On a map of Yellow Springs, Ohio, Krista Magaw points out preserved land that borders the village. The Glen Helen Nature Preserve lies to the east; the historic Whitehall Farm, which was preserved with an agricultural easement in 1999, borders the village on the north.
A patchwork of additional preserved parcels are scattered around the area, but the map also shows what additional land would need to be preserved to form a continuous green buffer around the village, which is just south of Springfield, Ohio.
“We’re about two-thirds of the way to a greenbelt,” notes Magaw, executive director of the Tecumseh Land Trust. However, increasing development pressure is making preservation efforts more urgent. “If we do want to complete this greenbelt, we need to do it soon,” she explains.
The target areas for preservation fall in two sub-watersheds of the Little Miami River — Jacoby Creek and Yellow Springs Creek — so preserving land is a natural fit with protecting water quality. Those coordinating goals helped the land trust assemble a coalition of 13 partners to focus resources on a 26,000-acre area around Yellow Springs.
Last year, the project, called the Jacoby Creek Partnership, was selected for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) through the Natural Resources Conservation Service; the NRCS will contribute up to $1.44 million in federal funding over five years. Additional contributions pledged by other partners will bring the investment to more than $3 million for conservation and preservation projects.
Land trusts can supply ‘extra glue’
The Jacoby Creek Partnership is an example of how land trusts can help communities and organizations benefit from coordinating their efforts, Magaw points out. “Land trusts can provide some extra glue.”
Layne Garringer, district conservationist with the NRCS in Greene County, explains that the RCPP focuses on areas with an identified need and a local sponsoring group experienced in managing environmental efforts. Program budgets are assigned specifically for projects within RCPP areas.
For the Jacoby Creek Partnership, the Tecumseh Land Trust stepped up as a proactive sponsor willing to coordinate efforts with other partners and landowners. NRCS funding will help pay for ag easements within the project area, as well as Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) projects to help farm owners install conservation practices.
To apply for the RCPP, each of the partner groups provided a letter of commitment detailing their contributions to the partnership. The various partners each have their own goals, but the skills and resources they contribute will help other partners achieve their goals as well, notes Magaw.
Partners’ contributions, roles
For instance, the efforts of the village of Yellow Springs and the Tecumseh Land Trust to complete the circle of green space is supported by the Ohio Department of Agriculture, which has earmarked funds from the Clean Ohio Ag Easement Purchase Program to preserve farmland in the project area. The Ohio Public Works Commission has also dedicated some funds for easements through the Clean Ohio Open Space Program. Meanwhile, the Greene Soil and Water Conservation District will be working with area landowners to set up conservation practices on their land using EQIP funding.
For adjacent stream corridors, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and The Nature Conservancy are offering funding and technical support to remove invasive species, replant native species, restore wetlands and reduce channelization.
Another partner is the Xylem Analytics unit of YSI, an international company founded in Yellow Springs that develops water quality monitoring equipment. It is contributing equipment and volunteers to work with seventh-grade science students from the Yellow Springs School District on a stream monitoring project. That stream monitoring helps fulfill educational goals because it fits in with the seventh-grade science curriculum. Students and faculty from Antioch College and Central State University are also contributing expertise in soil and water quality analysis and working on environmental research projects.
And one of the landowners in the project area, the Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions, is hosting educational events for landowners and farmers, as well as demonstrating conservation practices for farmland and riparian areas.
To promote conservation practices on the farmland in the project area, organizers are reaching out to landowners as well as farmers, Magaw explains. “The majority of the land is not owned by the people who farm it,” she points out. She estimates about 70% of the farmland in the area is not owned by the people farming it, and many of the landowners are several generations removed from the farm.
Working with those owners to implement conservation practices requires a different approach than working with owner-operators who are familiar with soil and water resources, she adds. “It’s a different educational process.”
Love of the land
The Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions organization bought its 128-acre farm, Agraria, in 2017. It has since worked with the Tecumseh Land Trust to preserve the land with agricultural and conservation easements. The goal of Community Solutions is to help people make their communities more vital and resilient, and the farm will help demonstrate soil and ecosystem regeneration, and encourage local food production.
Susan Jennings, executive director for Community Solutions, explains that the Jacoby Creek Partnership has helped connect Agraria with the broader community, including conventional farmers and area residents. “There’s a shared love of the land,” she notes.
Part of the Community Solutions land is upland farm fields, which are being leased to farmers who use regenerative practices. About 55 acres are part of the Jacoby Creek riparian corridor, and The Nature Conservancy is helping restore the stream corridor.
Devin Schenk, mitigation program manager for The Nature Conservancy in Ohio, explains that forested buffers, paired with conservation practices on farmed land, help improve the quality of the water in the creek, which flows on to the Little Miami River, and then on to the Ohio and the Mississippi rivers. “All these restoration projects provide benefits that go beyond the property we’re working on,” he points out.
Efforts like the Jacoby Creek Partnership help The Nature Conservancy build on the work of other dedicated groups working on similar projects. “Our mission is to protect the land and water on which all life depends,” he explains. “We definitely need cooperation to do that.”
The Yellow Springs community has a history of supporting preservation of greens pace. A greenbelt surrounding the village has been a part of the village comprehensive plan since the 1970s, and the Tecumseh Land Trust was organized in 1990 to preserve agricultural land, natural areas, historic sites and water resources. Then in 1999, the community came together to protect the 940-acre Whitehall Farm, which was put up for auction in 34 parcels. The local government came up with $325,000 to help keep the land in agricultural use, and the community came up with another $600,000 from fund raisers and donations from individuals. Some townspeople held yard sales to raise funds. One little boy helped by putting collection jars around town, and homeowners whose backyards adjoined the farm made contributions to keep grazing cattle in the field across the fence.
All the donations weren’t enough to buy the land outright, but the donations were enough to pay for an agricultural easement. That made the farm affordable for buyers with no intention of developing the land for housing or commercial use.
Over the years, the Tecumseh Land Trust has preserved more than 27,000 acres in Clark and Greene counties, as well as surrounding counties. One of the land trusts’ recent preservation efforts focused on a 273-acre farm just south of Yellow Springs that was sold at auction in nine parcels in 2017. Tecumseh Land Trust worked with several of the land buyers, including the Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions, to set up agricultural and conservation easements.
Keck writes from Raymond, Ohio.