Governor dedicates state forest

Published 6:17 pm Thursday, November 11, 2021

Charlotte County is now home to the commonwealth’s 26th state forest.

Located along Saxkey Road in Drakes Branch, a designated Virginia Scenic Byway, the 5,004-acre state forest was dedicated on Thursday, Nov. 4, by Governor Ralph Northam.

The Charlotte State Forest includes approximately 13 miles of the Roanoke and Wards Ford Creeks — two tributary streams to the Roanoke River, a designated Virginia Scenic River.

The land is adjacent to Double Bridges Road and Mossingford Road near Drakes Branch.

“Virginia’s state forests are critical to preserving environmental sustainability and a strong economy across the commonwealth,” said Governor Northam. “Charlotte State Forest will conserve wildlife habitats, enhance water quality, provide recreational opportunities for the public and support local economies. We look forward to enjoying this new outdoor asset.”

The Virginia Department of Forestry will sustainably manage the forest under the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and American Tree Farm Standards, conserving critical habitat areas and providing new public access to outdoor recreation activities.

The forest was owned by Governor Thomas B. Stanley, who served from 1954 to 1958, and the Stanley Land and Lumber Corporation before The Conservation Fund’s purchase in 2019.

It was used to provide shortleaf and Virginia pine and white oak and hickory to local mills for furniture.

Stanley Land and Lumber Corporation property manager for 41 years Phillip Walker said preserving the land was an idea that has now turned into a reality.

“It is a bittersweet time for me,” Walker said during the dedication. “The people of Virginia will now have the same opportunity to enjoy what I have for a lifetime.”

Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring was also present during the dedication.

“As Virginia’s third-largest industry, forestry plays an essential role in Virginia’s economy,” said Ring. “Close collaboration between the Virginia Department of Forestry, The Conservation Fund, the Stanley family and other public and private partners made this important acquisition possible and will ensure that it is sustainably managed for current and future generations.”

By continuing the legacy of three generations of the Stanley family and the Stanley Land and Lumber Corporation and creating Virginia’s newest State Forest, Conservation Fund, Virginia State Director Heather Richards said the designation of the state forest will provide vital climate, economic and ecological benefits for generations to come.

“Ensuring the integrity of large, forested landscapes and keeping them in sustainable management is one of the most important conservation strategies today,” said Richards.

“Together, we made this wonderful outcome possible.”

Stanley Land and Lumber Corporation was founded in 1946 by Congressman Thomas B. Stanley, who would later become Governor of Virginia.

The purpose of the corporation was to manufacture hardwood lumber on a 4,000-acre tract of land in Charlotte County called the Greenwood Game Preserve, owned by Stanley.

The company’s primary business involved the operation of two small, portable sawmills on the property, with much of the logging being done by horses and mules.

By the mid-1950s, much of the timber had been harvested, and the company gradually shifted into drying and planing pine lumber for local building and construction projects.

Stanley was also an avid outdoorsman, and The Greenwood Tract provided a tremendous recreational opportunity for his family, friends and business associates.

According to the Virginia Department of Forestry, the property encompassed a variety of wildlife habitats, including abandoned farmland, cultivated grain and tobacco fields and several thousand acres of upland forest.