Shenandoah National Park adds nearly 1,000 acres at Tanner’s Ridge thanks to three families

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John and Rod Graves address the crowd gathered on Tanner's Ridge on May 18 to share memories from the more than 800 acres the Luray Caverns family donated to Shenandoah National Park.

By Randy Arrington

TANNER’S RIDGE, May 18 — Initially, the idea was to create a ski resort when H.T.N. “Ted” Graves first purchased 1,500 acres along Tanner’s Ridge at Chapman’s Mountain more than a half century ago.

The idea predated the Massanutten ski destination at McGaheysville, but was shelved as other development plans brewed, such as housing sites and mountain communities. Those ideas too took a backseat as the family simply farmed the land for several decades.

“My father…was a man of great wisdom,” Rod Graves said, as his brother John stood by his side. “Although he was known as a businessman [owner of Luray Caverns], he was also a great conservationist…later on, dad always hoped [this land] would become part of Shenandoah National Park.”

Rod shared his memories of the land with nearly 60 folks gathered on Tanner’s Ridge just north of Stanley on Thursday. He recalled clearing certain areas for pasture land, planting pines on other spots…and one special fishing trip in which he proposed to his wife.

“God created a special place here…It will always be a part of our family, and those who preceded us,” Rod said. “Our family’s wish and our father’s dream have been fulfilled. What a victory for preservation…this is a haven now to be shared by all.”

Thursday’s ceremony marked the public announcement of the transfer of three separate parcels of land from the Shenandoah National Park Trust to the park itself, which officially took place in October. The Trust purchased a total of 969 acres from three families for about $3 million on Jan. 28, 2021 and then placed the land under a conservation easement held by the Valley Conservation Council for about 18 months.

“This has been a long journey,” said Ed Fuhr, chairman of the board for the Shenandoah National Park Trust. “There were a lot of twists, and turns, and obstacles, and overcoming obstacles to get to this point.”

Fuhr stated that the Tanner’s Ridge property is believed to be the second-largest donation of land to a national park among the National Park Services’ 424 units, with the largest taking place at Big Bend National Park. He added that Shenandoah was “close to another donation” of land involving several hundred acres, but offered no further details.

The 969 acres recently donated to Shenandoah National Park breaks down as follows:

  • 847.2 acres — Tanner’s Ridge LLP (Graves Family)
  • 116.2 acres — Dean Family Parcel
  • 4.8 acres — Bradford Parcel

The “complex process” that several officials noted in explaining what it took to make the land donation become a reality dates back to the 1920s and the formation of Shenandoah National Park. It was the Commonwealth of Virginia, through a group of regional businessmen, that petitioned the federal government for a national park at Shenandoah. An agreement in 1926 stated the federal government would not purchase any land for the formation of a park, even though they wanted another national park in the eastern U.S. So Virginia purchased the land and gave it to the federal government. In much the same fashion, the SNP Trust purchased the property and gave it to the park. In both cases — now and then — property owners were offered “fair market value,” according to park officials.

“What a wonderful American story we heard here today,” said Laura Imgrund, the newly hired Associate Director of Partnerships and Civic Engagement for the National Park Service.

“Our national parks were built on partnerships like this,” Imgrund continued. “This aligns with President Biden’s program America the Beautiful to conserve, connect and restore [an additional] 30 percent of land by 2030.”

The process to acquire the Tanner’s Ridge property actually began back in 2017 when the Trust partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Program and the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation.

“The Shenandoah National Park Trust is proud of the strong collaborations that have led to this momentous addition to the park,” said Jessica Cocciolone, executive director of the Trust. “These partnerships have ensured that this majestic property will be preserved for generations to come.”  

The partnership leveraged funds from the 2016 multi-million-dollar environmental damage settlement with DuPont for the release of mercury from its Waynesboro plant into the Shenandoah River some 70 years ago. Settlement funds were required to be used for “land protection, property acquisition, and recreational and wildlife enhancements [to include] riparian habitat along the South River or South Fork [of the] Shenandoah River.”

“Those settlement funds are there to restore habitat, and the Tanner’s Ridge project was chosen for several reasons,” said Emily Joseph, Director of the Office of Restoration and Damage Assessment for the Department of the Interior. “To increase habitat for wildlife, add to the amount of protected land which was under the threat of development, and it protects headwaters.”

The three combined properties are home to two creeks, including the headwaters of the Naked Creek watershed — tributaries to the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. A section of the West Branch of Naked Creek that supports brook trout and other headwater fisheries will be protected through this acquisition.

“It’s about conservation,” Shenandoah’s Superintendent Pat Kenney said. “Not only protecting the watershed, but this is great wildlife habitat.”

The parcels bordered the national park and include the surrounding flanks and most of Chapman Mountain. The large acreage of contiguous and relatively undisturbed woodland and forested habitat will provide habitat to black bears, migratory birds, bats (potentially including Indiana Bat and Northern Long-Eared Bat), and other wildlife. 

The donated land is also rich with history reflecting generations of family ownership and natural wonders, including waterfalls and sweeping views of the Shenandoah Valley.

“We feel that this is a landmark conservation achievement for our Page County community and for the Commonwealth of Virginia to have collectively added almost 1,000 additional acres into the core of the Shenandoah National Park,” Rod Graves stated in a February 2021 press release announcing the initial sale. “The property is majestic in its natural state with unique flora and fauna, springs and the headwaters of the Naked Creek which is a tributary of the Shenandoah River. Tanners Ridge and Chapman’s Mountain present a one-of-a-kind stunning viewshed to now be shared by all Americans and preserved for the ages.”

Former landowners Carol Dean Campbell and Connie Dean Kerlin shared memories on Thursday of their family raising cattle on the property and later using it as their own getaway for four-wheeling, fishing, hunting for mushrooms and sitting around the campfire.

“The land obviously has special meaning to all of them,” Superintendent Kenney said of the land owners. “So we thank them for sharing it with the rest of the country.”

The new donation makes the narrow national park that stretches 100 miles north and south a little thicker in the middle. It pushes its total acreage closer to 200,000 acres — now totaling 198,493. However, the real win is the additional wildlife habitat, the protection of waters that eventually flow into the Chesapeake Bay, and the preservation of the land into perpetuity.

“We should all be proud today,” Superintendent Kenney told the crowd gathered on Tanner’s Ridge on Thursday. “It’s part of our heritage…and not just local heritage like we heard today, but our nation’s heritage.

“This is your land now, so enjoy it.”

For more information about Shenandoah National Park,




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Virginia announces record $15M in land conservation grants helping protect nearly 14,000 acres

Virginia Land Conservation Foundation opens record $14.9 million grant round

USDA Joint Chiefs’ funding awarded to national forests for habitat restoration

Land Trust of Virginia expands to Page County with Weaver Hollow Conservation Easement

Soil and Water Conservation District selects first Conservationist of the Year from Page

Shenandoah National Park extends Old Rag pilot program for 2023

Nature Notebook: Rallying for the rivers

Campbell recognized for 35 years of service to conservation in the Valley

Virginia Land Conservation Foundation opens $7.5 million grant round

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1 Comment

  1. WHO actually donated the land?
    The families (after receiving $3 million payment), ?
    or the trust ?

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