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James City County residents want to protect their community’s natural lands. 

That’s what they repeatedly told county officials during several rounds of public input on the latest comprehensive plan.

“We’re changing, but the county is still, as citizens have identified, a very special place in terms of our natural and cultural assets,” said Tammy Rosario, assistant director of community development for James City County.

The planning process started back in 2015, but citizens’ emphasis on green space ultimately resulted in a new document called the Natural and Cultural Assets Plan.

It maps out exactly where those places are located, what risks they’re threatened with and what officials can do to protect them.

Rosario said the county thinks of natural assets as “landscape elements that provide healthy surroundings.” That includes recreational opportunities, clean food and water for people and wildlife — “all the things we need for living.”

Cultural assets, meanwhile, “give a place identity,” she said.

The county partnered with the Virginia-based Green Infrastructure Center to do the new mapping and analysis. 

They found that nearly half of the county’s total 92,000 acres are home to habitat cores, or intact natural landscapes that are large enough to support species that dwell in forests and marshes.

“The more connected the landscape, the more resilient it is and the more pathways there are for people, pollinators, and plants,” officials wrote in the report.

After mapping the natural and cultural assets countywide — including the Jamestown site, historic cemeteries, farms, gardens and parks — officials looked at what risks threaten them in the coming decades.

If sea level rise happens as predicted, for example, the entire island of Jamestown may disappear within a century. (Jamestown launched its own campaign last year seeking millions of dollars to protect the site.)

The county also faces problems with shoreline erosion and forest-clearing due to development and solar farms.

The new plan points to economic benefits of conservation such as boosts to tourism and homebuyers — “to put it simply, nature sells.”

Rosario said the biggest advantage of the plan for county officials is simply having detailed data and maps to draw from, given their limited resources.

“If you don't know what you have and where (assets) are, then you're making decisions in the blind,” she said. “This plan really allowed us to … have a road map going forward.”

The James City County Board of Supervisors has already adopted the plan.

Rosario said the next step is for officials to use the data when making land use decisions. 

Changes could include new conservation easements, updated zoning rules, wildlife corridors and building parks.