Fayetteville Observer April 12, 2007

Long Valley Farm to join state park

By Nomee Landis
Staff writer

The Nature Conservancy will donate a 1,380-acre estate that was owned by the Rockefeller family to the state Division of Parks and Recreation. It will become part of the new state park planned for Cumberland County.

The estate, known as Long Valley Farm, lies off eastern Manchester Road in Spring Lake. Several miles separate it from the 1,400 acres of longleaf pine forest already set aside for Carver’s Creek Sandhills State Park. That land lies north of McCloskey Road and west of U.S. 401 in northern Cumberland County, and Carver’s Creek meanders through it.

The donation of the Rockefeller property will force state parks officials to rethink how they will create the park, said Charlie Peek, a spokesman for the parks division. It is likely that the park’s facilities will be shifted to Long Valley Farm, Peek said, which has a 100-acre lake, an old estate home and several other buildings.

The land along the creek would likely remain primitive, Peek added, because it is high-quality longleaf pine forest.

Rick Studenmund is the director of the North Carolina Nature Conservancy’s Sandhills program. He said the conservancy will complete some ecological restoration projects on the property before turning it over to the state. That will occur around December 2008, he said. Peek said parks officials hope it will happen sooner.

Studenmund emphasized that the farm will not be open to the public until the state owns it and the division opens it.

The Nature Conservancy acquired Long Valley Farm when James Stillman Rockefeller, a New York City banker, died at age 102 in August 2004. In his will, Mr. Rockefeller left the estate to the conservancy.

The conservancy’s 24-member board of trustees approved the transaction last month.

As a permanently protected park, Studenmund said, the farm will be a wonderful asset to Cumberland County.

“Mr. Rockefeller really loved this place. He genuinely did not want to see it ever developed,” Studenmund said. “It is a great gift from him to the people of the Sandhills.”

Dohn Broadwell Sr. is a conservancy trustee. He said the central location of both Long Valley Farm and the Carver’s Creek property will make it accessible to people.

“There are certainly a variety of interests that could be fostered there,” Broadwell said of the farm. “I think it is going to be a very used park.”

Bragg protection

The continued preservation of Long Valley Farm will also protect Fort Bragg’s mission by preventing civilian development from encroaching on military training grounds, said Mike Lynch, Fort Bragg’s director of plans, training and mobilization.

The farm is adjacent to the 10,500-acre Overhills property, another Rockefeller estate, that the Army bought for training purposes in 1996. Because the farm also lies along the approach to the runways at Pope Air Force Base, preventing development there protects training flights as well.

The Nature Conservancy is donating the farm to the state because the organization cannot make a profit from donations it receives, Studenmund said. In his will, Mr. Rockefeller gave the conservancy the option of managing the estate or conveying it to another entity for conservation.

Keeping it within the conservancy would mean raising money to create an endowment large enough to manage the estate’s forests, farmlands and buildings, Studenmund said. The conservancy decided the Division of Parks and Recreation would be the best source to manage all aspects of the estate.

“We realized that there were wonderful historical, agricultural and cultural elements to the farm that were really outside of our mission,” Studenmund said, “but they were wonderful things that we wanted to preserve.

“We are going to enter into an interim agreement with parks to work together on planning for the new park at Long Valley Farm, to coordinate the ecological restoration going on and to ensure the work we’re doing there is consistent with parks’ vision of the future.”

Since 2004, the Nature Conservancy has planted about 180 acres of longleaf pine trees at Long Valley. Endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers depend upon thriving longleaf forests for habitat.

The woodpeckers live on the farm, and the forests there serve as a bridge between longleaf pine expanses on the Overhills property and Fort Bragg’s northern training zones, Lynch said. Ensuring the continued recovery of the woodpeckers also protects training at Fort Bragg, where exercises have been hampered in the past in woodpecker areas.

Through the state’s Ecosystem Enhancement Program, a stream that runs along the front of Long Valley Farm will be returned to its natural, meandering state, Studenmund said. It was ditched and straightened years ago to support agriculture on the farm.

That is one of the projects the conservancy hopes to complete before it transfers the farm. That work is set to begin this summer and be finished by year’s end.

Division of Parks and Recreation officials have said they plan to seek money this year to hire a superintendent, a ranger, an office assistant and a maintenance worker for the Carver’s Creek park. That could change.

Peek said the division must devise a new master plan that makes the best possible use of the parklands, both around the creek and at the farm. That will take some time.

“The possibilities of this place are incredibly exciting because of the wealth of resources there,” Peek said. “And they are so accessible to Fayetteville, a high-population area. Anything we do there is likely to be here a long time, perhaps forever. We’re very cautious. We take a long time to think about it and bring in outside help if we need it.”

James Stillman Rockefeller was the grandson of William Rockefeller, one of the founders of Standard Oil Co.

Several people, including the farm manager and the Rockefellers’ longtime housekeeper, live at the farm. They remember the family with fondness and have said in the past that Rockefeller and his family visited Long Valley Farm several times each year.

They lived in the stately old house on the property and enjoyed swimming and fishing in the pond, hunting in the forests and strolling the trails around the farm. Rockefeller also liked to oversee the cattle and crops being raised by his farm managers.

Staff writer Nomee Landis can be reached at landisn@fayobserver.com or 486-3523.