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!
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:
- Dog Park
- Hiking and nature walks
- Horseback riding
- 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:
- Will the Open Space resource values be diminished?
- If YES then activity is not allowed
- If NO continue to Criteria 2
- 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
- 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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.