We are Accredited!

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Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land Earns National Recognition

Accreditation Promotes Public Trust, Ensures Permanence

 Marietta, GA (Feb. 23, 2016) – Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land (STPAL), a grass roots organization formed to facilitate the creation of new parks and land conservation across the Southeast, today announced it has achieved accreditation – a mark of honor in land conservation. The Land Trust Accreditation Commission awarded accreditation, signifying its confidence that STPAL’s lands will be protected forever.

“Accredited land trusts across the country have permanently conserved more than 15 million acres of farms, forests and natural areas that are vital to healthy, vibrant communities.

“Accreditation demonstrates STPAL’s commitment to permanent land conservation and to organizational excellence,” said Bill Jones, STPAL’s Founder and Executive Director. “We’re a stronger organization for having gone through the rigorous accreditation program and this strength will help make STPAL even more effective and beneficial to communities across the Southeast.”

STPAL was among 37 land trusts across the United States to achieve accreditation or to have accreditation renewed in February. STPAL joins the 342 land trusts that demonstrate their commitment to professional excellence through accreditation, helping to maintain the public’s trust in their work.

“It is exciting to recognize the Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land with this distinction,” said Tammara Van Ryn, executive director of the Commission. “Together, accredited land trusts stand united behind strong national standards ensuring the places people love will be conserved forever. In all, over 75 percent of private lands conserved by land trusts are now held by an accredited land trust.”

Each accredited land trusts meets extensive documentation requirements and undergoes a comprehensive review as part of its accreditation application. The process is rigorous and strengthens land trusts with systems that help landowners and communities achieve their goals. More information about land trust accreditation can be found at www.landtrustaccreditation.org.

The Commission is an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance, a national land conservation organization working to save the places people need and love by strengthening land conservation across America. More information about the many benefits of land conservation is available at www.landtrustalliance.org.

 About STPAL

The Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land (STPAL) was founded in Georgia in 2012 and is a 501-C-3 trust based in Cobb County dedicated to responding to the need for preservation of undeveloped or restorable land in various areas and making it available for responsible use by local communities.  STPAL has taken ownership of over 9,000 acres of natural land across 23 properties in various counties in Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee.  For more information or a complete list of properties visit the STPAL website at www.stpal.org.

About the Land Trust Accreditation Commission

The Land Trust Accreditation Commission inspires excellence, promotes public trust and ensures permanence in the conservation of open lands by recognizing organizations that meet rigorous quality standards and strive for continuous improvement. The Commission, established in 2006 as an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance, is governed by a volunteer board of diverse land conservation and nonprofit management experts. For more, visit www.landtrustaccreditation.org.

About the Land Trust Accreditation Commission

The Land Trust Accreditation Commission inspires excellence, promotes public trust and ensures permanence in the conservation of open lands by recognizing organizations that meet rigorous quality standards and strive for continuous improvement. The Commission, established in 2006 as an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance, is governed by a volunteer board of diverse land conservation and nonprofit management experts. For more, visit www.landtrustaccreditation.org.

About the Land Trust Alliance

Founded in 1982, the Land Trust Alliance is a national land conservation organization that works to save the places people love by strengthening land conservation across America. The Alliance represents more than 1,100 member land trusts supported by more than 100,000 volunteers and 5 million members nationwide. The Alliance is based in Washington, D.C. and operates several regional offices. More information about the Alliance is available at www.landtrustalliance.org.

STPAL 925 acre Land Donation to the State of North Carolina

In 2015 STPAL donated the fee simple ownership interest of the 925 acre Ginger Creek Nature Preserve to the State of North Carolina. We are very excited to make this gift to the people of North Carolina. The land will remain permanently conserved and available for public benefit.  The State’s press release follows:

