Photo courtesy the Western Virginia Land Trust.
Carvins Cove Natural Reserve is the second largest municipal park in the country; the 800-acre lake within its 12,700 acres of land supplies surrounding areas with water.
Sometimes the best ideas take the longest time to come to fruition. Just ask Rupert Cutler. A career environmental policy-maker and consummate negotiator, Cutler knows full well the gestation period for efforts to protect natural resources. Years, usually, sometimes more than a decade.
And so it was with the Carvins Cove Natural Reserve. What could be more straightforward than protecting the source of the Roanoke Valley’s main drinking water supply from roadbuilding and development that could pollute the water with mud, or worse, and potentially fill in the reservoir?
In 1996, Cutler, then-executive director of the Western Virginia Land Trust (WVLT), attended a meeting in Asheville and learned of that city’s conservation easement on the watershed of its reservoir. He brought the idea back to Roanoke where he launched a campaign to do the same on Carvins Cove. Although the 12,000-acre watershed was owned by the city, that didn’t mean it would remain pristine forever.
City Council soon established a task force to write a land use plan for the area, but didn’t act on the easement idea. Over subsequent years, Cutler was elected to council and later appointed to the water authority, all the while keeping a steady drumbeat for putting the watershed under easement.
In 2007, the idea gained steam when both the WVLT and then-Mayor Nelson Harris took up the cause. In April last year, the city signed an agreement with the land trust and the Virginia Outdoors Foundation putting roughly half the watershed – all the land above the 1,500-foot contour – off limits to inappropriate development.
“With the historic drought in the southeast United States,” WVLT executive director Roger Holnback wrote in the group’s newsletter last year, “the Roanoke City Council has shown great vision by taking steps to permanently protect the valley’s water supply.
“When the governor of Georgia is praying for rain on the steps of their state capitol and Georgia lawmakers are trying tomove the state boundary north to capture water from the Tennessee River, you realize how scare fresh water has become.”
Notwithstanding the success and hoopla that attended the announcement – it was the largest easement yet in Virginia – Cutler didn’t skip a beat. “Don’t let up,” he said.
The campaign continues without any pause to get all 12,000 acres of the Cove under easement.