to match a $100,000 matching gift challenge from a donor.

TL&TC was created by local residents in March of 2021 to meet the need for a land-holding conservation organization in Central Virginia and Southside Virginia.  While several organizations hold conservation easements, few hold land outright for conservation purposes, particularly if the land is not close to Richmond or Charlottesville.  TL&TC will partner with landowners to preserve their land and legacy in perpetuity.

The goal of the organization is to preserve the natural beauty and ecosystem of the land and to open the properties to public access by establishing trail or water access.

Last month, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation agreed to hold a conservation easement on the land that will provide for public access as well as stream and open-space protection. 

“There is definitely a need for an organization like TL&TC in Central Virginia,” said Sherry Buttrick, assistant director of the easement division of the Virginia Outdoors Foundation. “A number of organizations hold conservation easements, but few are willing to own land outright for the long term for conservation purposes.”

TL&TC plans to accept donations of land in Central and Southside Virginia and create more nature preserves with public trails. It believes that communities would benefit from public trails in every neighborhood and that there is a need for a conservation organization that is willing to own nature preserves in Central and Southside Virginia.

In addition to the Ballenger Creek property, TL&TC has had discussions with other landowners who would like for their land to be conserved and valued as a nature preserve.

“Fluvanna already has wonderful public trails at Pleasant Grove and The Scheier Natural Area,” said Haden Parrish, Tadpole’s board chair. “TL&TC’s vision is that Fluvanna and other parts of Central Virginia will become communities that are rich with preserved areas and public trails in many neighborhoods.”

“In England, there are an average of 2 miles of public footpaths per square mile,” said Alyson Sappington, a TL&TC board member. “In England, an area the size of Fluvanna would have over 700 miles of public trails.”

Ballenger Creek Nature Preserve will display interpretive signs about plants, ecology, and history. The Preserve will protect two cemeteries on the property, one of which appears to be a cemetery for enslaved people. An 1863 map showed three small cabins next to the location of the cemetery, which might have been dwellings for enslaved people.

 “Environmental conservation and historic preservation often go hand-in-hand, as is illustrated in this instance,” said Tricia Johnson, director of the Fluvanna Historical Society. “TL&TC’s desire to conserve the natural space also serves to preserve the cemeteries located there, and, with the addition of appropriate historical interpretive signage, will give visitors the chance to learn about the lives lived in that space – both free and enslaved.”

Around half of the land in Ballenger Creek Nature Preserve has mature oaks and other hardwood trees. The other half is growing back in hardwoods following timber harvesting. This area also will lend itself to the interpretation of early successional habitat. TL&TC also hopes to create and maintain a small native meadow as a bird and pollinator habitat.

TL&TC welcomes donations of land in Central Virginia and Southside Virginia and is excited to partner with landowners committed to maintaining access to green spaces for future generations of Virginians. TL&TC is also seeking financial donations to buy additional ecologically vulnerable land near Ballenger Creek Nature Preserve and to fund a parking lot for trail visitors.

The organization also needs volunteers who would like to help with trail construction, meadow planting, leading nature walks, and other activities.

“We live in a beautiful place,” said Dr. Kathy Swenson Miller, who helped organize the donation campaign for the land purchase. “As Central Virginia becomes more suburban, we will value any land that we are able to preserve today in its natural state.”

National Trails Day is in June and an anonymous donor has offered to match all gifts to Tadpole Land & Trail Conservancy between now and June 30, up to a total of $100,000. The funds will go toward Ballenger Creek Nature Preserve and future preserves and trails in Central and Southside Virginia. Donations may be sent to Tadpole Land & Trail Conservancy, 630 Courthouse Road, Palmyra Va. 22963.

If you have questions, please contact Haden Parrish at

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