Cowart Protects Oysters Image

LOTTSBURG—As one of the largest oyster planters on the East Coast, Lake Cowart’s business is dependent on the quality of the water in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

There’s not much the Northumberland County native can do about rainfall which often determines if the baby oysters he puts overboard live or die. And, there’s not much he can do about the pollution that seeps into the Potomac River from the ceaseless development of Northern Virginia. But, he does enjoy a measure of control close to home.

That’s why he turned to the Northern Neck Land Conservancy (NNLC) to place his Mt. Zion farm in a conservation easement. The easement, which is a legally binding document that Cowart and NNLC wrote together, prohibits Mt. Zion’s 310 acres of waterfront from ever being developed and permanently protects its woodlands that purify rainwater runoff from its fields before it drains into the Yeocomico River.

Cowart and NNLC completed work this year on the easement at Northumberland Highway and Lewisetta Road near Lottsburg. The farm, about one-third forest and two-thirds fields, includes a historic 150-year-old house whose rooftop cupola is a distinctive landmark.

The farm’s location makes it an important protective buffer for the several thousand acres of oyster planting ground nearby that Cowart shares with a business partner.

“Everything in the oyster business is so dependent on what happens on the land,” he said. “We need to be careful with our acreage to protect this watershed.”

Having seen the link between water quality and land use, Cowart is turning his sights towards protecting additional farmland he owns on the banks of the Coan River where his business, Cowart Seafood Corporation, is headquartered.

Cowart grows oysters on 1,200 acres in the Coan and is again working with NNLC to protect another 300 plus acres around that waterway’s shore.

“What goes on on the land affects the water,” he said.

Since 2004, the NNLC has worked with 32 conservation-minded landowners like Cowart to preserve 4,700 acres in the five Northern Neck counties plus Essex. In Northumberland and Lancaster counties, 12 owners have protected 1,700 acres, primarily farms and forests within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

Just this month, Northumberland resident Keith Harris and his son, Matthew, finalized easements on eight of their farm sites totaling more than 500 acres.

Easements provide countless public benefits. They protect open space. They support the region’s chief industries of farming, fishing and forestry. They enhance wildlife habitat and protect the region’s quality of life.

Boots & BBQ

Conservation easements will be highlighted at the annual Boots & BBQ event September 28 when NNLC will celebrate its 15th anniversary. Tickets are $50 and available at

The event will feature music, barbecue and fried oysters on the grounds of Ditchley, a historic waterfront tract in Northumberland County that illustrates the value of land conservation and the protection of water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.

Ditchley’s owners, Cathy Calhoun and Paul Grosklags, worked with NNLC to protect the property which had been subdivided into 70 waterfront lots by its previous owners. The couple recently planted 2,000 apple trees to support a farm cidery and agri-tourism venue that includes a heritage livestock operation.

“Far from stifling growth, conservation easements, such as the ones at Mt. Zion and Ditchley, are important economic development tools for a region whose economy depends on clean water and abundant natural resources,” said NNLC president Kirwan King. “Every property NNLC protects helps strengthen our local farm economy.”


DEADLINE:  September 1, 2021

The Northern Neck Land Conservancy (NNLC) is an accredited, member-supported nonprofit conservation organization founded in 2004 that is committed to preserving open space through conservation easements in Virginia’s Northern Neck counties of King George, Westmoreland, Richmond, Northumberland and Lancaster, and Essex County of the Middle Peninsula.

The NNLC works to protect the Chesapeake Bay and its watersheds, preserve unique historical sites, and maintain its rural culture of farmlands, forests and critical habitat for native and endangered species. The NNLC educates landowners and the public on responsible stewardship of the area’s rich biological bounty and natural beauty.

Position Summary: The Executive Director will have a genuine passion and enthusiasm for land conservation and the NNLC mission, working under the supervision and direction of the Board President. The Executive Director is responsible for providing leadership for the overall planning, direction, and implementation of NNLC’s programs and daily operations.

Responsibilities and Scope:

  • Conservation - Manage the process of forming conservation easements from initial contact with the landowner through final filing of the easement through advice and guidance in compliance with NNLC standards and procedures.
  • Land Stewardship- Oversee inspection and record keeping prescribed for the management of easements, working closely with all landowners helping them comply with the terms of their easements.
  • Financial Management- Support the NNLC Financial Manager and Treasurer in their duties of accounting, budgeting, expenditures, and funds management.
  • Organizational Growth- Ensure the NNLC office systems are in place for effective management including appropriate file retention, mapping, GIS, computers, equipment, and recruitment of interns and volunteers.
  • Personnel Supervision- Train, motivate and evaluate staff with Board oversight to encourage professional growth opportunities and increase effectiveness.
  • Strategic Planning and Vision- Work with staff and the Board in the strategic planning process, proposing goals and developing a vision for the future of NNLC.
  • Outreach and Education- Build and maintain effective relations and cooperation with local and state governments, regional conservation agencies, and the U.S. Department of Defense.
  • Development- Research and write grant applications, maintain continuing relationships with existing grantors, and cultivate relationships with new potential sources of gifts and bequests.

Specific Duty Requirements:

  • Travel is required to various locations in the region for meetings, conferences, workshops, and speaking engagements.
  • Evening and weekend work may be necessary.
  • Transportation for the performance of duties must be provided by the Executive Director.


  1. Compensation for travel mileage necessary for the performance of NNLC business will be provided including visiting properties, and attendance at meetings and conferences.
  2. Travel between home and the office will not be compensated.
  3. Per diem will be paid for overnight business travel as well as conference fees and professional society memberships as approved in advance by the President.
  4. Financial assistance with moving costs is available.

Application:  Submit resumes to Mr. Jim Russell, email: