conservation

Remembering Marty Martin: Local Legend & Global Expert on Timber Rattlesnakes

“The plan is Catoctins tomorrow. I do not have high hopes even though a colleague saw 25 at my focal den in [redacted] on Wednesday when I was at a South Mtn, Pennsylvania site and got skunked…Forecast is for upper 30s tonight and I think it may push those Catoctin snakes under. However, if I don’t get out there it is just idle speculation. Having seen over 20,000 rattlesnakes plus about 1000 litters, figuring out exactly what is going on is more important to me than seeing a pile of rattlesnakes.”— An excerpt from Marty Martin’s email to me and other field-ready friends on October 8, 2020

William Henry “Marty” Martin III was known as the world’s authority on Timber Rattlesnakes—a species of pit viper native to mountainous areas throughout the east coast and as far west as Texas. He unexpectedly passed away on August 3, surrounded by his wife and daughters, after receiving a bite from one of his captive rattlesnakes.

Born in Leesburg, VA on December 24, 1941, Martin discovered den sites, studied behavior, and monitored the populations of these often-vilified creatures with dogged consistency for decades. At 80 years old, he was still pursuing his research with an eye to the species’ future, documenting the impacts of habitat loss, climate change, and other human pressures on his study populations while trying to instill a love for venomous snakes in the next generation.

“Marty was a guest educator for our Herpetology camps for the past 23 years and inspired countless budding herpetologists,” says Michael Kieffer, the longtime Executive Director of the Bull Run Mountains Conservancy. “While his research firmly establishes his legacy as a conservationist for Timber Rattlesnakes in the Eastern U.S., his work with kids will have lasting benefits, inspiring conservationists of the future. He was a dear friend.”

Martin shows a Timber Rattlesnake to young naturalists at the Bull Run Mountains
Conservancy Herpetology Camp this June. Photo by Michael Kieffer.

Martin’s own journey as a naturalist began as a young boy; by the age of 13, he had already made his first mark on the scientific community, proving the existence of a Timber Rattlesnake population in the Bull Run Mountains. At 17, he was a founding member of the Virginia Herpetological Society. He put his scientific career on hold to join the military, fighting for his country in the Vietnam War as a paratrooper for the Army’s 101st Airborne Division and for his armed service division as a bantamweight boxer.But when this chapter in his life ended, Martin returned to study snakes—and he never stopped.

He received his biology degree from the University of South Florida before traveling the world to conduct independent research on venomous snakes in Africa and South America. His travels would become fodder for conversation later in life, and those who spent time in the field with Martin were treated to storybook-style tales—escaping a Colombian prison by traveling on foot through the rainforest to Ecuador, escaping the epicenter of the first Ebola outbreak in the dead of night, witnessing the start of a civil war in Somalia, narrowly avoiding a deadly plane crash, bringing Australian TV host Steve Irwin to one of his Shenandoah den sites for an episode of “The Crocodile Hunter,” receiving his first and second rattlesnake bites—the list goes on.

While the spirit of adventure and his passion for all venomous snakes took Martin around the world, it was his hometown habitat that comprised the bulk of his life’s work and made him known throughout the herpetological community as a leading expert on Timber Rattlesnakes. “A human of mythic proportions,” writes Joe Villari, Preserve Manager at VOF’s Bull Run Mountains Natural Area Preserve, in his touching personal tribute to Martin. “His love for snakes connected him with humanity, and he connected so many of us to the beauty and joy of rattle snakes.”

Martin continued to work independently, preferring his own strictly field-based research methods to a life in academia, and spent more than four decades visiting the same den sites over, and over, and over again. He learned to predict how weather patterns could influence snake behavior. He saw den sites diminish and ultimately disappear due to human disturbance. And he saw how climate change was altering even the most reliable den locations.

Much of Martin’s knowledge has been published; he contributed to rattlesnake conservation as a member of the Timber Rattlesnake task force for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature for 30 years, and in 2021, Martin co-authored the 475-page book, “The Timber Rattlesnake: Life History, Distribution, Status, and Conservation Action Plan,” with the Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation. But he recorded his raw data the old-fashioned way—in decades of small, spiral-bound notebooks—and researchers will likely continue to learn from the late great herpetologist long into the future.

