The Cacapon and Lost Rivers Land Trust grew out of the efforts of the now dormant Cacapon River Committee. In an effort to curb watershed land development in the late 1980’s, the Committee’s President, Willard Wirtz, proposed a Basin Development Plan for the Cacapon River, hoping this might spur the Hampshire County Commissioners to initiate comprehensive planning. After his Plan failed adoption, another approach was sought and the land trust was born. On January 2, 1990, the Cacapon and Lost Rivers Land Trust became a West Virginia Corporation. Founding board members included: Jim Matheson (President), Joseph Swidler (Vice President), Nathalie Black (Secretary), Porter Austin (Treasurer), Forest Montgomery, and Willard Wirtz.
The Trust was founded as a non-advocacy, apolitical organization that was interested in protecting land throughout the entire Cacapon and Lost River watershed. A mission statement was adopted and continues today: The Cacapon and Lost Rivers Land Trust assists landowners and their communities in maintaining healthy rivers, protecting forests and farmland, and preserving rural heritage for the enjoyment and well-being of present and future generations.
By 2000, the Trust was a more prominent name in the watershed and Ben Bradlee, then editor of the Washington Post, gave 54 acres of riverside land to the Trust. The property was sold and protected by a conservation easement the same year. Proceeds from this important deal started the Trust’s Stewardship and Legal Defense Fund. Since then the Trust has received several additional land donations, the proceeds from which have gone toward ensuring a long-term future for the Trust.
Having been a volunteer employee since she joined the Board in 1999, Nancy Ailes was appointed the Trust’s first Executive Director and first paid staff person, in 2002. Through Nancy’s devotion of time and energy, the Trust took on more conservation easements, and foundations became more interested in funding the Trust’s work, and membership grew.
In 2002, the Trust conducted a major three-day strategic planning retreat called “the Healing Waters Retreat”. Using contacts and expertise from over forty organizations and agencies from across the country, the Retreat resulted in a GIS-based, Healing Waters Land Protection, Prioritization, and Green Infrastructure Plan (click for more info), expanding the Trust’s local effectiveness and capacity and bringing national attention to the Trust’s work in Green Infrastructure implementation.
In 2003, the Trust closed West Virginia’s first USDA, Farmland Protection Program conservation easement protecting a 265-acre farm. Since then, the Hardy and Hampshire County Farmland Protection Boards were created. In partnership with these Boards, the Trust has co-signed many easements, protecting thousands of acres of farm- and forestland, investing Millions of dollars to local farms, most of which has been plowed back into farming operations.
In 2010 the Trust hired its first Assistant Director, Kelly Watkinson.
In 2011, the Trust was honored to earn the distinction of being West Virginia’s first nationally accredited local land trust. Accreditation is an honor bestowed to land trusts that follow strict financial and organizational standards and practices of conduct. Accredited land trusts must be re-certified every five years.
In 2013, the Trust produced Listening to the Land: Stories from the Cacapon and Lost River Valley (West Virginia University Press, 2014). This acclaimed book tells local stories about the endearing connections this watershed’s landowners have for the Cacapon and Lost River Valley. It’s a “must read”, for anyone who has ever visited or loved this part of West Virginia.
By the end of 2013 the Trust, along with dedicated landowners had signed 47 conservation easement agreements protecting a little over 13,000 acres. Nancy Ailes, the Trust’s Executive Director for the past eleven years decided it was time to turn things over to Kelly who became the Trust’s second Executive Director on January 1, 2014. Jennifer Jones served as Executive Director from February 2019 until her retirement in August 2021. Emily Warner joined the Trust as Executive Director in August 2021.