 
Lenoir, North Carolina
January 19, 2016

The Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land announced today that the 928-acre Little Beaver Creek Farm in Caldwell County has been donated to the state to be managed by the Research Stations Division of the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
The land, donated by the heirs of Tommy Johnson, had been in the Johnson family for decades. The North Wilkesboro native, had planned to donate the property to the state prior to his death. Johnson’s sons, Alan and Steve, offered to give the land to the state of NC in 2014, but the transaction did not close prior to year’s end.
STPL agreed to serve as intermediary until details could be worked out. The land trust owns conservation properties similar to Little Beaver Creek in Western North Carolina and throughout Georgia.
“Serving as a placeholder isn’t an uncommon role for our land trust,” said Bill Jones, STPAL founder and executive director. “More often, we take properties into permanent conservation, but accommodating both the Johnsons and the state was the right thing to do.”
The Research Stations Division will manage the property under the direction of David Schnake, management forester, as a working forest, while providing opportunities for research, teaching and demonstration for foresters and students.
“We are grateful for the Johnsons’ generous gift and the help of the Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land,” said Sandy Stewart, director of the NCDA&CS Research Stations Division. “Without determined conservation heroes like them, complicated transactions like this one wouldn’t happen.”

 

Why we work

So we have started a new year. We are still working on uncompleted projects from years past. We are sorting through exciting new opportunities. We are tired from December’s hectic work of completing six real estate closings through which we received the donation of 2,700 acres of natural land. Five properties are in Georgia and the sixth is our first Tennessee property. But we push on and here is why.

I like parks. I have lived very close to the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area in Atlanta for the last 35+ years and spent my younger years living near a large municipal park. I have always been just a short walk, bike ride, or drive away from walking trails, creeks, ponds, and natural areas. When I walk certain trails with my current canine companion I am reminded of Buddy, Belfast, Spike, and Simon and the many times they were with me on the same trail. And even today as I wind down from a long week I am writing this blog post as one last work item before Junebug and I head out for a nice 2-3 mile hike to separate the week from the weekend.

If we don’t create new parks who will? I am not sure where new parks rank on most taxpayers’ and politicians’ priority lists, but I suspect it may not be high enough right now. It is becoming time that people need to find other ways to get things done besides waiting on the government to do it. Our basic game plan is to secure fee ownership of land and then figure out how to make it into a park. Ultimately we expect for most if not all of our properties to end up in the hands of local, state or the federal government. In some cases we have found that a city or county will have the resources to build a park, but not the land. In that case we are happy to give our land to them right away so that the park will get built. In other cases a county or city may not have the money for the land or to build a park. In that case we’ll look for ways to build the park and then give it to the city or county. In some cases the local governments have no interest in our land or in a park.  In those cases we will keep the land and look for local partnerships to help us fund, build, and care for the parks long term. Our ultimate goal is to create 100 new parks by 2034. It is lofty but as of now seems very attainable. 100 new parks! Permanently conserved and mandated to remain parks. How much good is there in that? Let’s go!

Great News in Villa Rica

It is official! There will soon be a new park in Villa Rica, Georgia. Read all about it below:

Information provided by the City of Villa Rica:

Donor:                         Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land

Name of Property:      Villa Rica Beaverland

Property Size:              159.25 acres | 2015 Fair Market Value: $704,900 (Douglas Tax Digest)

Location:                     N.E. of the intersection of Conners Road & Nally Road in Douglas County

Tax Parcel ID:             01800250001

The Property consists of 159.25 acres of undeveloped green space and is bordered by other forested and agricultural lands, single family residential tracts, three residential subdivisions, and one golf course. The Property will be protected from activities or land uses that would have a detrimental effect on the Conservation Purposes of the Property. The Property will be protected in perpetuity through a restricted deed and managed by the City of Villa Rica as an undeveloped natural conservation area in keeping with the Conservation Purposes and the deed restrictions.

The Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land acquired the property in 2014 to provide greenspace and provide for protection and enhancement of natural forest environments and native plant and wildlife species, protection of the wetlands and aquatic resources, specifically adjacent streams, including aquatic life, and an area suitable for forest and wildlife management, hiking, birdwatching, passive recreation and possible education activities related to local history and land use, natural history and natural systems. The Trust permanently limited the property’s usage by deed restriction so as to ensure future uses do not impact the conservation values of the protection of water quality and wildlife habitats, and to provide for the creation of nature-based outdoor recreation opportunities for the general public. The Trust designated that the property will be open for the regular use of the general public at no cost for low-impact nature based recreation opportunities such as hiking, biking, and nature observation along designated trails. When the Trust became aware of the City of Villa Rica’s desire to create a new passive recreation park it was obvious that we should transfer ownership of this property to the City for this purpose.

The City Council will take a formal vote to accept the gift at its public meeting on Thursday, October 29th, 2015.