While he will certainly be remembered for his contributions to science, those who knew him will never forget the deep reverence he held for nature and the passion that drove his work. BRMC founder Andrea Currier recalls turning to Martin at an evening event on a beautiful hilltop in Front Royal and remarking, “Isn’t this pretty perfect?” Martin replied, “Actually, no,” and explained, “There are no rattlesnakes here!”

“Marty’s happiness was intrinsically tied to the presence and well-being of venomous snake populations,” explains Villari, “especially his beloved timbers.”


A celebration of Marty Martin’s life will be held at Morgan’s Grove Park in Shepherdstown, WV on September 25th at 1 PM. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Catoctin Land Trust (catoctinlandtrust.org) or the Bull Run Mountains Conservancy (brmconservancy.org).

This article first appeared in the September 2022 Issue.

NOVA PARKS ACQUIRES 128 ACRES IN LOUDOUN COUNTY ON POTOMAC

Kuhn Family Land Donation Makes New Park Possible

Fairfax, Virginia (June 28, 2022) – NOVA Parks has acquired a 128-acre riverfront property in Loudoun County. A donation by philanthropists Chuck & Stacy Kuhn of half the value of the land ($900,ooo) and an equal grant from the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) made this addition to the parks agency possible. The LWCF is a federal program which provides 50 percent matching funds to state agencies and localities for the acquisition and development of outdoor recreation resources. 

“Acquiring this new land overlooking the Potomac River is right in line with NOVA Parks’ 2023-2027 Strategic Plan, which places a high value on protecting natural resources and our shared environment,” said NOVA Parks Chair Cate Magennis Wyatt. “NOVA Parks’ plans to plant trees and restore habitat will greatly increase the ecological value of the land and protect the Potomac River.”

This morning, Chuck & Stacy Kuhn, owners of JK Land Holdings,  JK Moving Services, and CapRelo, NOVA Parks Chair Cate Magennis Wyatt, Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall, Supervisor Kristen Umstattd, and other community leaders signed the deed at the property, which will become Springdale Regional Park. 

“Creating this new park helps fulfill our goals of having more green and open space and providing Loudoun citizens with opportunities to enjoy Loudoun’s beauty” said Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall. “We’re grateful to NOVA Parks and Chuck & Stacy Kuhn for their role as stewards of Loudoun County’s rich environmental, historic, and recreational resources.”

Over the past decade, the Kuhns have conserved more than 22,000 acres of land—land greater than the size of Manhattan—ensuring vulnerable vistas and habitats are preserved and protected for future generations. The Kuhns have also won numerous awards, including being recognized by the Washington Business Journal as a Top Corporate Philanthropist and the Old Dominion Land Conservancy for their conservation efforts. In addition to the NOVA Parks donation, they have protected multiple area landmarks and natural habitats by buying and conserving:

·        500-acre Wolver Hill Farm in Middleburg

·        Historic White’s Ferry in Maryland

·        135-acre Westpark golf course in Leesburg that is being transformed into a park

·        JK Black Oak Wildlife Sanctuary, 87 acres in Loudoun with rare wetlands, native plants, and wildlife 

·        150-acres in Purcellville used to start the JK Community Farm, a charitable effort that alleviates hunger by growing chemical free crops and livestock and donating them to local foodbanks

·        Historic and now fully renovated Middleburg Training Center 

·        Several thousand acres near Loudoun’s historic villages

·        Two contiguous parcels of land in Saint Louis, Virginia, one of county’s first African American townships, into conservation easement to protect the 42 acres from development

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation deemed the property eligible for this federal grant because it met the criteria of the Virginia Outdoors Plan (VOP) goals for land conservation. The VOP aims to protect undeveloped land and waterways that provide essential benefits to society, such as clean air, clean water, food, fiber, open space for recreation, and a sense of place. The VOP prioritizes land along major rivers, like the Potomac.

