News From Terre Haute, Indiana

November 4, 2012

YOUR GREEN VALLEY: Preserving land today for future generations to enjoy

Jane Santucci
Special to the Tribune-Star

---- — Just outside of the city limits, by Hawthorn Park in Vigo County, live Craig and Carole Reynolds, tucked away in their beautiful home overlooking the valley.

Their personal property is part of a 35-acre area with a wide variety of plants, trees, shrubs and wildflowers that sits on both sides of the babbling brook which runs through their parcel of land. Their property is a haven to wildlife; although the future of those animals might have been different if the Reynoldses hadn’t won the bid for the property back in 1998.

As the story is told, the Reynoldses edged out a land developer in the bidding process, a bidder who had planned to turn their neighborhood into half-acre lots. That vision did not align with their vision for the area. Once they acquired the property, Craig walked the land during each of the four seasons and watched it transform.

“What we noticed was typical Indiana wildlife was here, and there was a lot of it. The deer move across from the Hulman property to ours,” Craig said.

If the neighborhood where the Reynoldses live were developed, then there would be a large gap in the corridor that would have stopped the flow of wildlife.

The flora and fauna now have a larger place to explore. To preserve this land in its current state the Reynoldses decided to establish a land trust. It was a decision that came naturally as they have supported the National Wildlife Fund in the past, but by taking this step they were making a difference in their own back yard.  

“This was our opportunity to do what we feel is significant for our local environment,” Craig said.

Through connections the Reynoldses were referred to the Ouabache Land Conservancy, a nonprofit organization designed to protect, preserve and restore land in west-central Indiana. The land conservancy was formed in response to the increase in urban sprawl.

“We have an expanding population, and everybody would like to have their own piece of property with a house on it. We need woods and forests to protect our planet from greenhouse gases, and we need corridors for wildlife,” said Hansford Mann Jr., committee chair of acquisition and stewardship  

How to set up a land trust

One way to set up a land trust, to protect it from development, is to go through organizations like the Ouabache Land Conservancy. The organization starts with a simple questionnaire for the land owner to fill out. Then a tour of the property is conducted. Following the tour, the land owner and the land conservancy discuss what restrictions they would like to impose on the property.

Once the restrictions are laid out, the Ouabache Land Conservancy attorney and the property owner’s attorney come together to form a working agreement. The whole process from the questionnaire to the property being appraised can take roughly a year.

“We can set up restrictions ourselves on how the land can be used. That is a key thing with this. I can still ride my bicycle through my property. I can still do a lot of things that have no impact on the land itself,” Craig said.  

Mann says that once an agreement is signed, it becomes attached to the deed. It follows the life of the property to whoever owns it, forever. It can be voided only by a government order, but the government would have to compensate the land owner based on the property’s appraised value.

For those pondering the notion of conserving land, Craig says: “If they value the land and what it provides for us, from a natural standpoint, then this is something they can do, so that their kids or their grandchildren don’t come back generations from now and find someone has ruined the property.”

“They aren’t making land anymore; once you lay concrete on land, it is basically gone,” said Phil Cox, Ouabache Land Conservancy vice president of development. “We need to preserve natural areas for our children’s children so that they will know what a natural area is.”

Land trusts are not just for those with a large amount of woodlands to protect. Farmers can protect their land too.

“If they want to ensure that their grandchildren will have ground to farm instead of a concrete subdivision, they can preserve their property in perpetuity as agricultural land,” Mann said.

In the end, it’s about making sure what is here today is not destroyed by others’ greed in the future.

For more information about the Ouabache Land Conservancy visit www.ouabachelandconservancy.org or email OLC@ouabachelandconservancy.org.

Santucci is an environmental freelance writer for the Tribune-Star. Santucci volunteers with TREES Inc. and Our Green Valley. She sits on the Wabash Valley Goodwill Industries Board of Directors. Share your environmental ideas with her at JaneSantucci@yourgreenvalley.com.