For a long time in this country, landowners have taken steps to preserve their land from ever being developed.
Some folks want to leave their forest land, farms, creeks and lakes just the way it is, forever. They do it through land trusts and there are 1,700 of them nationwide. For 30 years the Ozark Regional Land Trust (ORLT) has been helping landowners preserve property with high conservation value in the Missouri and Arkansas Ozarks. More than 25,000 acres so far.
One land owner ORLT is currently working with is 81 year old James "Pop" Menafee who runs a small cattle ranch just north of Carthage. On a sunny day in late May Menafee gave Margo Heekin of ORLT a tour of his property in a four-wheel drive vehicle. Heekin is the Stewardship and Project Director for ORLT. "Pop" stopped every so often so Heekin could take photographs and make notes of things like boundary lines, trails and structures on the nearly 200 acres that will become part of ORLT's conservation easement. Basically, Heekin is documenting how the land, most of it pasture and trees, looks now so if any questions about it come up in the future, there is 'visual proof.' It will remain Menafee's land though and his heirs after he's gone. But it can never be subdivided or developed. That's what "Pop" said he wants. "It makes me feel real good. It saves what I want. It's good for Carthage. Good for everyone."
Peggy Horner is the Executive Director of the Ozark Regional Land Trust. "We are seeing more interest in landowners protecting their land than we ever have. We actually have a list of people that are interested in protecting their land. It used to be when landowners wanted to conserve land they would donate it or sell it to a government entity. And now a lot of governments don't have the funds to do it," she said.
Byron Miller is a landowner interested in protecting his property through a conservation easement. He's a retired farmer who lives a few miles up the road from "Pop" Menafee. "My family has owned the place since 1941 and I would like to see it preserved," Miller said. "I don't know if I can or not. I've got warm season grass, which is restored prairie, on several acres. I would like to have that preserved for wildlife. I don't want to have it developed and turned into a housing development or something like that."
Miller's land and Menafee's land have something in common. The Civil War. Back in July of 1861, parts of the Battle of Carthage took place on pieces of their land. Pop's land was what historians call a core battleground site. The one day battle in and around Carthage ended with a victory for the Rebels and a loss of 250 lives. "So we were able to protect not only a farm but also a civil war battlefield. Both of which will help the public. Because we will have local food but also protecting our natural historic heritage," ORLT's Horner said. She also said the Ozark Regional Land Trust is working with the Civil War Trust on this preservation project with "Pop" Menafee's land. The Civil War Trust's primary goal is to preserve Civil War battlefields. Kathleen Robertson of the Washington D.C. based organization said the Civil War Trust can help pay for the preservation of Menafee's land. "We'll use some of our own funds but we work with the American Battlefield Protection Program because that will fund half the value of the conservation easement."
A bit of legalese if you will but these are complex deals. In the end though the complexity has resulted in the Ozark Regional Land Trust being able to help preserve more than 25,000 acres of land in the Missouri and Arkansas Ozarks.