ORANGE COUNTY, NC (October 14, 2016)- A partnership of the Eno River Association, Orange County’s Lands Legacy Program, the NC Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund (ADFP), and City of Raleigh’s Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative (UNCWI) has secured the purchase of a “working lands” conservation easement on a 75-acre farm in Cedar Grove.  The easement serves the dual purpose of protecting prime farmland and protecting the quality of water in streams that flow through and downstream of the farm.

The Captain John S. Pope Farm is owned by Robert and Gail Pope, and is located on Efland-Cedar Grove Road. A spring-feed tributary flows through the farm and merges with the East Fork Eno River less than 2,000 feet downstream from the property.  The East Fork Eno River flows directly into Lake Orange, a drinking water supply reservoir for the town of Hillsborough.  The farm, currently in organic tobacco production, has remained in continuous operation by the Pope family since at least 1870 and retains the 1874 acreage as well as its historic arrangement of fields and forest.  Most of the buildings on the farm date back to the late 19th and mid-20th century.  The Pope Farm is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is designated by Orange County as a Local Historic Landmark.  The Popes’ strong connection to the property and their agricultural roots led them to reach out to Eno River Association and Orange County staff in 2012 to discuss potential land protection options.  The Popes wanted to make sure that this historic farm remained as a piece of North Carolina’s agricultural history, in perpetuity.

In addition to protecting the prime agricultural land on the property, the easement will have significant water quality benefits.  The farmland is located within the Upper Eno protected watershed and has approximately 2,000 feet of stream frontage.  As part of the project, Mr. and Mrs. Pope are protecting a forested buffer along the farm ponds and a tributary traversing the property, providing direct benefits to the quality of the water in this stream and the East Fork Eno River.  The City of Raleigh, which draws its drinking water from Falls Lake, fed by the Eno River, provided stewardship funding for the project for its water quality protection measures. 

“The Eno River Association and its members are proud to be able to help bring about these conservation efforts,” says Barbara Driscoll, President of the Association. “These public-private-nonprofit partnerships are increasingly important in our land protection efforts. They remain a core part of our work. Increasing the conservation of private lands is absolutely necessary to protect water quality, rural landscapes, and working farms and forests.”

Orange County Commissioner Earl McKee said, “This conservation easement exemplifies the County's dedication to preserving our natural resources, including prime farmland.  The County has been able to conserve even more land by partnering with landowners and other entities as was the case for this project.  This is a win-win for all citizens, and we thank the Pope family for their vision and commitment to conserving these resources.”     

Conservation easements are written agreements that permanently protect land for its natural or cultural resource values while leaving it in private ownership. The Pope Farm is Orange County’s 32nd conservation easement (totaling 2,153 acres), and the fifth conservation easement held by the Eno River Association (totaling 902 acres).  The project would not have been possible without the support and expertise of the NC Department of Agriculture, Orange County Soil & Water Conservation District, City of Raleigh, Conservation Trust for North Carolina, and, most importantly, Mr. and Mrs. Pope. 

The Eno River Association has been working on land and water quality conservation in the Eno River Basin for more 50 years.  It was instrumental in the creation of the Eno River State Park in the early 1970s and continues to actively work to expand protected areas throughout the Eno River basin.  The Association’s efforts have resulted in the protection of more than 7,075 acres in the watershed.    

Orange County’s Lands Legacy Program was established in 2000, and has since conserved over 3,196 acres of land containing natural areas, riparian buffers, prime farm and forestland, cultural sites, and for future park sites.  Orange County has collaborated on many projects with the Eno River Association in the Upper Eno River basin.