Press Release

September 10, 2017

Northern Neck Land Conservancy

804 462 0979-Elizabeth Friel, Executive Director

Conservancy Celebrates the Great Outdoors This Month with Dogs, Decoys and Doubles

One of the Virginia’s most talented dog trainers will demonstrate the amazing abilities of Labrador retrievers and other sporting breeds when the Northern Neck Land Conservancy holds its Boots and Barbecue event in Richmond County.

The Sept. 24 festival features Fritz Wildt, who has trained retrievers for hunting, companionship and competition for most of his life, first on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and, now, on his farm in Haynesville.

Wildt plans to run several dogs on a course designed to highlight their ability to take verbal commands and hand signals to find hidden bumpers and return them to their handlers.

Boots and Barbecue will be held at historic Grove Mount Farm, at 755 Grove Mount Rd., off St. Rt. 624 near Warsaw.   The event runs from 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. with fried oysters and a barbecue dinner served by Brian Oliff, of Angelo’s Restaurant, in Montross.  Tickets are $40.

The teamwork of dogs and handlers will be just one of the outdoor skills on display at Boots:  The event includes local decoy carvers who will bring blocks of wood to “life” in the form of counterfeit waterfowl.  Their work will show why decoy carving has found its place among American folk art and has an enduring following in the Chesapeake Bay region. There will also be exhibits of antique duck decoys and side-by-side shotguns, such as those used in the Northern Neck decades ago.


The displays represent Boots and Barbecue’s 2017 theme, “Dogs, Decoys and Doubles,” a tribute to how open space and working farm landscapes and their owners have supported the sporting life for centuries on the Northern Neck and Essex County.

Besides Wildt, other local sportsmen at the event will be:

—Nationally-known duck decoy carvers, Wade Johnson, of Warsaw, Clarence “Juice” McKenney, of Mt. Holly, and Willard Bowen of Warsaw, whose work is sought by collectors of Americana and decoy art.

They will join at least two other local artists to show how they carve award-winning replicas of ducks and geese from wood.

Rev. Willard Bowen and Brandon Sanders, both of Richmond County, will also demonstrate their work which was inspired by the Rappahannock Decoy Guild that Johnson and McKenney created.

— Larry Sisson, of Essex County.  He will display some of the historically-important antique duck and goose decoys he has collected from the Chesapeake Bay region during an obsessive quest that began 50 years ago.

Some of his wooden decoys are more than a century old.  His collection includes birds by the Ward Brothers, Madison Mitchell and Capt. Jesse Urie—familiar names to local hunters who used handmade decoys until plastic decoys began being mass-produced in the 1960s.

The old decoys went from being regarded as mere tools to folk art in the span of a generation:  “People kind of thought I’d lost my mind” Sisson said when he began his hunt for old decoys in the 1960s.

Visitors to Boots will also be given a rare opportunity to examine a portion of a valuable private collection of old shotguns.  The guns, most of them handmade by American artisans around the turn of the 20th-century, define a lost era of abundance before urban sprawl replaced wlldlife habitat and  game was hunted not only for sport but for commercial sale.

On a contemporary note,  the North American division of Italian gunmaker, Fausti, located in Fredericksburg, will exhibit an array of the company’s hand-crafted double-barrel shotguns that are works of art in steel and polished walnut.

Better yet, all of the exhibitors are great story tellers.  They will be more than willing to share their insights about the outdoors in the beautiful Northern Neck and Essex County fields and marshes.

“Fritz, Juice, Wade, Willard  and Larry are incredibly perceptive people.  They have been deeply influenced by their outdoor experiences and have the unique ability to share it through the arts of decoy carving and dog training,” said Land Conservancy president Lawrence Latane.  “We are fortunate to have them as our neighbors.”

The Northern Neck Land Conservancy works with landowners in King George, Westmoreland, Richmond, Northumberland, Lancaster and Essex counties who are interested in preserving farmland and open space forever through state-sanctioned conservation easements.  Easements limit development on the properties in exchange for credits that can be applied against state and federal taxes or sold for cash. In turn, preserved land helps support the region’s agricultural and tourist economy and helps maintain the region’s status as one of the most important wintering grounds for waterfowl on the Atlantic Flyway.

Easements are receiving increased attention on the Northern Neck where 32,000 acres in five counties are permanently protected as open space and farmland.   Farmers and other private landowners in Essex have preserved 23,250 acres over the past several years making Essex the 10th-ranking county in Virginia in acreage under easement protection.

The conservancy added about 300 acres of easements on the Northern Neck last year, including a forest in Westmoreland County that buffers Westmoreland State Park.  The timberland comprises part of the view that tourists see on the approach to Stratford Hall.

The conservancy wrote an easement for a property last year that was named a “Virginia Treasure” by the Department of Conservation and Recreation.  The land fronts the Chesapeake Bay in Lancaster County and represents what the department called a rare example of Chesapeake Bay maritime forest.

Grove Mount Farm is the home of Fran and Kirwan King.  The $40 admission ticket helps support the land conservancy’s work.  Beer, wine and dinner are included in the ticket price.

More information about Boots and Barbecue and the land conservancy can be found at, or by calling Elizabeth Friel at 804-462-0979.