“Today we are celebrating an event that will positively improve the quality of life for the people of Fairlawn, Pulaski County, and surrounding areas both now and into the long term future.”
Cloyd District Supervisor
Pulaski County is now the owner of approximately 100 acres of Fairlawn farmland that will eventually become its newest park.
On Wednesday county officials and representatives of the Virginia Outdoors Foundation gathered on a grassy spot off Madison Street within the Smith Farm to sign three documents which conveyed the land to the county.
The Smith Farm was owned by Margaret Virginia Smith who inherited it at the age of 18 from her father, J. Logan Smith upon his death in 1944.
The farm at one time covered nearly 300 acres – most of what we call Fairlawn today.
Mr. Smith had first been forced to sell property to survive the Great Depression. Then World War II came and the war effort took even more of the farm, with Smith selling 109 acres at $200 per acre in 1941 to the Fairview Realty Company to provide housing for the crush of people descending on the county for work at what is now known as the Radford Army Ammunition Plant.
After her father’s death, Margaret and her mother sold 14 acres to the county for the building of the former Riverlawn Elementary School.
Margaret died in 2016 and willed the remaining 100-plus acres to the Virginia Outdoor Foundation so that the land could be used someday as a public park with ballfields, walking trails and other recreational activities.
The land conveyed to the county Wednesday sits between Madison Street and Dudley Ferry Road and stretches from the former Riverlawn Elementary all the way to the New River. Radford’s Bisset Park sits directly across the river from the farm.
As explained at the ceremony by Joe Guthrie, Cloyd District Supervisor, besides the signing of the document to make the county the owner of the farm land, a second document – a conservation easement – was signed that will forever protect 91 acres of the farm land from industrial, commercial and residential development. It will allow it to be developed for public use as a park, in keeping with Smith’s wishes.
“A small portion of the property being gifted from VOF to the County will remain outside of the conservation easement because its location isolates it from use with the rest of the park. But the park will still benefit from that area, as the County will agree that any proceeds from the sale of that remaining area, including sale for residential development, will be used to develop and maintain the park,” Guthrie explained.
The other important outcome of the documents signed Wednesday, Guthrie said includes a conservation easement on the adjoining property of about 14 acres which includes the Old Riverlawn Elementary School.
“That property is currently owned by the Pulaski County Economic Development Authority. The EDA will continue to own it, but through the signing of the easement, will stipulate that any future use of that property will be in keeping with and will enhance the adjoining park property,” Guthrie said. “That EDA property includes the former school building which currently serves as the home of the Pulaski Community Youth Center, which will remain at that site. So will the use of the school gym and recreation fields for County parks and recreation. With development of the adjoining park, the current recreation fields and playgrounds can be reconfigured, improved, enhanced, and added onto. In time, perhaps more of the school building can also be utilized in accordance with the provisions of the easements in any number of ways that might benefit the community, including some commercial businesses or even conversion to residential apartments. All of those types of uses will remain possible, and the future use of the former school building, like the future use of the farmland, is going to be determined by the people of the community.”
“Margaret Smith was well-known and highly regarded by those who knew her,” Guthrie said. “She said many times that her family had contributed land to be developed for residential neighborhoods, this final portion she said, she wanted to remain as open space. She said she could be happy with it remaining as a farm, or for it to be used as a public park for people’s recreation and enjoyment.”
Guthrie said this is not the first, but simply the most recent partnership between Pulaski County and VOF.
“Here on this property, the County has already acquired an easement for a right-of-way to construct a walking and biking trail that begins at the current Old Riverlawn Elementary School Property and goes through beautiful wooded ravine that bisects the farm property as far as its boundary at the New River. From there, that trail will continue on upriver beside the river and parallel to Bisset Park in Radford across the river from it, under Memorial Bridge and along Hazel Hollow, to another property the County acquired that will be another park along the river near the pillars of the former train trestle.”
