Dr. David Darden and his wife don't want to think of their 393-acre tree farm becoming just another Ocoee golf course or subdivision backing up to the Cherokee National Forest.
"Money is not the most important thing in life," said the occupational environmental physician who owns Merrie J Farm. "We have all kinds of wildlife and wildflowers here. We didn't want to see it broken up."
The Dardens, along with Bradley County farmer Charles "Bill" Brock and Signal Mountain landowner Catherine Colby, recently signed conservation easements with the Land Trust for Tennessee.
The landowners, with a total of 450 acres of land now preserved, still will own their land and may sell it or leave it to heirs, but they have agreed that if they sell the land they will convey it as one piece, with restrictions that allow very little or no development on the properties. Although that sometimes may reduce the eventual sale prices, the donors usually receive government-approved property tax relief and tax deductions for the commercial value of the property.
"But for the future of the community you can't put a price on it," said Ms. Colby. "It's important to have those open spaces."
Mr. Brock, 78, became the first landowner in Bradley County to join the movement when he donated a conservation easement on his 47-acre farm, a part of his family for nearly 100 years.
"I just didn't want to see it developed," he said. "It's not all that great a place, but I would hate to see it covered up. There's a lot developments going on, and you see it sitting idle, and they cut down all the trees. I hope more people will look at our farmland and appreciate it."
Tricia King, Southeast region project manager at the Land Trust for Tennessee, said the group has helped conserve 42,402 acres of private land statewide, and the economy now is prompting some landowners to take a closer look at preservation as the prospective values of subdivided land slip closer to that of land held in one piece.
"We continue to get more landowners asking about our services and planning the future uses of their land," she said.
Trust officials help the landowners with the legal and planning aspects of planning the future preservation of their land.
Each of the new donors, who began working on their trusts about a year ago, lamented the farms and forestlands of the region being chopped up for subdivisions.
"We need to preserve our heritage and not wait on the government to make everything into a park," said Dr. Darden, who also is the medical examiner of Polk County.
Ms. Colby, whose ancestors settled on Signal Mountain in 1880, purchased the 10-acre Crestwood property from botantist Bob Enck about two years ago. In the purchase she agreed to preserve his garden property that lies in the headwaters area of North Chickamauga Creek. The easement with the Land Trust for Tennessee finalizes that agreement.
"It's a gorgeous property, and I'm very concerned with preserving habitats," Ms. Colby said.
In Southeast Tennessee, the Land Trust for Tennessee's previous preservations include five easements in Hamilton County covering 369 acres, including a 206-acre working farm and an 87-acre driving route of the Trial of Tears along Highway 60 in Georgetown, according to Trust officials. Along the same highway in adjoining Meigs County, another agreement covers 134 acres of a Trail of Tears driving route.
In McMinn and Polk counties, the Southeast office of the Land Trust for Tennessee has finished conservation easements for large, significant working farms, some more than 100 years old. One is the 693-acre Mayfield family farm - the original Mayfield Dairies farm that was established in 1820. Another is the historic Webb Farm along the Hiwassee River in Polk County.