The Mayor and Council is currently taking applications for its Recreation Advisory Commission. The purpose of the RAC is to make recommendations to the City Council regarding parks and recreation plans, policies, programs and projects. The RAC is composed of seven members who will serve three year terms. Those council-appointed individuals will serve as the steering committee together with the Director of Parks, Recreation and Leisure Services and representatives of the Trust to generate a master plan for approval and funding by the Mayor and City Council. We anticipate field trips to other passive parks throughout the metro Atlanta area to garner ideas in the planning process.

Examples of passive recreation activities:

  • Archery
  • Bicycling
  • Camping
  • Canoeing
  • Dog Park
  • Frisbee
  • Hiking and nature walks
  • Horseback riding
  • Kite-flying
  • Painting
  • Photography
  • Rustic picnic areas
  • Walking and jogging
  • Wildlife viewing and bird watching

The following criteria may assist with understanding whether an activity is passive, and therefore allowed:

  1. Will the Open Space resource values be diminished?
    • If YES then activity is not allowed
    • If NO continue to Criteria 2
  1. Will event effectively close or significantly limit use of the Open Space in whole or part to the public?
    • If YES then activity is not allowed
    • If NO continue to Criteria 3
  1. Will event leave anything behind and/or trace (even chalk marks, flags, litter, graffiti, waste, etc.)?
    • If YES then what is the trace?
    • If trace CANNOT be removed then activity is not allowed

Middle Age and Middle School

Why parks? I get that question all the time. People want to know why we started this organization for the purpose of building parks. Like many decisions the answer is a composite of many reasons.

First, I do enjoy parks.

Second, if we don’t create new parks who will?

Third, we had an opportunity.

And after editing out the longer responses to the first 3 reasons we finally come to the main reason. I am in my middle age and have a child in middle school. I may not be unique in that I have found that it is not always easy for middle age parents to have substantive conversations with middle school age children. When I ask mine to join me and our dog Junebug for a little hike at the park near our home I usually don’t get a positive response. Sometimes I just go to the park with Junebug. But other times I push a little harder and the hike starts out with a somewhat grumpy middle aged person and a somewhat more grumpy middle school student that would rather be watching videos on an iPad. But off we go. We hike along noticing interesting mushrooms and flowering plants. And Junebug chases the squirrels. And we stop to skip stones into a pond. And we see a deer or a snake or a butterfly.  And before long I notice something else.  We have been talking. I hear about paper that is due next week. I hear about a new friend. We talk about conflicts or problems. We share funny stories. We talk.

And that is why we build parks.

Happy Trails

Bill Jones

Value of Conservation Land for Communities

 

Value of Conservation Land for Communities 05 29 15

I recently had two very frustrating conversations with a property tax agent in a huge Metro Atlanta area county. He kept insisting that our conservation land was nothing more than a vacant lot. I kept reminding him that conservation land by definition is vacant, but it doesn’t mean it is the same as a vacant lot. On both occasions the conversation ended with him just saying Vacant Lot! and me replying Conservation Land! My blood pressure is still running a little high 30 days later.

We can start with the obvious. Both vacant lots and conservation land may not have structures, but conservation land will always remain vacant. It seems so simple. But besides just being vacant there are other community benefits of conservation land for the community.

  1. All of STPAL’s properties are available for public use and benefit. They are all in various states of development related to the public use, but they are open. In many cases their best use is simply a place for the quiet enjoyment of nature. We live in a goal orientated and action item world. Do not scoff at the value of just taking some time relaxing in a natural area. However on some properties we are creating significant park amenities such as marked hiking trails, disc golf courses, canoe & kayak launches, and other recreational components.
  2. Conservation land provides habitat for wildlife. We frequently hear stories of forest animals running out of habitat and venturing into suburban neighborhoods. Bear sightings happen annually in the office parks and neighborhoods across the northern Atlanta suburbs. Having large tracts of conservation land provides both wildlife habitat and corridors. Corridors are particularly important for animals that rely on a “range” for their foraging, mating, and other activities.
  3. Large natural forest areas are also important for maintaining ecological processes and supplying ecosystem services like water and air purification, nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration, erosion control and flood control.
  4. For more information: http://www.landtrustalliance.org/why-conserve-land

 

This is a little insight into STPAL’s balancing act. There is more to follow in coming blogs

Happy Trails

Bill Jones

Public Use of Conservation Land

Public Use of Conservation Land

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.  John Muir

This is a follow up blog regarding how STPAL balances our sometimes competing missions of land conservation, public use parks, and organizational viability.

