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Green - Conservation Easements

Live Oaks along the Combahee River
One stroll beneath the sprawling canopy of these mighty live oaks, standing guard along the banks of the Combahee River, and one can’t doubt why protecting the environment is so important. These beauties are counting on us.
Photo Credit: David Soliday |

Mike and Kathy Panther have only been in their home for a few short weeks, and yet they’ve already had 25 visitors, with twelve more groups scheduled during the next five months.

The couple moved from Fort Wayne, Indiana, to the Reserve at Lake Keowee in the upstate of South Carolina because “we like the early spring and late fall, and the geography is beautiful.” Perhaps more important is the fact that it will stay that way, thanks to a Conservation Easement that protects 400 acres of the 3,000-acre property from future development.

“We didn’t really know what a Conservation Easement was all about until we visited the Reserve,” said Mr. Panther.

“The sales staff immediately emphasized the environmental aspects of the property, and the preservation of green space in perpetuity.” The couple also liked the idea of fewer homes on the rolling terrain.

And even during the brief time they’ve been in residence, they’ve hiked most of the trails on the property, taking their guests along with them to discover the attractions and amenities that compelled them to make this choice.

“We’ve heard friends call this a slice of heaven,” said Mrs. Panther, “and that’s really what they say.” A friend of their son wrote in their guest book that visiting the property was like a spiritual experience to him, seeing nature the way he saw it there.

Both of them appreciate the effort being made to protect the property and values and they look forward to sharing it with family and eventually, grandchildren. “To know that this will be here for generations is such a positive component of the property,” Mr. Panther said and his wife added, “The Reserve affects people on a deep, emotional level.”

The Easement was granted to The North American Land Trust, one of the largest conservation trusts in the United States. With a radius of 75 miles, there are one million acres of forest protected by state and federal statutes.

“Land is the only thing in the world worth working for, worth fighting for, worth dying for, because it’s the only thing that lasts.”
-- Gerald O’Hara, Gone with the Wind

Not many communities seek out this kind of environmental protection, but those that do provide enriching experiences that will last several lifetimes.

“We wanted to have enough people to have a sense of community, yet not destroy the natural beauty of the property,” said Jack Fisher, principal of the Preserve at Little Pine. With only 70 homesites available, residents have a choice of mountain views or woodlands and, when it’s gone, it’s gone and protected forever.

Near Asheville, North Carolina, the community has set aside almost 90 percent of the land as a conservation easement. “Not only are we adjacent to a national forest at the end of the valley, we have lots of wildlife right here,” he said, referring to the eagles, foxes, owls and other wildlife that share the land with their human counterparts.

The homesites average two-to-three acres, and most of the amenities come courtesy of Mother Nature. “Because we have defined ourselves as a true conservation area, we are going with the philosophy of less is more,” he explained. Homeowners will have the advantage of a gated community with miles of separate horse and hiking trails, and equestrian facilities planned.

For every homesite, there will be approximately 15 acres placed into conservancy, and that’s the key to the vision.

“I have a home here, and wanted something I was happy in,” explained Mr. Fisher. “Because we’ve stayed true to our theme, we’ll attract people with strong feelings about preservation.”

Kim Reardon is building a second home at the Preserve, and thought she was a beach person until she visited for the first time. “When I saw those views, it just took me away,” she explained from her home in Savannah, Georgia. “I was amazed that there was the potential of being able to preserve land like they have done,” she said. “I didn’t realize I was a conservationist until I came here.”

Ms. Reardon says her three boys simply love the Preserve. “I have a special-needs son and it is incredible how much he enjoys walking the trails, and all of them love camping out.” For her, it is the serenity – and of course the views. “I never envisioned views like I’ve seen here,” she explained. And, there’s another plus. “The people are so family-oriented and appreciative of the plan to protect all of this.”

The Preserve at Little Pine has been qualified by the State of North Carolina as biologically and ecologically significant. There are old growth forests, hardwoods, rhododendron, streams, and 208 plant species, including 12 on the rare or watch lists.

Of 117 animal species observed, seven have been identified on the rare or watch lists. An American Bald Eagle has returned to take a share of the land.

It was another eagle who influenced the ultimate plan for Palmetto Bluff, on the May River, near Bluffton, South Carolina. When an eagle’s nest was discovered at the top of a tall pine, the setbacks to protect the mom and her unborn chicks caused a shift in thinking and design. As a result, ten 30+ acre parcels of land will help preserve the natural surroundings.

The Palmetto Bluff Foundation was created to manage these areas under the terms of the conservation easements. Among their responsibilities is the creation of an Interactive Learning Center that will provide enrichment programs for residents and guests.

Perhaps most intriguing is the plan to link all of the features of Palmetto Bluff via historic roads, paths, and a unique network of freshwater trails.

Generally speaking, these kinds of developments when extraordinary land is discovered by community planners who value conservation in conjunction with profits.

“The way we look at development is 180 degrees different from most people,” said Jim Anthony, president of Balsam Mountain Properties, which is managing Balsam Mountain Preserve. “We only work with land that has unique natural characteristics and when we begin to plan, we figure out how few units we can place on a property and still make a profit.”

According to Mr. Anthony, Balsam Mountain Preserve encompasses 4,400 acres, with more than 3,000 of them protected by a conservation easement that is recorded with the North American Land Trust. The 501 (c)(3) Organization, Balsam Mountain Trust, has a full-time naturalist on staff and plans a Nature Center to help residents and guests learn what makes the land so important.

They’re working with eight universities on experimental and scientific projects. “It’s really a living document,” said Mr. Anthony, noting that this type of community attracts those who are like-minded in terms of conservation.

With 23 miles of streams on the property, equestrian and hiking trails (more than 100 miles of old logging roads that have been converted into trails), the possibilities for diversion are almost endless.

“People are buying here for three generations,” he explained. “They want to share their love of nature with their children, and protect it for their grandchildren and beyond.”

Slightly further east at Creston, John and Marilyn Nelson echo a love of land that is resulting in a community near Black Mountain, North Carolina.

“The reason you look at conservation is to leave the mountains in a posture where people can enjoy what they offer at the lowest possible density,” he explained. Creston will be home to only 120 families out of 1100 acres and 50 percent of the land is conserved to be enjoyed by those families. The Foothills Land Conservancy of North Carolina and the N.C. Clean Water Trust Fund hold easements at Creston.

“There were two parcels involved in Creston,” he said. “The left prong of the Catawba River is part of the headwaters for drinking water for Charlotte and other N.C. communities, making it critically important to protect.” The families buying at Creston share a common vision, namely a love of privacy and passion for conservation. They include folks from Canada to Florida.

New homeowner Lynn Nicholas and her husband Nick bought, in part, because of the community’s “highest standards for preserving the environment in a community with a lot of class.”

“The wonderful thing is that, done properly, everyone wins,” Mr. Nelson explained.

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