ABOUT RLEP

Celebrating 50 Years!

Who We Are

At its core, the Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection is a group of connected, informed and engaged citizens who care deeply about protecting the natural resources and rural character of Rappahannock County.

Staffed by volunteers and open to all, RLEP is a local, non- profit, tax-exempt 501(c)(3) corporation. Donations are tax- deductible to the extent permitted by law.

We are non-partisan and do not support political candidates. RLEP collaborates with state and regional conservation groups, including the Piedmont Environmental Council, Scenic Virginia and the Virginia Conservation Network.

A Board of Directors, comprised of county residents, local landowners and enthusiasts, steers the organization.

A Sense of Values

In all RLEP’s activities, a sense of values – rooted in the conservation of Rappahannock County’s priceless natural resources, farmland, scenic beauty and rural character – guides the organization. RLEP supports policies and actions that protect and enhance these treasures and opposes those that threaten to destroy or degrade them.

RLEP Priorities

RLEP’s programs emphasize a comprehensive approach:

  • RLEP was instrumental in the formation of Rappahannock County’s first Comprehensive Plan and encouraged County Supervisors to create the position of County Administrator. John McCarthy was hired the following year, and the Comprehensive Plan was implemented.
  • Over the years, RLEP has fought power lines; produced four years of Alternative Energy Expos in Warrenton; enhanced public areas; offered written additions to the Comprehensive Plan; and held educational seminars on forestry, creation of meadows, Lyme disease and more.

As unchecked growth in surrounding counties continues to threaten our rural landscape, it is more important than ever for Rappahannock County citizens to support an agenda of preservation and conservation.

  • RLEP works for the conservation of open space and scenic beauty through scenic river and road designations; use-value taxation; protection of wildlife habitat and ecosystems; and conscientious stewardship of public and private lands. Protection of the county’s scenic ridge tops and erosion-prone mountain slopes is critical to maintaining the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the quality of water throughout our watersheds and beyond. Conservation of dark skies is a more recent RLEP priority and aligns with the county’s stated goal of promoting agriculture and tourism.
  • RLEP recognizes that farmland generates more property-tax revenues than its occupants receive in county services, while subdivisions generate high-cost needs for schools, sewers, streets, and services in excess of tax revenues received. RLEP supports lower assessments for farm and forest land that reflect this reality. We also favor the continued establishment of agricultural and forestal districts and the county’s purchase of development rights program for farmers. Conserving farms helps conserve our scenic vistas, rural lifestyle and tourist appeal.

RLEP Board of Directors

Rick Kohler
President

Rick Kohler has lived in Rappahannock since 1989, served on the RLEP Board for 16 years and was elected president 10 years ago. He is interested in biodiversity, preserving open spaces, dark skies, clean water and creating strong links with other conservation organizations and the entire Rappahannock community.

Rick is on the County Planning Commission and is also a real estate broker in Washington, VA. He and his wife Kaye (a huge force in RLEP!) started the Saving Dark Skies program which is now guided by Board Member Torney Van Acker.

Clare Lindsay
Vice President

Clare Lindsay, a lifelong champion for the environment, started her career as an energy and environmental lawyer in private practice.

Clare then moved to USEPA headquarters where she spent 20 years as senior policy analyst on resources and materials management, specializing in electronics recycling and greener products certification.

Clare and her husband built a home in Sperryville 15 years ago and moved here permanently in 2020 where they enjoy returning old pasture to vibrant forest, meadow and grassland.

Nina McKee
Treasurer

Nina McKee is a CPA and lifelong equestrian whose office is in her horse barn at Oronoma, the farm in Woodville which she shares with husband Dan Avery, daughter Lily McKee, 20 horses, 3 poodles, 3 barn cats, and 3 honeybee hives. She moved from New England to Virginia in 1995 – and never looked back. Nina is dedicated to RLEP, Rappahannock and conservation.

Other local boards on which she has served include Citizens for Fauquier County, Northern Piedmont Community Foundation, Partnership for Warrenton, Virginia Piedmont Heritage Area (formerly Mosby Heritage Area Association), and Rappahannock County Conservation Alliance.

Her newest passion is breeding and training Freiberger horses from Switzerland, and Oronoma is home to the only ones in North America. Nina spends her spare time foxhunting with Thornton Hill Hounds and Old Dominion Hounds, playing polo, golfing or skiing.

Jeff Christie
Secretary

Jeff Christie (Secretary) has visited Rappahannock County regularly for over 30 years to enjoy hiking and the outdoor.

He has owned a house in the county with his wife, Paula, since 2002. Jeff is interested in preserving Rappahannock’s natural beauty, open spaces and vistas.

He was a transactional attorney, specializing in energy and infrastructure projects with a major international law firm until his recent retirement.

He is our point person on eminent domain issues with power and pipeline companies.

Jennings Carney

Jennings Carney is from a third-generation Rappahannock family. Their farm, Pen Druid, is now the name of the family-run business, Pen Druid Brewing in Sperryville, VA. The 27-acre farm focuses on permaculture, native-yeast fermentation and Heritage and Appalachian-focused cider apple tree husbandry. The farm has focused its energies on reinstating native fruit and nut trees and the riparian wetlands on the property.

