By Cecelia Smith-Schoenwalder
For Lee Sauder, the management of House Mountain means the management of his backyard.
This iconic landmark of Rockbridge County has been under the same management plan for the past 27 years, but Virginia Outdoors Foundation wants that to change. And it is enmeshed in a long-running lawsuit over the issue.
Sauder, a sculptor in metalwork, says the management of House Mountain should not be up to VOF, which is a publicly and privately funded organization established in 1966 to promote the preservation of open land. But he also does not think it should be up to any one person.
“It’s not about what I would want to see in terms of management,” he said. “I think those decisions should be made by the local people who put the money up to get [the land].”
In 1989, an agreement between VOF and Rockbridge Area Conservation Council put the deed to the 876 acres that include “Big House Mountain” and “Little House Mountain” in VOF’s name. The agreement was set to last four years. Both parties agreed at the time that House Mountain and its surrounding lands should be used for “recreational purposes only,” according to court documents.
If no changes in management seemed necessary, the plan would be extended another four years. This had been the case up until Sept. 24, 2013.
On that day, Brett Glymph, the executive director of VOF, said in a letter to RACC that VOF did not intend for the plan to remain once that four-year term was finished, back in 1993. RACC did—and still does—not consent to this change.
It is unclear what parts of the agreement VOF wants to change, but Glymph mentioned adapting “contemporary land management standards and practices” in the letter.
Sauder says this could mean selective timber harvest on House Mountain, citing a management plan VOF had previously proposed to a community committee created by the agreement.
“At that point I thought it would be better to not be in this [community committee] because I wanted to fight them on it,” Sauder said. “I wanted to act on my own.”
So Sauder left the committee, which included representatives from Washington and Lee University, Virginia Military Institute, VOF and RACC.
“I think that [VOF] has approached the whole thing in a very high-handed manner without a lot of consideration for the local input,” Sauder said. “There are local folk who have put money and effort into the place over all these years.”
[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“I think those decisions should be made by the local people” – Lee Sauder[/pullquote]
RACC is suing VOF for breach of contract, saying VOF wants to change management of House Mountain without RACC’s consent.
On March 17, the Rockbridge County Circuit Court received RACC’s motion for award of reasonable expenses, including the cost of legal advice, from VOF. This is the latest filing in the ongoing lawsuit between RACC and VOF.
VOF’s attorneys, Victor Cardwell and Patice Holland from Woods Rogers in Roanoke, say they are anticipating a trial soon, after a period of discovery that could take between eight months and a year.
“VOF will continue to maintain the property and ownership until the court says otherwise,” Cardwell said.
RACC’s lawyers could not be reached for comment.