Land groups team up

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Six conservation groups serving 25 counties in the central and western Piedmont region of the Carolinas are joining forces to educate landowners and their professional advisers about land conservation and financial and estate planning.

To be funded over three years with $385,000 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in Miami, the new Open Space Protection Collaborative will hire a full-time financial planning professional who will hold workshops and work directly with landowners and advisers such as lawyers and financial and estate planners.

“This helps us identify and work with the private landowners who can help make a tremendous difference in what the future of this region is going to look like,” says Ron Altmann, executive director of the Charlotte-based Catawba Land Conservancy, lead agency for the project.

By targeting professional advisers, the collaborative aims to reach a group of people key to land conservation, says Susan Patterson, community liaison program officer in the Knight Foundation’s Charlotte field office.

“They often have contact with families and can help them understand tax planning tools that might make it affordable for them to save their land,” she says.

Saxby Chaplin, state director for the Carolinas office of the San Francisco-based Trust for Public Land, a partner in the collaborative, says land conservation poses a critical challenge.

“In rapidly urbanizing areas such as Piedmont North Carolina and South Carolina, if lands are not preserved or conserved, then we risk losing our open spaces and our natural resources, and our quality of life will decline as a result,” says Chaplin, a former real-estate and land-use lawyer who joined the trust three years ago.

Groups in the collaborative use a variety of techniques to conserve land.

The 12-year-old Catawba Land Conservancy, for example, has protected 5,000 acres through conservation easements or outright ownership, and expects to add another 600 by the end of this year and increase its total to 12,000 by 2006, Altmann says.

With 1,200 members and an annual budget of $539,000, the group buys land and easements with money from donations, special events and a membership drive now underway that has a goal of $158,000, up from $133,000 last year.

Unlike the conservancy and other land trusts, The Trust for Public Lands-Carolinas identifies land it believes should be protected, and acts as a principal in buying land and reselling it to the government.

“We want people to be aware that if they want to sell their land and see it conserved for public benefit, we are an option,” Chaplin says.

Other groups in the collaborative are the Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina in Morganton, LandTrust for Central North Carolina in Salisbury and, in South Carolina, the Nation Ford Land Trust in Fort Mill and Katawba Valley Land Trust in Rock Hill.

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