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Guest Article
      by Robert V. Miller, Madison, Virginia

Land committed to intensive use can seldom be restored to its natural state; consequently development must be balanced with preservation of open spaces if future citizens of Central Virginia are to enjoy the security of a pleasant and livable environment.

Many people in the urban areas of our state are forced to drive many miles to enjoy the scenic pleasures we take for granted every day. The benefits our community derives from the open space and the scenic view-shed are as diverse as the landscape itself. One benefit was the dramatic increase of the tourist dollar being spent in Madison County. Over the period from 1990 to 1997 the dollar amount spent by travelers in our county increased by 174% to a total of  $25,530,000.  In the same period our population grew by only 5% to a total of around 12,000 souls. One can imagine that the tourist dollars spent in Madison County contributed significantly to the 50% increase in the Median Family Income over the same period. These figures support the notion that Madison is an increasingly important destination for tourist dollars.

The suburbs, once peaceful residential neighborhoods with recreation areas and market centers have themselves been overtaken by urban sprawl and the necessity to use a car for the simplest of human activities, thus leaving little recourse for outdoor recreation. Natural areas and open space are more conspicuous than ever because they are fewer in number and, with each passing year, the debate over the best use of these remaining areas becomes more heated. For the period between 1969 and 1997 Madison lost 9% of its farm land, one of the lowest rates in the region, but, this rate has begun to increase as development pressures rise and the implementation of ordinances to control sprawl have been delayed or ignored altogether by our County Officials.

As our options for land use diminish, the attitude of the individual landowner is an increasingly important factor in efforts to preserve open space. Many landowners resist development pressures until their own financial security is jeopardized by rising real estate assessments and other economic pressures created by the transition of a region from rural to urban uses. Recognition of  the landowners desire to have alternatives to the development or loss of his land has prompted the state of Virginia to provide assistance to the individual who voluntarily wishes to preserve his property and to continue with the traditional uses of the land.

Virginia’s Open Space Land Act of 1966 declares that the preservation of open space land serves a public purpose by promoting the health and welfare of the citizens of the Commonwealth by curbing urban sprawl and encouraging more desirable and economical development of natural resources, and authorizes the use of (conservation) easements in gross to maintain the character of open space land.

If Madison County is to continue to grow the revenue from the traveler dollars spent here we must preserve the rural character and open space that the traveler seeks. If we allow sprawl to creep over us, the tourist dollar will surely find its way to a more scenic rural neighbor and Madison will cease to serve as the destination for the traveler but will exist only as a bypass marker. 

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