1. What is the Owl Creek Conservancy?
Owl Creek Conservancy is a land trust, which is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting important land resources for the public benefit. Owl Creek works to protect the rural character of Knox and surrounding counties by working with private landowners to preserve woodlands, wetlands, farmland, waterways, scenic vistas, and wildlife habitats.
2. How did the Owl Creek Conservancy get started?
In 1998, the Focus 2100 County Comprehensive Plan was issued by The Mount Vernon/Knox County Chamber of Commerce. The plan identified preservation of the county’s rural character as a primary goal and recommended the creation of a community land trust as one tool for achieving that goal. In 1999, a land trust steering committee within the Farmland Preservation Task Force was formed and in spring of 2000 Owl Creek Conservancy was incorporated as a nonprofit organization.
3. Why is having a local land trust important?
Unlike national and statewide land trusts, a local land trust knows the area’s land resources best and can respond creatively and effectively to local conservation needs.
4. How do land trusts protect land?
There are 3 common methods that land trusts use to protect land: (1) donation of property by gift or will; (2) purchase of property; and (3) conservation easements. Smaller land trusts, like Owl Creek, typically rely on donation or purchase of conservation easements.
5. What is a conservation easement?
A conservation easement is a legal document that spells out the development restrictions on a particular piece of land. As with other kinds of easements, such as utility easements, the landowner retains ownership of the land and the easement runs with the deed; therefore, subsequent owners are expected to abide by the terms of the easement as well.
6. What is Owl Creek's Role in a Conservation Easement?
The role of the Conservancy starts the moment a landowner contacts us about the possibility of protecting their property. We start by evaluating the conservation potential of the land and educating the owner on the various tools they can use to protect it. If they decide to move forward with an easement, Owl Creek, with the help of legal council and many other county resource offices, sees the creation of the easement document through to closing.
Once the easement is complete, the Conservancy’s role is to regularly monitor the land’s use to ensure that the conservation values of the property are preserved according to the terms of the easement.
7. Are there financial benefits to conserving land?
Tax advantages are often an important factor in a landowner’s decision to work with the Conservancy to protect their property. Charitable gifts of land or development rights typically reduce both federal income taxes and estate taxes. Property taxes may drop as well once the potential for development of the land has been removed. Tax savings will depend on the owner’s financial situation as well as the type of land transaction chosen. Consulting with a knowledgeable attorney is essential.
8. How do the Conservancy's efforts benefit the community?
Protecting land helps:
- Maintain the county’s rural character so that we don’t have to travel to experience beautiful and peaceful natural surroundings.
- Protect the environment by providing wildlife habitat and permeable surfaces that allow rainwater to recharge groundwater supplies.
- Save local tax dollars because farmland generates more in local taxes than it demands in public services compared to residential development.
- Promote good land use planning by identifying sites that are most suitable for conservation rather than development.
9. How does the Conservany select land for protection?
Owl Creek follows a set of guidelines to ensure that the land we choose to protect is important to the community and can be effectively monitored by the Conservancy. These guidelines address factors such as location and size of the parcel, public benefit, and degree of development threat.
10. How is the Conservancy funded?
Owl Creek is funded primarily through membership dues and other contributions from individuals and organizations. We also conduct periodic fundraising events and seek grants from foundations and government agencies.
11. How can I contribute to the Conservany's efforts?
Becoming a member, for as little as $25 a year, is a great way to support Owl Creek. If you have time to lend or expertise to share, consider volunteering with us or even serving on the board of trustees. Share our information with friends and family. Tell us about a special place or land resource in the county that should be protected so that we can be responsive to the needs and vision of the community.