Virginia voters by more than a 2-to-1 margin backed a proposal to issue $119 million in bonds to buy new land for parks and natural areas, and upgrade existing state parks.

In addition, voters in four local jurisdictions in Maryland and Virginia approved nearly $30 million in new spending to protect farms, purchase parklands, or otherwise preserve open spaces in their local communities.

The Virginia bonds, approved by 69 percent of the voters, will provide $36 million to 10 new natural area preserves and expand eight existing preserves to protect critical habitat. The money will also be used to acquire three new state parks, while increasing the size of 11 existing parks, to meet growing demands for recreational opportunities.

The remaining $83 million will be used to finance improvements and repairs at existing state parks.

Many of the land purchases will take place within the Bay watershed, and will be a step toward helping to achieve the Chesapeake 2000 agreement goal of permanently preserving 20 percent of the watershed as open space by 2010.

“New sources of dedicated funding for land conservation are essential if we are to keep the commitment to protect the Bay,” said Debi Osborne, director of the Chesapeake Field Office of the Trust for Public Land. “The value of this new bond is much greater than $119 million because these funds will also be able to match other funding sources and have a greater impact.”

In a report for the Chesapeake Bay Commission, the Trust for Public Land estimated that about 6.7 million acres would need to be protected through land acquisition or permanent conservation easements to meet the Chesapeake 2000 agreement goal.

So far, it estimated that about 17.2 percent of the watershed has been preserved, leaving another 1.1 million acres to be protected to reach the goal. Among the Bay states, Pennsylvania has protected 18.8 percent of its portion of the watershed, Virginia 16.1 percent and Maryland 14.7 percent.

Virginia is the only Bay state without a dedicated source of funding for land protection programs.

“This positive vote clearly demonstrates that Virginians care about preserving open space,” said Roy Hoagland, Virginia executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Nationwide, 79 of 99 local and state measures seeking funds to protect land for parks and open space were approved by voters in November, according to the Trust for Public Land. Altogether, those measures provided $2.6 billion in funding.

Besides the Virginia vote, land measures approved in the Bay watershed included:

  • In Arlington County, VA, voters approved a $67.4 million bond for parks, conservation, roads, safety and other purposes, of which $8.5 million will be used to protect open spaces. The measure passed with 80 percent of the vote.
  • In Fairfax, VA, voters approved a $20 million bond to acquire and protect parkland, of which $15 million will be used to preserve open spaces. The measure passed with 70 percent of the vote.
  • In Baltimore County, MD, voters approved a $4.5 million bond issue to purchase farmland development rights. The measure passed with 73 percent of the vote.
  • Baltimore County voters also approved a $5.5 million bond to acquire and develop parks and open spaces, of which $25,000 will go toward protecting open spaces. The measure passed with 75 percent of the vote.