Guthrie said it is comforting for those who knew Margaret and knew of her love for this land, that she knew about this trail before she died. “She was delighted that the County was already getting a start on the recreational use of her property. That’s partly because she not only loved the farm, but she loved sports and recreation. She followed local high school sports including the Bobcats and the Cougars with great enthusiasm. She was a big fan of the Hokies. And loved her Pittsburgh Steelers. On warm autumn Friday nights she loved to sit on her front porch and listen to Coach Lineburg’s Bobcat football teams playing in the stadium just across the river.”
Guthrie noted that the VOF not only allowed the easement through the Smith Farm property, but also provided a grant to assist in making the rest of that trail possible. “For that the County is eternally grateful. In time, the County would love to literally bridge the divide of the river and connect this park and this trail with the parks and trails just across the river in the City of Radford, allowing people on both sides of the river to easily utilize the resources for recreation on the other side. In time, this may even be part of a larger project to connect trails from Galax to Roanoke, and perhaps beyond.”
Guthrie noted some of the beneficial impacts of the preservation of the property for a public park are, not just for this property, but also for adjoining areas.
Guthrie said the Property fronts for approximately one-quarter mile on the New River, designated by the Environmental Protection Agency…as one of the original ten “American Heritage Rivers”… an initiative with three objectives: “natural resource and environmental protection, economic revitalization, and historic and cultural preservation”. The easement helps preserve the ecological, cultural, and scenic values of the New River.
The section of the New River, along which the Property is located, has been “evaluated and found worthy” for listing as a State Scenic River by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. The Virginia Scenic Rivers Program’s intent is to identify, designate and help protect rivers and streams that possess outstanding scenic, recreational, historic and natural characteristics of statewide significance for future generations. Protection of the Property helps preserve the scenic, recreational and historic values of the river.
The Property lies directly across the New River from the City of Radford’s Bisset Park, a 40-acre riverside park containing ballfields, the 3.5-mile Riverway Trail, and canoe and tubing rental facilities. The steep bluffs of the Smith Farm provide the backdrop for bikers, walkers, tubers and other users of this popular city park. Bisset Park is, in turn, linked by the Riverway Trail to Wildwood Park, a 50-acre nature park protected by an open-space easement held by Grantee.
The Property is a key component of a planned greenways project in the County of Pulaski that will provide river-front recreational activities to residents of the New River Valley and beyond, and the Property will provide additional protected land for such activities.
The Property lies immediately downriver from the future park on Hazel Hollow, for which VOF provided a grant to assist with acquisition and which is protected by an open-space easement held by VOF. Development plans for that park include a public boat ramp and a riverfront greenway that will extend to and across the Property as already permitted by VOF, ending at ORES.
The Property lies on the 2019 Virginia Outdoors Plan’s New River Blueway, a popular water trail in the region for kayakers and canoeists. According to the Plan, the “growth in kayaking and water-based sports continues to create a demand for destination water trails.” The creation of a public park on the Property and on county adjacent county land will enhance the experience of boaters along the Blueway by providing scenic views of an unspoiled cliff side, and enable a possible future access point for boats, rest facilities, walking trails, and picnic areas.
The Property lies just across the New River from a Virginia Birding and Wildlife Site and is less than one-quarter mile from the Lower New River Loop of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail, which connects a series of wildlife viewing sites in a region throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia. The preservation of the Property as open space will contribute to the wildlife habitat in the area.
The Property has been given a “very high” watershed integrity value in the 2011 Watershed Integrity Model from the Virginia Commonwealth University Center for Environmental Studies (VCU-CES), conducted in cooperation with certain state agencies in Virginia. Helping to preserve the Property in a relatively undeveloped state and limiting impervious surfaces will allow for retention and expansion of forests and help preserve its watershed integrity value.
By MIKE WILLIAMS, The Patriot
(PHOTO) Participating in Wednesday’s document signing were county and Virginia Outdoor Officials. Signers of the three documents conveying the Smith Farm to Pulaski County and conservation easements for much of the land were (seated, left to right) John Wyatt, Chairman of the Pulaski County Economic Development Authority, Tim Kirtner, County Attorney, Andy McCready, Chairman of the Board of Supervisors and Brett Glymph, Executive Director of the Virginia Outdoor Foundation. (Photo by Mike Williams)