PORTFOLIO: Rifle Ridge Farm

Rifle Ridge Farm – Highland County, Va (1985 – present)

Rifle Ridge Farm is a 1,683 acre property in the high Alleghenies of western Virginia, owned by the Goodall family since the 1940’s. In 2007, the entire property was placed under a conservation easement with The Nature Conservancy so it will remain forever as a single, indivisible tract and contain a wealth of unique ecosystems and old growth forests. Over 400 acres of mature forest and riparian buffers were set aside to preserve these areas in their natural states and leave them roadless and free of logging. The rest of the property is sustainably managed as a “working forest.” Though most of the logging has been single-tree selective harvesting (to preserve aesthetics and minimize disturbance), shelterwood harvests and “gap” thinning has become increasingly necessary to promote oak regeneration. The Goodalls have practiced low impact timber harvesting for over 50 years and have managed their land according to a land ethic instilled by their father, Dr. McChesney Goodall, Jr. Their approach has been to manage the land as an ecosystem, to preserve the unique values of the property, and to always give back and not exploit.

Rifle Ridge Farm contains a combination of high elevation grassy balds, diverse upland forests, healthy tributary streams, a dynamic alluvial floodplain, and numerous rare species and habitats. The property is part of an extensive, unbroken forested ecosystem, which contains high elevation forest community types such as red spruce (Picea rubens) and northern hardwoods that provide habitat for snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus), northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus), breeding neotropical song birds, and a diversity of animals and plants which are both rare and common in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The property also contains approximately two (2) miles of Laurel Fork, an exemplary, high elevation cold water stream that drains into the Shenandoah and Potomac River Basins and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, providing habitat for native brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) populations, and other aquatic species. The two most significant open areas on the property include: (1) a grassy bald on the top of Bearcamp Knob, and (2) a lush streamhead valley near the house.

In 2016, the family nominated all of Laurel Fork for Tier III (“Exceptional State Waters”) status. Though the only major restriction of this designation is to ban all point source discharges (such as sewer), the purpose is to identify Laurel Fork as a truly exceptional stream and to begin creating connections to other parts of the stream currently designated as Tier III, such as a long section downstream that runs through the George Washington N.F. “Special Management Area.”

Rifle Ridge contains a combination of high elevation grassy balds, diverse upland forests, numerous perennial and intermittent streams, a dynamic alluvial floodplain along Laurel Fork, and an abundance of unique habitats.  It is part of an extensive, unbroken forested ecosystem that contains many rare high elevation forest community types.  The property also contains approximately two (2) miles of Laurel Fork, an exemplary, high elevation cold water stream that drains into the Shenandoah and Potomac River Basins and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, providing habitat for native brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) populations, and other characteristic aquatic species. The two most significant open areas on the property include: (1) a grassy bald on the top of Bearcamp Knob, and (2) a lush streamhead valley where the house is located.

In many forested sections of the property, both native red spruce (Picea Rubens) and northern hardwood communities are present.  The red spruce communities provide habitat for snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus) and northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus), two important conservation targets.  Both forest communities also support breeding neo-tropical song birds that are rare in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Typically, red spruce occurs as pure stands in small patches around the house, along Laurel Fork, and along the field-forest edge that characterizes the top of Bearcamp.  Though it is slowly migrating over most of the property east of Laurel Fork, it prefers the cool, north facing slopes. 

The Laurel Fork riparian area is characterized by a swift running freshwater stream with a fairly wide (75-300+ feet), and active floodplain.  The riparian zone is an interesting mix of open grassy areas and patches of northern hardwoods, red spruce, eastern hemlock, and rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum).  The active floodplain terrace is very topographically distinct and discernable in the field.  It contains a network of tributary streams and backwaters, and possesses wet, deep alluvial soils.

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