It is intentional that in our name the word Parks comes before Land. We were founded in order to create public parks. It is our first priority. So why do we also function as a conservation land trust?

First, we want our efforts to have permanence. Having our land permanently conserved via deed restriction makes the lands’ natural state also permanent. It gives us hope that our parks will remain in use forever. This is a powerful and highly motivating concept.

Second, our land donors and financial supporters like to know that their gifts will have long lasting impact. Having the land conserved provides that surety.

Third, having the land permanently conserved makes it exempt from property taxes. Although I still spend significant and usually aggravating time dealing with some counties as they slowly realize that they can’t tax us.

And finally, the conservation deed restrictions force us and future STPAL Boards and Staff to adhere to our vision of permanent public parks with significant natural areas. We recognize that there may come a time when STPAL could face a crisis or simply stray from its mission.  By permanently conserving the land now we prevent the land from being changed, harmed or even developed in the future. But even today we appreciate that we are forced to keep our conservation land in its natural state.  It simplifies our planning and decision making.

Our current 17 properties are all 100% conserved with just one exception. We can build natural surface trails and parking areas. We can install low impact and minimal signage. We can build natural unplumbed restrooms (google: moldering privy or composting toilet). We can put in disc golf courses. We can install educational and science research components. We can plant native species and remove invasive plants. We can possibly build pavilions, canoe/kayak launches, boardwalks, shooting/archery ranges, and other simple low impact structures. We can consider permitting mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking, birdwatching, very limited hunting, limited fishing, limited camping and other activities as long as they do not harm the conservation values of the land. Conservation values examples include water quality and flood control; plant and wildlife habitat protection; and protection of scenic views. Some of the typical park amenities that can’t be built on conservation land are soccer/baseball/softball and other organized sports fields, playgrounds, ATV areas, and other high impact uses. We also are mandated to provide the public use at no or very low cost for participants. This will prevent our parks from ever requiring payment for usage.

In summary, parks on conservation land have a theme of Quiet Enjoyment of Nature.

This is a little additional insight into STPAL’s balancing act. There is more to follow in coming blogs

Happy Trails

Bill Jones

Balancing

The Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land is a land trust* by definition and function.

* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land_trust

However it is not an accident that Parks comes before Land in our name. Our original and ongoing mission is to create and care for permanent public use parks. In order to make the parks permanent the most effective means is conserving the land via a deed restriction or easement. Because STPAL owns all of our properties the deed restriction is appropriate for us. Each of our properties is permanently protected from development. The only exception is one property happens to have an area with lots that are ready for residential development. These lots have paved streets, curbs, street lights, fire hydrants, and all the utilities in place for each lot. They aren’t eligible for conservation and due to zoning issues will eventually have to be developed.  This was initially bad news for STPAL as we’d hoped to use the lots as part of the park and not have them be developed. However the recent upswing in their value has become potentially very beneficial for us. Eventually we will sell the lots and use those funds to do some really exciting park related improvements on our properties.

The preceding paragraph is a look into our balancing act. We care for and enhance conservation land. We provide public access to the land in the form of parks. And we manage our financial resources to fund our mission. The balancing is important. There are some people in the conservation community that believe that any human activity on conservation land is wrong. There are people that believe having the land conserved harms its benefit as park land. For example, we can’t build soccer and baseball fields on conservation land. There are also people that fail to recognize the benefit of public parks and bemoan the loss of developable land. And there issues with small minded governments, NIMBYS (not in my backyard), poachers, dumpers, partiers, and ATV riders. And yet we continue marching forward.

Over the next few weeks I will post more detailed information on these various aspects of our work. I was going to do it now, but I have two dogs staring at me. It is time to hit a trail.

 

Happy Trails

Bill Jones

How the Georgia coast was saved

This originally appeared in the Saporta Report http://saportareport.com/

 

This week guest contributor Paul M. Pressly, director of the Ossabaw Island Education Alliance, provides a brief history of efforts to protect Georgia’s coast, and reminds us why the coast matters.

