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Gift of a Lifetime

McLean family donates 70-acre conservation easement.

As a young teenager in the 1950s, Fredette Eagle left her home in Memphis, Tenn. to attend high school at a girls' boarding school in Washington D.C. One day, she and her classmates boarded a bus and took a field trip to a place that would capture Eagle's heart forever.

"We went across something called Chain Bridge, which I don't recall having any chains on it, and then we went through deep fields and deep pastures and finally, we got to Great Falls," said Eagle. "And I can tell you that you can fall passionately in love with a place, just as much as you can a woman."

Years later, Eagle married a man who worked for the CIA, and in 1967 they purchased their dream home on a 70-acre McLean property located just off of Georgetown Pike, and overlooking the Potomac River. Eagle raised her three children, Bryan, Tabitha and Hunter, on this property, and as the years passed by, the family watched with disappointment as development cropped up all around them. Developers interested in purchasing land contacted the Eagle's with increasing frequency, and Fredette Eagle began to take in borders to help defray the cost of her property taxes.

"I was in dire straits as the taxes went up because I didn't have that much money," said Fredette Eagle.

Fredette Eagle eventually applied to the Fairfax County Agricultural and Forestal program, which alleviates property taxes for landowners with large properties. Applicants must prove that a significant portion of their land is used for agricultural or forestal purposes. Properties that receive classification in the program retain their status for eight years, at which point the property owner must submit a renewal application. The Eagle property was accepted into the program, but Fredette Eagle knew it was only a temporary fix.

"I wanted something permanent," she said.

IN APRIL OF 2006, Fredette Eagle and her daughter Tabitha Eagle contacted the office of Dranesville District Supervisor Joan DuBois. They wanted to find out about conservation easement programs.

"When the Eagle's first came in to talk to us and tell us what they wanted to do, I think we were astounded," said DuBois. "We said 'you want to do what?'"

Needless to say, DuBois was thrilled that the Eagle's wanted to permanently protect their land from development, and directed them to several local conservation trust programs. The Eagle's eventually settled on the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust, a local land trust that works directly with property owners to find the best conservation option for their properties.

On Monday, Nov. 27, members of the Eagle family, DuBois and representatives from the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust and the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority gathered at Fredette and Tabitha Eagle's house for a signing ceremony that officially established the 70-acre Eagle property as a conservation easement that will be protected from development in perpetuity.

"This is an ideal conservation property," said Whit Field, vice president and general consul for the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust. "We really have to give credit to the landowners because their contribution was very graceful and very civic-minded."

SINCE BULL NECK RUN stream flows through the Eagle property, into the Potomac River and into the Chesapeake Bay, the preservation of the Eagle property will ensure cleaner drinking water and a healthier Chesapeake Bay. In addition, the property is part of the Potomac River Gorge — the 15-mile scenic Potomac River section that lies between Great Falls south to Theodore Roosevelt Island. This stretch serves as a habitat for a variety of species, including 15 globally rare species, 100 state-rare species and 30 different vegetation communities.

"This really is a lasting legacy and a gift to the whole community," said Alison Mize, director of outreach for the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust.

Fredette Eagle said she is thrilled that her property is now forever safeguarded from any sort of development.

"What I am most proud of is my three children," said Fredette Eagle. "They had millions to lose and nothing to gain, but when I first talked to them about what I wanted to do, all three of them said 'go for it.'"

Tabitha Eagle currently resides on the property and said that she could not have been more supportive of her mother's desire to preserve their land.

"The easiest route around here is to put in a 55-foot wide road, bring in Loudoun County red dirt and take all the trees down, and that's our idea of the worst possible scenario," said Tabitha Eagle. "Once you do that, there is no way of getting the Potomac Palisades back."

FREDETTE EAGLE'S son Bryan Eagle currently lives in Memphis with his wife Ricki and their two daughters Ana and Charlotte. The family came to McLean for Thanksgiving, and stayed an extra day so they could be present for the signing ceremony. Fredette Eagle's other son Hunter Eagle lives in New Mexico, and could not attend the signing.

Bryan Eagle has fond memories of growing up on his family's McLean property.

"It was vastly different than what it is today," said Bryan Eagle. "We had horses and I could ride from the CIA up through Riverbend Park using various and sundry trails without going through any development whatsoever ... we wanted to protect this land, having seen other large properties fall to development."

More than 25 houses could have been developed on the Eagle property, had they chosen to sell to developers.

"It really is an extraordinary contribution because people don't make money on conservation easements," said Alison Mize. "They receive certain tax breaks, but that is not even close to the money they would get from a developer."

Mize added that the donation of a conservation easement represents something that is far more valuable than money.

"These last forever," she said. "In a 100 years we're not going to be here, but this land will still be here."