CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A nature photography contest and a silent auction are among the highlights of the annual Special Places Event May 9, hosted by the West Virginia Land Trust
.The Land Trust, which has been working with landowners for nearly 20 years to try to preserve land in a wild state through conservation easements and purchases, will also honor an individual and organization for their conservation efforts.Lavonne Paden, director of the West Virginia Agricultural Land Protection Authority, will be named Special Places Guardian of the Year, said Sarah Vintorini, marketing and outreach director at the Land Trust.Starting in the Eastern Panhandle, Paden has helped protect about 20,000 acres of agricultural in 18 counties through the state Farmland Protection Program.George Santucci and the National Committee for the New River will receive the Special Places Society Award for their work protecting more than 7,600 acres in the New River watershed, which stretches from North Carolina to West Virginia.Vintorini is especially excited about the first ever photo contest, which award three prizes in two categories -- adult and youth.
"We've been overwhelmed with the response to that, and we'll make it an annual event," she said. "We received more than 90 photographs."The grand prize was selected by Steve Payne and Kent Mason, two of West Virginia's most beloved nature photographers. The governor's award was selected by Tyler Evert, photographer for the West Virginia Division of Culture and History. And online voting for the West Virginia people's choice award closed today," she said Tuesday.Organizers expect more than 200 people to attend the event, which starts at 6 p.m. May 9 in the Columbia Gas Transmission Auditorium off MacCorkle Avenue. In addition to the award presentations, the schedule includes a reception, gourmet dinner catered by Bridge Road Bistro, silent auction and live auction of five "West Virginia experiences," such as a via ferrata rock climbing weekend and guided nature photo tour.Ticket sales close on Thursday. For information, visit wvlandtrust.org or call 304-346-7788.Sponsors include Chesapeake Energy, Dow, Bailey & Glasser, Terrell Ellis & Associates, The Charleston Gazette, BB&T, Arnett Foster Toothman, Columbia Pipeline Group, United Bank and Inside Out Creative.Reach Jim Balow at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5102.