Casey Trees will establish nursery on 700-acre farm in Clarke

By Laura Oleniacz
Berryville, VA (October 1, 2008)- Residents and visitors just might see a leafy native of Clarke County someday soon as they stroll along the streets of Washington, DC. The nonprofit group Casey Trees, which plants trees on private lots, in parks, at schools, and beside streets in the capital city, has plans to set up a nursery in Clarke County.


The organization currently buys black gums, redbuds, sweetgums, and holly trees from nurseries, including Bremo Bluff near Charlottesville, as it works to protect, restore, and enhance Washington’s tree canopy. But now, Casey Trees plans to grow some of its trees on property south of Berryville donated to the organization- a $6.85 million farm with more than 700 acres bordering the Shenandoah River.
The Eugene B. Casey Foundation, a Maryland-based charitable trust, deeded two adjacent properties known as Springsbury Farm and Lands End to Casey Tree Farm LLC in July. Betty B. Casey, chairman and president of the foundation, is the benefactor of the 7-year-old nonprofit organization, which plants 800 to 1,000 trees in Washington each year.
It was started in 2001 after Casey saw a Washington Post article about a decline in the city’s treescape, said Barbara Shea, president of Casey Tree Farm. Casey approached The Garden Club of America to solve the problem, giving a large endowment to jump-start the creation of a nonprofit organization to restore the canopy. Casey was looking for an organization she could trust that would preserve the Clarke County property, Shea said.
Attempts to reach Casey for comment were unsuccessful, and a spokesman referred questions to a representative for Casey Trees. “It’s hard to say why someone gives a gift,” said Mark Buscaino, executive director of Casey Trees. “I imagine Betty provided us with a gift because our business is trees, and we’re committed to growing trees out there and preserving the land.”
Springsbury Farm, on 329.4 acres at 2498 Briggs Road along Route 618, was valued at $4.75 million, according to the most recent county real estate assessment conducted in 2005. The adjacent 400-acre Lands End property, off Route 621, was valued at $2.1 million, according to the assessment. The gift was recorded in the Clarke County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office on Aug. 4.
Casey has donated other Clarke County properties for charitable causes, including her approximately 400-acre Vorous Farm to the Salvation Army. Before the county School Board changed its plan this year, a portion of that land was to be used for the construction of a new high school. County Planning Director Charles Johnston said in an email that Casey also owns 230 acres about a mile east of Berryville.
Shea said it is not known how many trees or what type will be planted at the Clarke County site. Buscaino said the organization may grow some of what it already plants in Washington, such as black gums, elms, and redbuds. The organization will not be able to grow trees right away, he said, and it is unlikely the land will be cleared for the plantings. The property has many grass fields and about 350 acres of hay fields, he said. “It doesn’t make sense to clear anything if you have a prepared [tree-planting] bed,” Buscaino said.
Shea said the farm also may give the organization an opportunity to conduct research, such as exploring ways to develop trees that will survive in urban environments. “Our goal is to keep this open land, and also to do something worthwhile with it,” she said.
Casey Trees will also revitalize the land into a working farm, Buscaino said. “Growing trees and working with trees is something we obviously want to do, but we’ve got 700 acres,” he said. “We can’t plant 700 acres of trees.”
Shea said Springsbury Farm was a horse farm, while Lands End was used as farmland. The organization is working to stabilize the property, Buscaino said, cutting grass, haying fields, and planting several hundred acres of winter wheat, as well as repairing a potholed road. “We want to be good stewards of the land and good neighbors,” said Buscaino, a professional forester and former national director of the U.S. Forest Service.
Casey Trees has conducted soil tests at the site, and has hired an agronomist and a farm manager. “We’re just putting the land into production, which it hasn’t been in a while,” Buscaino said.
Casey Trees will also rehabilitate the buildings on the property. “The houses have been weathered quite a bit,” Buscaino said. The central building at Springsbury is the residence built around 1800 for John Holker, according to “In the Shadow of the Blue Ridge” by Mary Gray Farland. Holker was an agent for the French navy in American ports and consul general of France, according to a biography from the University of Michigan’s William L. Clements Library at www.clements.umich.edu. He came to the United States from France with Benjamin Franklin’s support, and supplied arms and provisions for the French fleet during the Revolutionary War, according to the biography. Farland’s book states that the residence at Springsbury was enlarged in the 20th century into a 17-room manor house.
“The only thing we really want to do right now is make sure there’s no water coming into it, and it’s in good shape,” Buscaino said. “Rehabilitation is key.” He does not know what the home will be used for. “That’s a big question. This farm is very new to us.”
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