Land trust wants working capital

By Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Last fall, the Piedmont Land Conservancy in Greensboro had a chance to preserve 40 acres of land by buying it and then selling it to the state.

But the state would not pay more than the $180,000 appraised value, which was $40,000 below the purchase price.

Because it lacked funds to buy and keep the land until a new appraisal that might show a higher value, the conservancy passed on the deal.

Another buyer paid the asking price, and now plans to develop the land for residential uses.

“Our challenge at the Piedmont Land Conservancy is to find a way to raise significant amounts of working capital over the next three to four years,” says Charles Brummitt, executive director.

The conservancy would use that working capital, likely to total in the “low six figures,” he says, to buy options on available land while seeking public funds for land purchases, and to take care of land it already has protected.

The conservancy is part of a coalition, known as Land for Tomorrow, that includes the state’s 24 land trusts and other partners.

The group is asking state lawmakers to put a bond initiative on the ballot in November to raise $1 billion over five years to protect land.

Rapid growth is “eating up land” and boosting prices, making it “harder to protect land,” Brummitt says.

“Our need for working capital,” he says, “is to ensure that we can react, and purchase lands and options, and take reasonable risk to protect lands in the future.”

Founded in 1990, the conservancy has protected 12,544 acres of land in nine counties.

It buys or accepts donations of land or easements, using its own funds and tapping available dollars in four existing state trust funds.

In partnership with landowners owning the bulk of that land, the conservancy works to protect watersheds, farms and natural and scenic areas.

It also gives some land to the state, often working in partnership to make sure any easements are enforced.

The land the conservancy has protected includes 1,500 acres it still owns and cares for.

The conservancy, for example, owns 400 acres in Surry County known as Lens Knob, a tract included in 2,100 acres it protected in a $3.8 million purchase in 2004 from G&G Lumber in Harmony.

The conservancy posts the boundaries of the land to let people know it is protected, maintains roads on the property, and works with groups such as Quail Unlimited to handle tasks like seeding bare pieces of land.

And with funds from the ecosystem enhancement program, a partnership of the state departments of transportation and of environment and natural resources, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the conservancy provides “mitigation credits” that let the transportation department continue to build highways on the property.

With a staff of four full-time employees and six working part-time, the conservancy raises 60 percent to 70 percent of its $400,000 annual operating budget through donations from its 1,200 members whose fees range from $35 to $1,000.

Most of the funds are raised through mail appeals to members, former members and others who have made donations, and through fundraising events such as its Yadkin Valley Celebration, which will be held May 13 at Klondike Cabins in State Road and feature bluegrass musician R.G. Absher.

The conservancy also accepts planned gifts, and maintains three endowments totaling $485,000, all for land stewardship.

Now, with the possibility of a state bond issue, the conservancy is looking for additional private dollars to continue its work and leverage those new public dollars when land becomes available.

“We need working capital,” Brummitt says, “to be able to take advantage of opportunities.”

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