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Trust hopes to preserve watershed

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Guest Column By Chris Schimmoeller

All of us remember places from our childhood that don’t exist anymore. Whether it’s the old home place that has been bulldozed or a family farm that has been divided into lots, the landscape of the past has changed.
This change is often called “progress.” While progress can improve lives of families and communities, not all change is progress. Many people are realizing that their quality of life and the character of their communities are being diminished by continued conversion of farms and forest to other uses.
Protecting natural features enables communities to preserve their identity. Unique places are more likely to be vibrant, competitive, and successful places to live and work.
Some communities are able to protect land through parks or policies that safeguard natural assets. The future of most land, however, is determined by the decisions of individual landowners.
In 2007, a group of landowners in Franklin and Owen counties decided that they wanted more protection for their land than the changing ownership of succeeding generations could guarantee.
From this desire, Woods & Waters Land Trust was born. Woods & Waters Land Trust’s mission is to protect natural lands in the lower Kentucky River watershed by assisting landowners who want to ensure sustainable land use on their property beyond their ownership.
Franklin, Owen, and Henry counties fall squarely within the lower Kentucky River watershed, which encompasses the land drained by the Kentucky River on the last leg of its journey from Frankfort to the Ohio River at Carrollton. This part of the Kentucky River watershed comprises over 600 square miles of land and is supported by several important tributaries, including Elkhorn Creek, Benson Creek, Cedar Creek, Eagle Creek, Six Mile Creek, and Drennon Creek. The region is also home to several rare plants and provides important habitat for migrating songbirds and other species such as bobcat, mink, wild turkey, and fox.
Landowners with creeks, woods, and farmland — or a combination of these features — who want to protect their land may want to consider placing their property in a conservation easement.
A conservation easement is a legal document that is tailored to suit individual needs of landowners while protecting the natural values of the land. Conservation easements typically prevent subdivision or development of the land. By establishing a conservation easement, landowners decide what the future of their land will be while retaining rights of ownership, including the right to farm, sell, or lease the property.
All restrictions in conservation easements are perpetual and stay with the land regardless of ownership.
Land trusts like Woods & Waters Land Trust work with landowners to tailor these easements to their particular goals for their property. Upon accepting the donation of an easement, a land trust assumes the responsibility for maintaining the easement from one generation to the next.
Landowners who donate conservation easements are eligible to apply for tax deductions. In addition, inheritance taxes are significantly reduced for heirs of entrusted land. In some cases, this savings can make the difference between keeping the land in the family or being forced to sell it.
Protecting land permanently requires commitment and does not happen overnight. But once it’s done, protected land establishes a legacy that benefits your family, your community, and your region forever.
Woods & Waters Land Trust is proud to serve the communities in this region. For more information about Woods & Waters Land Trust, visit www.woodsandwaterstrust.org
Woods & Waters Land Trust will host a stream ecology workshop on Eagle Creek Saturday. For registration and more information visit www.woodsandwaterstrust.org or contact Deb White at (502) 573-2886.
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Chris Schimmoeller is President of Woods & Waters Land Trust. Contact her at 660 Mt. Vernon Rd., Frankfort Ky., 40601. (502) 226-5751x3