Jennings, an Eagle Scout, has two other brothers Van and Lain who all grew up in Woodville and came back to the county after touring for over a decade in the music business. The brothers have deep family, business and cultural roots in Rappahannock. It is for that reason, and the unique environmental and cultural character of the county, that Jennings and his brothers decided to start their business here.

Jennings has a passion for the outdoors whether it’s climbing, skiing, hiking or scuba diving and that passion extends to finding ways to respond to the pressures of urbanization, access to our national parks and preserving the cultural, environmental and agricultural traditions surrounding the Shenandoah National Park. Additionally, the enforced removal of families from the traditional farms and homes in what is now Shenandoah is a subject of great importance.

On his time off, Jennings can usually be found in SNP climbing or hiking or at home in the garden, cooking or reading.

Claire Cassel

Claire Cassel made her first forays to Rappahannock in the mid 1970s with hikes up Old Rag and White Oak Canyon. Now decades later, she and her husband have made their home in view of Red Oak Mountain.

Claire retired in 2014 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with 30+ years of experience in natural resources communication, environmental education and public/private partnerships.

An enthusiastic advocate for connecting children to nature, native plants and dark skies, Claire loves the vibrant community life of this beautiful county.

Robert Ford

Born and raised in central California, Bob moved to Virginia with his wife Denise in 1980. He enjoyed a 25-year career in IT consulting and management in the Northern Virginia area and then ran his own garage renovation business for 12 years.

Son Tyler, 32, and daughter Kacey, 26, were raised in Vienna, VA. When Kacey was born, Bob and Denise bought their house “Windstone Ridge” in Flint Hill from the Foster family and have been restoring it ever since.  They have lived in Rappahannock full time since 2016.

Bob’s hobbies include old work restoration, conservation, motorcycling, building computers, landscape photography and video editing/production.

Aleta Gadino

Aleta Gadino became interested in environmental issues while living in California in the 1970s and early 80s. She has been a supporting member of WWF, The Nature Conservancy, the National Park Foundation, Arbor Day Foundation, and many other organizations related to natural resources and wildlife.

Her love of nature began with camping trips with her family in western national parks.

Her love of gardening, coupled with earning of an associate degree in Horticultural Technology later in life, continued that connection as she relocated to Northern Virginia and finally to Rappahannock County.

She is a member of the Rappahannock County Garden Club and a Master Gardener volunteer.

If the name Gadino sounds familiar, it may be due to the vineyard she and her husband have nurtured since 1990 and the wines they produce at Gadino Cellars.

Aleta is one of our point persons with Rappahannock schools.

Marshall Jones

Marshall Jones first lived in Rappahannock in 1990 and commuted to his job with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in DC for many years. This is his tenth year on the RLEP Board.

Marshall is with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal and has a strong personal and professional interest in biodiversity and conservation, locally and internationally.

Marshall chairs RLEP’s Government Committee and is an integral member of our Education Committee.

Torney Van Acker

Torney Van Acker is a retired electrical engineer and capital projects development manager who has owned farm property in Rappahannock County since 2002 and became a full-time resident in 2016.

Torney grew up on a dairy farm in northwest NJ, an area that closely resembles Rappahannock County. His passion is organic farming and gardening, sustainable land use and dark skies preservation.

Mike Wenger

Mike Wenger came to live in the forest in Bean Hollow after a career that took him all over the world with stops in the Air Force, academe, industry and a consulting practice. There he, and his wife, Joyce, pursue their passion for forest ecology, native plants and wildlife habitat preservation.

Mike is an active volunteer with the Old Rag Master Naturalists, a long-standing member of the Virginia Native Plant Society, an avid hiker and an out-spoken evangelist for controlling non-native invasive plants in Rappahannock County.

As a long-time educator, Mike sees education, particularly of young people, as central to protecting the natural environment of Virginia.

Larry Wohlers

Larry Wohlers recently retired as Ambassador to the Central African Republic.

He was the driving force in the creation of the Rappahannock County Solar Cooperative and is responsible for its success.

Larry moved to Rappahannock with his wife, Ann, and together they created a huge wildflower meadow, added native plant species to protect their pond and installed solar for their home and aeration of their wonderful swimming pond.

A Short History of RLEP

In 1970, 85 conservationists formed a young environmental group and challenged a giant utility’s plans to erect huge towers and 138,000-volt transmission lines through the heart of Rappahannock County. RLEP led a 15-month fight that forced the utility to withdraw its plans.

In the years since, RLEP has confronted other threats to the rural community it serves. Now one of the region’s senior conservation groups, RLEP is a strong voice for environmental protection and carefully planned growth—a voice heard well beyond the county’s borders.

See RLEP – Celebrating 50 Years for a short video of RLEP’s history, and Why RLEP? for an interview with Phil Irwin, RLEP founder, who played a major role in the conservation and gentle growth of Rappahannock County.

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