Tag Archives: environment

Newsletter Spring 2016

Stpal newsletter spring 2016 pdf

It has been an incredible 6 months for STPAL! 
We are accredited! STPAL undertook the important process of applying for Accreditation status through the Land Trust Accreditation Commission. This process took us about two years from the very start until we were notified in February. The process is rigorous, time consuming, and challenging. It takes a deep look into all aspects of our work including our finances, policies, procedures, transactions, and acumen. It involved submitting hundreds of documents, interviews, and then more documents. It uncovered our weaknesses and provided a process for systemically addressing them. The end result of being Accredited is a nice feather in our cap, but the process itself has made us a much better organization. Because we own land that is permanently conserved we need to be permanent too. The Accreditation process has made us into an organization that will be just as permanent as our conservation lands. Check back in 5 years when we do it all again with the Reaccreditation process!

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!

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

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/

Pollinator Project

 The Pollinator Project

 

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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:

  • Atlanta Girls School, Fulton County, Ga.
  • North Cobb High School, Cobb County, Ga
  • Camp Kiwanis, Madison County, Ga
  • Trinity Presbyterian Church, Fulton County, Ga

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.

Bill Jones

Executive Director, STPAL

Winter 2015 Newsletter

2015 STPAL Winter Newsletter final

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…

Ginger Creek Nature Preserve

 

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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.