More than 17,700 acres in Virginia’s historic Piedmont region were protected from development last year, the Piedmont Environmental Council recently announced.

Land placed in conservation easements last year doubled the rate of donations in 1999 and set a record for land conservation in the area, said PEC Chairman Christopher Miller.

“The dramatic growth in easements in 2000 shows how much local citizens want to protect Virginia’s countryside,” Miller said. “We thank those landowners who are committed to saving these rural open spaces from urban sprawl, land speculation and increasing pollution. We urge others to join in this vital cause.”

Since its inception 29 years ago, the PEC has worked with the Virginia Outdoors Foundation and other groups to preserve nearly 135,000 acres in a nine-county region between the coastal plains and the Blue Ridge Mountain peaks, some of which are among the‘fastest growing areas in the nation. The counties are Albemarle, Clarke, Culpeper, Fauquier, Greene, Loudoun, Madison, Orange and Rappahannock.

He said the state is losing about 50,000 acres of farmland and open spaces each year to growth and urban sprawl. “This has devastating consequences not only for the state’s agricultural economy, but also for important cultural and historic resources that encourage tourism, and vital watersheds that provide drinking water and nurture the Chesapeake Bay,” Miller said.

All of the 135,000 acres protected in PEC’s service area are in the watershed of the Chesapeake Bay and provide drinking water from Washington, D.C. south to Richmond, Miller said.

Conservation easements are legal agreements that permanently limit future development of land. Most are donated by landowners, although property owners continue to own, use and control their land.

The PEC is a nonprofit organization established in 1972 to promote and protect the area.