Land trust achievements

Land trust achievements

April 14th, 2012 in Opinion Times

When business and political leaders here speak of growth, they generally refer to economic growth -- the growth generated by new or expanding businesses and the number of jobs they may create. They rarely refer to the growth of protected farms, forests and natural resources, which also are needed to sustain the quality of life that most area residents wish to preserve as commercial and industrial growth consumes our vanishing rural and open land. Regardless, the organizations that promote land preservation provide the immense public benefit of balancing conservation with economic growth.

The Chattanooga area is blessed with several non-profit shepherds of land and natural resources. The Tennessee River Gorge Trust works to acquire voluntary easements and purchases to preserve the forest cover that defines the river's uniquely glorious gorge. The Chattanooga office of the Trust for Public Land helps acquire easements for our well-traveled linear greenways and parks. The Lookout Mountain Conservancy does similar work.

Aiming for broader reach is the southeast region office in Chattanooga of the Land Trust for Tennessee, which is just celebrating its fifth anniversary here. This anniversary merits attention. In the past five years, the office has concluded 23 land-trust projects that collectively protect over 6,500 acres of scenic heritage farms, important watersheds and viewsheds, and lands that preserve historically important sites, such as Trail of Tears routes.

Such conservation work has significant impact in a range of ways. It contributes to recreational resources and sustainable scenic beauty, which promotes general economic growth, tourism and a sense of tranquility and solace for residents who value open space and rural land. Land conservation also helps provide cleaner air and protection of water resources, and it helps sustain valuable farms that otherwise might be sold off for new subdivisions and commercial areas.

The preservation of old working farms -- Heritage Farms over 100 years old are one of the office's central goals -- contributes as well to sustainable local food production. Local farms have become increasingly valued here in recent years by a growing number of residents who, weary of factory farms and the antibiotics and additives they use, want fresh, local produce and meats from healthily raised, free-range animals.

For an office that began with two conservation projects on Highway 60 in Georgetown, the driving route of the Trail of Tears, the scope of its achievements over the past five years are substantial. They include conversation/preservation easements for farm, forest and watershed lands in Hamilton, Bradley, Polk and McMinn counties; the historic Circle C and Circle V farms in Georgetown and the 700-acre Mayfield Farm in Athens, Tennessee; and watershed preservation along the Tennessee and Hiwassee Rivers.

The Land of Trust of Tennessee, here and across the state, has good reason to be proud of its work. It has preserved 65,000 acres of significant land across the state, chiefly through voluntary conservation agreements with land owners. These agreements provide tax incentives for permanent conservation while preserving family ownership and continued use of the protected land. Whether preserved for private or public use, the public benefit of these lands can only increase in value as economic and population growth transforms the landscapes we treasure.