RALEIGH, N.C. — After receiving a 269-acre nature preserve in southern Orange County from the estate of Elinor Irvin in 2007, to be used for conservation and agricultural purposes, Triangle Land Conservancy began talking to other organizations that might want to partner with it on the use of the land.
A group of educators in Chatham and Orange counties wanted to design an environmental curriculum.
The Raleigh-based Interfaith Food Shuttle wanted to work with volunteers to grow local food for distribution to low-income communities.
And the Orange County Partnership for Young Children was looking for subsistence-farming sites for Burmese refugees who have settled in Orange County.
But none of the groups had any land.
The talks led to creation of three projects at the preserve:
- Irvin Learning Farm, a program launched in 2008 for which the group Learning Outside has provided environmental education for 300 elementary-school students, mainly from low-income families.
- Healthy Choices Garden, a three-acre garden launched in 2010, managed by the Interfaith Food Shuttle and worked by volunteers that produces food for the seven-county region the nonprofit serves.
- A farming site for refugees.
The partnerships, says Kevin Brice, president of Triangle Land Conservancy, represent a strategy the organization will continue to pursue to help carry out its goals of safeguarding water quality, keeping local farms and fruit in the community, protecting wildlife habitat, and connecting people with nature.
Key to meeting those goals is land, and Triangle Land Conservancy is “looking for land that fits those functions,” Brice says.
Formed in 1983, the organization has helped protect 14,600 acres in Wake, Durham, Orange, Chatham, Johnston and Lee counties through easements and acquisition.
The group owns roughly 4,000 of those acres and also has played the role of acquiring land and then transferring it to other conservation partners.
Operating with an annual budget of $1 million and the equivalent of 14 full-time staff, Triangle Land Conservancy generates 75 percent of its annual budget through contributions from 3,000 individuals, families, companies and foundations, and the remainder from a mix of project grants and earnings on investments and endowment.
And in June 2010, it completed a four-year capital campaign that raised $5.5 million.
Those funds included $4 million for a revolving-loan fund, $1 million for a stewardship fund, and $500,000 to finance the campaign, which was advised by Carol O’Brien Associates in Durham.
The revolving-loan fund already has helped Triangle Land Conservancy complete 43 land projects totaling about 3,700 acres, Brice says.
The group used the fund, for example, to purchase 613 acres from the Atlanta-based Zeist Foundation, which had a specific timeline and urgency for selling the property, Brice says.
With funds from the revolving-loan fund, Triangle Land Conservancy purchased the land, which includes five miles of streams that empty into Falls Lake, and then applied to the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund for reimbursement.
That trust fund, established in 1996, has received over $1 billion from state lawmakers and at its peak received $100 million a year, compared to just over $11 million it received in the recently-passed state budget.
The recession, Brice says, “has had a profound impact on that investment of public dollars.”
As a result of the depressed economy, he says, Triangle Land Conservancy is “seeing an increase in interest of donations of land for conservations for purposes.”