Wild spaces, protected places

Land trusts are an accessible way to preserve your family’s land as a lasting legacy

by Scott Park

Our land is a limited resource, but it provides unlimited life to the world around us. Maintaining open land for recreation, food production, and natural resource protection are the goals for land trusts throughout the nation. In the Upstate, the land trust program at Upstate Forever shares that same mission. In addition to providing a path toward good land stewardship, land trusts translate property protection into tax benefits for the landowners that choose to protect their property. Many seek land trust help as a financial tool for businesses, family trusts, farmers, and developers.

The benefits to protecting land are readily apparent: safeguarding critical natural areas, ensuring plentiful and clean drinking water, providing recreational areas, saving historic sites, and maintaining a resilient landscape to disturbances are some of the results of conservation easements. But pursuing one can feel daunting. Here are some tips to help land owners determine whether a land trust might be right for them, their business, or their family.

Upstate Forever appreciates the importance helping landowners make the best decisions in support of natural resource preservation through land protection. To do that, each conservation easement is customized and considers the landowner’s current and proposed-future situation. Latest projections show that land in our area is developing at a rate of 36 acres a day, creating a sense of earnestness to protect land. This same urgency is shared with the more 100 landowners that Upstate Forever has easements with, many of whom own family farms.

South Carolina is home to a rich history of farming, and in particular, the centennial (and even bicentennial) family farms, some holding the original King’s deed. These lands are productive, have proven resilient over the many iterations of farming practices, and landowners often turn to conservation easements to preserve the property for its next 100 years.

These properties are treasures, full of history, full of habitat supporting diverse wildlife, and likely hold significant prime farmland soils and significant water resources. However, the highest and best use of these properties is often the acre-lot, single-family home development. Oftentimes these homesteads are under pressure from development that also exploits the same waterfront views with the next subdivision. At the same time, some landowners are challenged to maintain these traditionally large tracts of land, where development also brings the removal of soil resources, degraded water resources, and where it alters a once-scenic view into a sea of rooftops.

These are places that are the foundation of our way of life, and all can benefit from their protection. Land Trusts are poised to help landowners maintain these special places.

Historic farms are akin to property for hunting and fishing. Our State provides a wide range of opportunities for outdoor recreational hunting and fishing. From the large tracts and wide rivers of the Low Country and Pee Dee, to our various topography and cold-water streams, the hunting property is synonymous to relaxation to a productive workweek. These same places are also becoming the places we desire to establish our hunting cabin or place to retire. These are places for family, friends, and colleagues to gather and enjoy the natural beauty of our area.

With the help of Land Trusts like Upstate Forever, the enjoyment of these lands can be secured for generations to come. Conservation easements may help focus the land management goals of these properties, securing an option towards affording a weekend getaway for now and the retirement homestead of the future.

Most recently, landowners interested in preserving a certain quality of life have discovered how land trusts can help. Many of our neighbors seek to promote and safeguard a rural lifestyle and perpetuate that setting for the enjoyment of their children and grandchildren. Many would consider conservation easements able to save a little piece of heaven in this neck of the woods. Beat up by the constant development along two lane roads, rural areas are quickly converting farm equipment and cattle crossings to attracting more traffic, flooding, septic systems, schools, and commercial areas.

Many landowners living in these areas don’t have the benefits of zoning, nor are they too sure they want it; but what they do know is that as a landowner, the choice is theirs to grant a conservation easement to protect their little piece of heaven. Oftentimes, many landowners will strategize granting conservation easements as a neighborhood to protect a lower intensity of use for the land.

Our land is one of the greatest resources where we live, work, and play. Land Trusts like Upstate Forever, which is accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, are your resource to protect and preserve land for generations to come. We strive to keep our water clean, habitat preserved, farms in active production, history maintained, recreation in our special places, and rural lands as rural. Reach out to Upstate Forever, so they can better know how our experts can help you.

FAQs about Land Trusts

Q. Does a conservation easement have something to do with government rights-of-way?Q. Does a conservation easement have something to do with government rights-of-way?

A. A conservation easement or conservation agreement is a voluntary conservation option. It sets up a legal arrangement between a landowner and a government agency or land trust that ensures the land will never be developed. The land remains the private property of the landowner, who gets to decide what kinds of activities will be allowed or disallowed on the property.

Q. When you sign a conservation agreement, do you give up all your rights to your property?

A. Your conservation agreement is tailored specifically to your needs—in fact, you help design it. Its only purpose is to preserve the conservation values of your property, so you continue to control your land and any financial or other values you derive from it.

Q. Will a conservation agreement give the government the ability take over my property and management decisions?

A. You and the conservation organization that holds the agreement work together to oversee your land, and you remain free to manage it for recreation, timber or other natural resources that benefit you personally or financially. The SC Conservation Bank has no authority for eminent domain.

Q. Do I have a choice in land trust partners?

A. Your potential land trust partners know that choice is important to you, so nothing will be forced on you when entering a conservation agreement.

Q. Do conservation agreements reduce the value of your property and make it difficult for your children or grandchildren to profit from it?

A. A conservation agreement can significantly reduce the estate taxes your heirs will have to pay, making it easier and more affordable for them to keep the land intact. In many cases, conservation easements can also increase the value as well as associated tax benefits such as income tax and estate taxes.

Source: South Carolina Conservation Bank

Scott Park is the land trust director for Upstate Forever, the premier land conservation organization for Upstate South Carolina. Upstate Forever’s mission is to promote sensible growth and protect special places throughout our region.

Visit Upstate Forever online at upstateforever.org or get additional information about improving quality of life through land conservation at the South Carolina Conservation Bank, sccbank.sc.gov.



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