Local families honored as Century Forest landowners

Just months after the establishment of the nation’s first Century Forest program, 23 families from all corners of Virginia, including two from Mecklenburg County, were inducted Monday (Nov. 21) into the inaugural class that honors those who have owned their forestland for 100 years or more during a ceremony at Montpelier, home of President James Madison and Father of the U.S. Constitution.

Deputy Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Sam Towell and State Forester of Virginia Bettina Ring oversaw the induction ceremony and presented each honoree with a certificate from Gov. Terry McAuliffe and a Century Forest sign that will be posted at a prominent site on their land.

“To qualify for the Century Forest program means that the property has been passed down through the family for the equivalent of at least five generations,” said Deputy Secretary Towell. “The shortest tenure of ownership in the inaugural class is 105 years; the longest is 235 years! That means this particular family took ownership of this land just five years after the American colonists declared their independence from England but had yet to win that independence until the Battle of Yorktown — which took place eight months after the land was purchased.”

State Forester Bettina Ring said, “These families and their ancestors built Virginia and they built America. What a fitting recognition of their achievements this is — being part of the first group in the nation’s first Century Forest program.”

The Century Forest program was created by the General Assembly in the 2016 session. The bill, SB252, was patroned by Sen. Frank Ruff and passed unanimously in both chambers. McAuliffe signed the bill into law March 21 at a ceremony inside the Executive Mansion.

Two Mecklenburg County families were among the families honored at the ceremony.

Charles L. and Darrel E. Garnett own 355 acres in Mecklenburg County that have been in the family for 133 years. The property was purchased by Charles’ and Darrel’s great grandfather R.C. Rogers in 1883. The trees have been harvested several times and replanted in loblolly pines to keep the lifecycle going.

Also honored was the Barner family of Mecklenburg County. For more than 100 years, the descendants of John F. Barner (seven generations’ worth) have called their 173.5 acres home. Under the name Wright Forestry LLC, Vance and Alan Wright are the current owners of the property. The property has been actively managed for years and has a Department of Forestry Stewardship Plan in place. The family has also placed the land into a VDOF conservation easement.

Forestry is the third largest industry in the Commonwealth contributing $17 billion a year to the Virginia economy and providing employment to more than 104,000 Virginians (1 out of every 33 adult workers). There are 410,000 private individuals and families who own most of the 16 million acres of forestland in Virginia.

From Charlotte County, the Adams family was also recognized. Rush Miller Adams III and Linda Gilreath Adams own land that has been in the family for 127 years. The 154 acres was purchased in 1889. The first timber was harvested to clear the land for agriculture and to build their home and farm buildings. Over time, timber was also harvested to cure tobacco and to provide heat for the home. A sawmill and spoke factory, powered by steam, operated on the property form the late 1800s to early 1900s. And they recently found part of a steam engine in the creek on the Adams Farm.