A Natural Resources Gem in the Blue Ridge Mountains

One of Virginia’s quiet treasures became better known when Primland, a 12,000-acre wilderness resort of forests, streams, and meadows near aptly named Meadows of Dan, showcased its partnership with the college during a Tree House to Trails Celebration this summer. The Primat family owners from France and Switzerland had gathered to debut the recently completed Golden Eagle Tree House, new nature and geocaching trails, and a field guide developed by the college.

With a deep love for its natural resources, Primland’s founder, the late Didier Primat, purchased the vast tract of land in 1977 after a developer’s housing plans failed. Following some timbering in the early years, the secluded property was primarily a hunting reserve until a golf course was added in 2006. Cottages and a 26-room lodge with a spa were built using environmentally friendly materials, some coming from the property. A high-powered telescope in the lodge’s observatory gives guests one of the country’s best opportunities to view the night skies.

In recent years, Primland’s managers approached the college for assistance with best management practices for sustainability and long-term planning for the property. “We are always looking for ways to make our special setting better, as well as to pay homage to Primland’s spectacular scenery and abundant wildlife,” said Primland Vice President Steve Helms.

The Conservation Management Institute (CMI) took the lead for the college’s projects at Primland. Executive Director Scott Klopfer describes the opportunity as “like being a kid in a candy store. The unique setting gives our research scientists as well as our students an amazing outdoor laboratory. There are few places left like Primland, where large tracts of private land are managed in a natural state.”

Klopfer and Research Associate Michael St. Germain co-authored a 145-page field guide that hikers and beginning naturalists can use to identify the plants and animals they see on the property, which borders the Blue Ridge Parkway. Titled A Field Guide to the Nature of Primland and the Blue Ridge Mountains, the book features color photographs in addition to 130 detailed drawings of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, butterflies, tree leaves, and wildflowers drawn by St. Germain, an accomplished artist.

David Kramar, a CMI project associate who has studied eagles for many years, found golden eagles at Primland, the farthest south they’ve been observed in the East. He has been trapping the birds along the mountain ridges as part of a cooperative project funded by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the Eastern Golden Eagle Working Group. Before releasing the birds, he outfits them with a telemetry device to track their migration. Scientists estimate that there are less than 2,000 golden eagles east of the Mississippi. In honor of the discovery of this magnificent raptor at Primland, the Primat family has named its stunning new accommodation the Golden Eagle Tree House.

The collaborative work at Primland has involved a number of Virginia Tech alumni. Carl McDaniel (‘86 forestry), who joined Primland in its early days and now supervises the resort’s hunting and outdoor activities, worked to identify potential undergraduate research topics of interest. Primland’s horticulturalist, Scott Martin (‘05 horticulture), was instrumental in assisting with CMI’s cultural plant survey of the property. Jason Turman (‘04 agriculture), the trail master at Primland, lent his time and expertise to the cultural plant survey and the development of the field guide. In addition, he and Aaron Teets (‘08 biological sciences), one of CMI’s field biologists, designed and developed Primland’s two geocaching courses.

Other college projects have included developing GIS and vegetation maps of the property, studying bird habitat, and testing water quality around the golf course. Although the course was rated by Golf Digest this year as first in the state and 13th in the nation among public courses, Primland has opted to be environmentally conscious and pursue Audubon certification over hosting top-billed golf tournaments. The course is surrounded by tall grasses and small wetlands called biofilters to filter impurities and mitigate runoff, leaving no room for spectators. Stephen Schoenholtz, professor and director of the Virginia Water Resources Research Center based at the college, has been sampling streams around the golf course since spring 2010 to evaluate the effectiveness of the resort’s best management practices.

“The college appreciates its special partnership with Primland, whose owners and senior management share with us the same passion and belief in managing and sustaining our natural resources for future generations,” said Paul Winistorfer, college dean.

“As we look for mutual opportunities to combine our collective strengths, we know that greater outcomes will follow,” Helms added. “The College of Natural Resources and Environment and Primland share a passion for nature and the sustainable management of our natural resources here in the extraordinarily beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of southern Virginia.”

Related Links