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.
This is a little insight into STPAL’s balancing act. There is more to follow in coming blogs
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
The Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land is a land trust* by definition and function.
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.
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/
The Pollinator Project
STPAL formed in 2012 as an organization with the mission of creating new public parks. As of December 2014 STPAL has conserved and holds ownership of 5,500 acres of property in 17 tracts from SE Georgia into NW North Carolina. Parks are being created on each. Most already have walking trails and are enjoyed by the public for passive recreation and quiet enjoyment of nature. One of the properties’ values is their impact on surrounding properties. Our land provides storm water control, wildlife habitat and undisturbed nature for its neighbors. The Pollinator Project is our newest initiative to aid surrounding lands by increasing the butterfly and bee populations across the areas that we are in.
Pollinators are responsible for assisting over 80% of the world’s flowering plants. Without them, humans and wildlife wouldn’t have much to eat or look at! Animals that assist plants in their reproduction as pollinators include species of ants, bats, bees, beetles, birds, butterflies, flies, moths, wasps, as well as other unusual animals. Wind and water also play a role in the pollination of many plants.
STPAL’s primary focuses in this area are Monarch Butterflies and Bees. Both of these are suffering from profound and rapid population decline. Primary reasons include the expansion of commodity crop farming which replaces natural fields and prairies, Round Up usage in farming, and the use of pesticides. Ironically the decline of one of nature’s important components for plant life has occurred thanks to the advancement of agricultural “progress”.
We are currently underway with Phase 1 of the project. STPAL has been assisting with funding and knowledge to create Pollinator Gardens at the following locations:
We are also creating Pollinator Gardens on each of our 17 properties.
The Pollinator Gardens include milkweed, flowers, bee hotels, and butterfly shelters.
The University of Georgia’s Odum Institute of Ecology is assisting us with this project.
Please let us know if you are interested in helping the Pollinators by planting milkweed and other plants. We will be glad to provide free milkweed seeds! It does not take much to be a big help.
Executive Director, STPAL
It has been an exciting end to 2014 for STPAL, acquiring 7 new properties totaling over 2,500 acres! With these additions, STPAL has now proudly conserved a total of 5,375 acres on 17 separate properties. Among these new properties is the Gum Branch Nature Preserve in Camden County, Georgia. The 324 acre property is just a few miles inland from Cumberland Island. The Property is in the upper reaches of Gum Branch, which is a meandering branch flowing generally eastward to waters of the Crooked River and Cumberland Sound. The property originally was composed of flatwoods type longleaf and slash pine forest with heavy blueberry and gallberry understory. Interspersed with this type would have been open pine, wet savanna, hardwood areas containing various bays, oaks, and gums, and stream side cypress, gum, oak, and maple swamp. It is currently in a condition consistent with its recent use as timber land. Restoring it to its native state is our primary objective in order to improve habitat for the biodiversity of coastal Georgia…
This is 928 acres of forest land in Caldwell County, North Carolina that we are tentatively calling “Ginger Creek Nature Preserve” Our first planned project will be to mark the existing trails and then build some more.
This particular forest may contain the following endangered species: Carolina Northern Flying Squirrel, Virginia Big-eared Bat, and the Spruce Fir Moss Spider. It also may have the threatened Bog Turtle. We haven’t made observational confirmation on any of these yet, however based on our research it appears that the most likely possibility is the Bog Turtle. But by conserving and stewarding the land we will be protecting lots of plants and animals regardless of their status and will give them an opportunity to thrive.
We look forward to having this land used by scout troops, bird watchers, dog walkers, casual hikers, and all lovers of the outdoors!
This property was give to STPAL by an investment group in 2014.
The land trust accreditation program recognizes land conservation organizations that meet national quality standards for protecting important natural places and working lands forever. The Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land, Inc. (STPAL) is pleased to announce it is applying for accreditation. A public comment period is now open.
The Land Trust Accreditation Commission, an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance, conducts an extensive review of each applicant’s policies and programs. STPAL is glad to be going through this process that will enhance the quality of our operations, processes and policies. We are at a critical juncture as we transition from a start-up organization into a mature and sustainable organization. The accreditation process will verify our strengths and improve our weaknesses.
The Commission invites public input and accepts signed, written comments on pending applications. Comments must relate to how Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land, Inc. (STPAL) complies with national quality standards. These standards address the ethical and technical operation of a land trust. For the full list of standards see http://www.landtrustaccreditation.org/tips-and-tools/indicator-practices.
To learn more about the accreditation program and to submit a comment, visit http://www.landtrustaccreditation.org, or email your comment to email@example.com. Comments may also be faxed or mailed to the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, Attn:
Public Comments: (fax) 518-587-3183; (mail) 36 Phila Street, Suite 2, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866. Comments on Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land, Inc. (STPAL)’s application will be most useful by January 15, 2015.
October 3, 2014
Today we got the Boot!
STPAL’s newest land acquisition that we are tentatively calling “The Boot,” named after the shape of the property boundary, is located in Douglasville, GA, and contains 85 acres of forestland. The Boot is important for conservation because it contains one of the most ecologically intact habitats that STPAL owns within easy driving distance of Atlanta, GA. The Boot hosts the confluence of Bear Creek and Little Bear Creek, forming a large and rocky stream surrounded by hardwood forest. This creek then flows into the 505 acre Bear Creek Reservoir, which provides drinking water to Douglas County. The Boot has over 1,000 feet of lake frontage. The reservoir provides wonderful opportunities for canoeing, fishing, and bird watching. On our most recent monitoring visit, we observed two Great Blue Herons on the reservoir. Several miles of trail are already in place and functional, as well as an open campsite with a fire pit. Our first planned project will be to build a dock on the reservoir to serve as a boat launch, fishing point, and general spot to rest and relax by the water. We look forward to having this land used by scout troops, bird watchers, dog walkers, casual hikers, and all lovers of the outdoors!