History of the New River Land Trust

A Legacy of the Land


In the fall of 1998, regional planner Lesley Howard heard a colleague say that a “no-development” option was simply never discussed when considering development proposals in Virginia’s New River region. On her own time, she subsequently advertised a meeting in The Roanoke Times for anyone interested in land conservation and creating a land trust. That gathering, which drew over 30 people to the community room of the Montgomery County Public Library in Blacksburg, was the first of many over the next three years where a small core of conservationists grew from an informal group to incorporate the New River Land Trust (NRLT).

As the group discussed how to move land conservation forward, it gathered community input through focus groups and one-on-one conversations with a range of community members, from business owners to land owners, stay-at-home moms, and the academic community. The group learned that regional stakeholders held their landscapes near and dear to their hearts, but often felt powerless to change what many of them perceived to be sprawling development. In response to this challenge, the NRLT hired its first executive director, Beth Obenshain, and officially opened for business in 2002. Beth retired in December 2009 at which time our current Executive Director, John Eustis, NRLT’s first assistant director, was named the executive director – bringing with him significant expertise and experience in land conservation issues.

The focus was and still is on conservation outreach, education and facilitation for folks with a stake in land and associated natural/cultural resources. First and foremost, the NRLT works with landowners to discern the most appropriate path forward for those interested in conserving their lands. The NRLT also engages with the staff and elected officials in New River counties to help them understand how conservation can be a tool to conserve natural assets and guide development in ways that reduce the financial strain on a county’s budget.

Since 2002, the NRLT has worked hard to build a sustainable nonprofit. The NRLT works hard to ensure it is strategic in the use of resources and to focus its efforts on projects with high conservation value. The organization accomplishes these interrelated goals with conservative fiscal management and pairing cutting-edge resource mapping technology with the local knowledge community stakeholders. Also, thanks to generous support from our community, the NRLT established an endowment to insure long-term sustainability in 2017. The NRLT was nationally accredited in 2013 and renewed this mark of professional excellence in 2018.

Today the NRLT is an established and vital part of the regional community. In partnership with landowners and its conservation partners, it has forever protected more than 56,000 acres of the New River region’s rural landscape and is working every day to expand the quantity, quality and diversity of conservation in the New River region. In the end our goal is to help protect the quality of life residents enjoy today as well as insuring a legacy that will sustain future generations.