The purchase saves the property from residential development, as it was once destined to become a subdivision for 16 single family residential lots. Instead, with the adjacent land already owned by NOVA Parks, the new park will comprise 278 acres and ¾ of a mile of Potomac River front. Springdale Regional Park will be able to enhance the natural habitat and to offer future families the chance to visit the park, experience nature, and learn about its rich history. The property was once an important area for Native Americans, who fished along the nearby Heater’s Island. 

The first pillar of NOVA Parks’ soon-to-be-finalized 2023-2027 Strategic Plan is protecting the environment. This includes actively acquiring and managing many of the largest intact natural areas in the region. NOVA Parks’ efforts to restore natural resources like riparian buffers—which protect waterways—and to plant trees—which remove ozone-depleting carbon from the air, address the root causes of climate change and help our region be more climate resilient.

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About NOVA Parks

Founded in 1959 as a conservation organization, NOVA Parks (Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority) is the only regional park authority in Virginia. It represents three Northern Virginia counties and three cities—Arlington County, Fairfax County, Loudoun County, the City of Alexandria, the City of Falls Church, and the City of Fairfax. The regional agency manages 34 parks with 12,335 acres of parkland, including waterparks, golf courses, campsites, historic sites, event venues, boat launches, annual holiday light shows, and a high adventure ropes course.

About JK Land Holdings

JK Land Holdings, LLC (JKLH) —owned by Chuck & Stacy Kuhn—seeks land acquisitions that can be sold, leased, developed, placed into conservation easement, or utilized by sister companies JK Moving Services and CapRelo, a global employee relocation and assignment management firm serving private and public sector clients. JKLH was founded in 2016, and has reinvested monies gained from land acquisition into protecting properties and tracts of land from future development.

Virginia’s Largest Private Land Trust Protects Another 182.4 Acres in Albemarle County

Virginia’s Largest Private Land Trust | December 12, 2018

The Land Trust of Virginia, holding more conservation easements than any other private land trust in the Commonwealth, is pleased to announce that 182.4 acres of entirely forested land, located southeast of Batesville, Virginia, is forever protected through the landowner’s donation of a conservation easement.  Located in Albemarle County, Miran Forest has been protected with the intention of providing public access in perpetuity by the landowners, the American Environment Foundation.

The landowners have protected their property with the intention of providing public access in perpetuity for hiking and quiet enjoyment.  There is an existing public trail on the property, located along the forested steep western slopes of Long Arm Mountain.  The trail leads to the highest point on the property at the peak of the mountain, known locally as High Top.  From the peak, hikers can enjoy beautiful views of the surrounding valley floors and nearby mountains.  Craig Davis, head of the American Environment Foundation said, “Our primary interest in protecting the property is to allow the wildlife a safe habitat and for people to enjoy the quiet of this beautiful mountainside.”

This property is highly visible from the Appalachian National Scenic Trail as well as the Blue Ridge Parkway and portions of the Shenandoah National Park and George Washington National Forest, making it a highly valuable property to protect in perpetuity.  The recording of this easement further enhances the existing land protections in the area.  Directly adjacent to Miran Forest is a property consisting of 206 acres under conservation easement with the Virginia Outdoors Foundation.  Additionally, there are numerous other conservation easements in close proximity adding important protections to the Virginia countryside.

Located approximately 2.5 miles north is another property in conservation easement with the Land Trust of Virginia, the Miller School of Albemarle.  This 637.4-acre conservation easement was recorded in 2016 and will forever protect numerous natural resources, open space, and scenic views for all to enjoy, especially the students of the school.  This property could have been divided into 34 different properties.  Both conservation easements, over the Miller School and Miran Forest, have no division rights retained, meaning that neither can ever be divided for development.

While a lot of work is being done in Albemarle County, there is still a lot more to do to ensure that bucolic Virginia is protected for generations to come.  The Land Trust of Virginia invites landowners, interested in hearing more, to contact Sally Price at sally@landtrustva.org.

 

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