Richard Hall remembers when his family's farm was considered in the country, not surrounded by the highest-growth area in Hamilton County.
"It was real rural in the '50s and '60s," said Mr. Hall, 62, who inherited his 18 acres from his father who, in turn, inherited a larger tract from his father.
Now all that's left of the three-generation farm is Mr. Hall's home and a getaway woodland tract amid the sprawling development of Ooltewah, Collegedale and Enterprise South industrial park, where the new Volkswagen plant is being built.
"I'm not surprised (by the growth)," Mr. Hall said Thursday. "I rather expected it. But I want this part to stay as it is."
Mr. Hall, manager of East Ridge Auto Alignment, has donated a property easement for his 18 acres to the Land Trust of Tennessee, putting the property in preservation for perpetuity. He still owns the property, but the easement means that, if it is sold in the future or passes through his estate to another owner, it cannot be developed beyond what is on it right now.
"I want this to be put back to nature," Mr. Hall said. "I consider myself kind of a nature lover. I think I'm doing a little bit of something for the planet."
On the three-year anniversary of the Land Trust for Tennessee's Southeast office opening, Mr. Hall's donation marks the sixth Land Trust easement in Hamilton County with a total of 377 acres protected.
Tricia King, Southeast region project manager for the land trust, said the property remains on local tax rolls, but property owners do receive some income tax breaks and sometimes state tax breaks when they donate property for conservation easements.
"These owners have land they want to protect for the future, to be sure it's always available for farming or wildlife," she said. "They often hear about these conservation easements and realize they are a way to achieve their goals for the property. They seek us out, and we work with them."
She said each conservation easement is a legal document tailored to the property and to the landowner's desires.
The easements also are private transactions between a landowner and the Land Trust for Tennessee, a privately funded, nonprofit organization. A landowner's decision to donate a conservation easement to the Land Trust does not involve taxpayer money, she said.
Mr. Hall's property contains about five acres of cleared land that fronts Standifer Gap Road and includes his home and a pond. The remaining acreage is mixed hardwood forest, with most of the pine removed about 25 years ago.
His grandfather bought the land -- then part of a larger farm -- 76 years ago, he said.
Mr. Hall said he sees more wildlife on his land now than when he was younger because surrounding development has driven turkeys, foxes, raccoons, frogs, owls, hawks and geese toward him.
"I have cleared the pine and cedar out of our woods, and I've got trails around and through the center of the property," he said. "I walk it every day, and it's very pleasant to walk."
Mr. Hall said a friend told him about preservation easements and introduced him to Ms. King.
"I jumped at the chance," he said. "VW building out here didn't have anything to do with it. I just wanted to give back."
HAMILTON COUNTY EASEMENTS BY COMMUNITY
There have been seven Hamilton County preservation easements covering 1,472 acres in Hamilton County over the past three years.
* 87 acres in Georgetown granted by Greg Vital
* 206 acres in Ooltewah by a land owner wishing to remain anonymous
* 16 acres in Ooltewah by a land owner wishing to remain anonymous
* 40 acres in Collegedale granted by Franklin Farrow
* 10 acres on Signal Mountain granted by Catherine Colby
* 18 acres in Chattanooga granted by Richard Hall
* 1,095 acres in Sale Creek, granted and bought by Richard Kinzalow (now part of Cumberland Trail State Park)
Source: Land Trust of Tennessee
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