By Paul M. Pressly

Paul M. Pressly

With only 100 miles of coastline, Georgia is blessed with some of the most extensive salt marshes in the nation, hosting one-third of the marsh on the entire East Coast. So what a shock in May 2014 when the Environmental Protection Division, the body charged with safeguarding this precious resource, nullified its old policy and ruled that the requirement of a 25-foot buffer between developed areas and marsh was eliminated.

At the stroke of a pen, it seemed that wetlands were no longer to be protected from runoff carrying silt, pollutants, and all the contaminants that come with houses, roads, and developments. That simple decision, partly the response to a poorly worded law of an earlier time, drew a mighty roar of outrage from a wide range of people across Atlanta and on the coast.

The ruckus has raised a much larger, more important issue. How did the Georgia coast come to be so lucky in the first place? In South Carolina, the barrier islands are paved over and devoted to condominiums, gated communities, and mini-towns with fine restaurants. In Louisiana, barrier islands that once served as speed bumps to hurricanes no longer function as such. Land on the Louisiana coast is being lost at the rate of 25 to 35 square miles per year.

Most Georgians have no idea how lucky they are. In this state, nine of the 13 barrier islands are undeveloped and only four of the 13 are connected to the mainland by a bridge. Even Florida cannot make that claim!

How were we so fortunate? Most people know about one of the reasons. Georgia’s barrier islands benefited from northern capitalists who bought up these beautiful but deserted land masses at a time when they had little economic value, fell in love with them, and took steps to preserve them.

Wormsloe Historic Site, located about 10 miles southeast of Savannah. Credit: Ossabaw Island Education Alliance

The last of this generation, Eleanor Torrey West, or “Sandy,” as she is known to many, a feisty visionary originally from Grosse Pointe, Michigan, still lives in a 20,000-square-foot house on Ossabaw Islandat the age of 102. Thirty-seven years ago, in 1978, she and her family sold the 26,000-acre island, the third-largest on the coast, to the state of Georgia at a much reduced price. She continues in her family home through a life estate. Today, Ossabaw is a Heritage Preserve devoted solely for natural, scientific, and cultural study, research, and education.

Most people are ignorant of the other reason. The 1960s saw very real threats to the integrity of the coast, which drew together an unlikely coalition of people and politicians who produced a stiff counter-punch. During that decade, planners in the Georgia Department of Transportation took up the cause of building a highway running over the marsh for 100 miles, connecting to each barrier island, parallel to the proposed I-95. County commissioners celebrated that “wild acreage would become subdivisions” and predicted northerners would come in droves. Phosphate mining companies bought two small islands, laid plans to dredge large sections of the Georgia coast, and proposed dumping millions of tons of overburden onto the marshes to create mini-islands. The mayor of Savannah called on the legislature to condemn Wassaw Island and force its sale to the state.

Marsh on Ossabaw Island. Credit: Ossabaw Island Education Alliance

Few of us today appreciate how a broad-based coalition of conservative southern politicians, countercultural activists, environmental scientists, sportsmen, devout Christians, garden clubs in Atlanta, and others came together to push the Coastal Marshland Protection Act of 1970 through the state legislature. Sandy West played an active role. Led by a St. Simons lawyer, Reid Harris, the coalition backed an act that set up a permitting process to control development and protect 700,000 acres of marshland. That coalition did not survive for long. It was a magical moment in the history of conservation, when allies as diverse as a deeply conservative governor and a countercultural activist stood together.

Why does the Georgia coast matter? Today we understand the importance of the marsh as an incubator of sea life and as a producer of far more energy than it consumes. But there is a larger reason that should unite us in its defense. Landscape makes us and shapes us as human beings. Landscape keeps us in touch with our deepest values. It is irresponsible for us to throw away this incredible heritage.

So will our current legislators find a solution to the need for a 25-foot barrier on the edge of the marsh and produce legislation that will ensure the integrity of the coast? They must and they will.

An educator and historian, Paul M. Pressly is the director of the Ossabaw Island Education Alliance, a partnership between the Department of Natural Resources, the Board of Regents, and the Ossabaw Island Foundation. He is the author of On the Rim of the Caribbean: Colonial Georgia and the British Atlantic World (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2013) and co-editor of a forthcoming book, Environmental Histories of the Georgia Coast.

This originally appeared in the Saporta Report http://saportareport.com/