Dr. Lillian (Lily) Ruckstuhl earned her medical degree in 1958 at a time when few women became doctors, and she developed a well-respected practice. Yet, she came to treasure a refuge from her busy professional life—the seven acres of woods and meadows she owned in Fairfax County.
Here, she watched her beloved horse, Picollo, graze in the field behind her house, and she cared for several generations of sheep, goats, horses, and dogs. She also tended to the historic Lindsay Cemetery next door.
But her community was rapidly urbanizing. Residential and commercial developments were sprouting up all around her little farm, located in Falls Church between Route 66 and Idylwood Road. She grew increasingly concerned that her property would also be developed after her passing.
Instead, Dr. Ruckstuhl created a legacy of natural open space by donating a conservation easement to the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust. When she passed away in 2008, she left the property to the land trust, with an additional bequest enabling the land trust to continue her role as caretaker of Lindsay Cemetery, where she is now buried. The land trust went on to convey the seven acre property, as a bargain sale, to the Fairfax County Park Authority, so this farm can continue to provide a beloved natural refuge for local residents in the midst of a busy world.
In this region, the site of rapid, high-density development, there are fewer and fewer opportunities to set aside land for parks. “As Tyson’s Corner has developed, we have continued to look for green spaces in these urbanized areas,” said Julie Cline, Manager of Land Acquisition at the Fairfax County Park Authority.
The Park Authority is working with the public to develop a master plan that fits with Dr. Ruckstuhl’s vision for her beloved land. Sandy Stallman, the Manager of Park Planning, emphasizes their two-part mission: to protect the natural and cultural resources of the county and to provide recreational activities to improve the community’s quality of life. The land that Dr. Ruckstuhl made a gift to the public can contribute to both parts of this mission, providing vibrant plant and wildlife habitat, as well as green space where people can take a rejuvenating break from city life.
This piece, written by NVCT, appeared in For the Love of the Land: 100 Conservation Stories from Across Virginia, published by the Piedmont Environmental Council