Land trusts and city parks conservancies exist to help communities address limited access to nature and unplanned development and to create and preserve parks and open spaces.
Land trusts conserve natural resources such as natural areas, parks, and farmlands to help keep communities vibrant, enjoyable and sustainable. They create privately owned public assets and agree to act as the land's legal guardian. The protected land remains a public asset in perpetuity.
“We need the land for good health — places to play and explore, to exercise and let go of stress. We need the land for vibrant communities — gardens, parks, and trails that draw people, where neighbors get together. We need the stories rooted in the land, so we can explore who we are. We need the beauty of the land to inspire us.” Land Trust Alliance
Some land trusts own and operate areas that are open to the public. Others own no land at all but hold conservation easements. Others work to acquire and then transfer land to governments for use as parks, trails, game lands, or other public spaces. Some engage in all of these activities.
City park conservancies, on the other hand, are usually nonprofit organizations that create, restore, preserve, manage, and/or enhance city parks. They are most often partners with local or state governments who own the parkland. Conservancies play a role in managing, maintaining, programming and restoring land but they usually don’t own it.
While both are in the same business, their focus is slightly different. Land trusts deal more with land conservation while conservancies deal with park creation efforts. The focus of land trusts is on land and their mission is about protecting land for its different values for public benefit. City park conservancies focus on people. Their mission is also about land – restoring, developing and operating parkland – but it is mostly about getting people out on the property for just about every kind of recreation use you can name.
And even Community Land Trusts (CLTs) are turning their attention from homes to community spaces. CLTs are community-controlled organizations formed to take collective ownership of land and shape development on that land in a way that reflects the needs and wishes of a community. They are often formed to protect housing affordability, by either placing rent restrictions on any buildings built on CLT-owned land or limiting resale value of homes or condominiums. But some CLT’s are now fulfilling other community essentials such as providing public spaces such as parks and open spaces.
Several organizations have been formed to provide information on and advocate for land preservation.
The Land Trust Alliance is a national land conservation organization that supports land trusts across the nation. Their aspiration is for every person in America to live within 10 minutes of a park, trail or green space.
The Trust for Public Land (TPL) works to protect the places people care about and to create close-to-home parks—particularly in and near cities. It has a unique focus on urban parks and green space. TPL is the only national conservation group dedicated to protecting land in and near cities for people to enjoy parks, playgrounds, and other public spaces.
So, let’s take a look at these land trusts and park conservancies in action.
In New York State, the Columbia Land Conservancy acquires preserves for public hiking and recreation since the county does not have a public park system. The Columbia Land Conservancy is a good example of a land trust that sounds more like a park conservancy. They manage ten “Public Conservation Areas” available free of charge for recreation – trails for walking, picnic spots, and fishing places. In all, the Conservancy provides 2,300 acres of land for public use. They serve, in effect, as the county’s park system – at no cost to the county.”
The Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy is the first nonprofit organization in the nation to manage and operate an entire historic urban park system. This consists of 850 acres of beautifully designed parks, parkways and circles. Buffalo’s Olmsted System includes Cazenovia Park, Delaware Park, Front Park, Martin Luther King, Jr., Park, Riverside Park and South Park as well as their adjoining parkways and circles which weave throughout the city of Buffalo.
The Trustees of Reservations in Massachusetts is the oldest land trust in the country and manages over 25,000 acres in towns and cities across the state, including historic properties, natural resources, and trails and recreation sites. One such place is Farandnear which includes park-like grounds; 2.7 miles of easy wooded trails; an arboretum full of more than 80 cool conifer trees; and the remnants of an old cranberry bog.
The aforementioned Trust for Public Land (TPL) has quite a success story to tell in describing what it does. In 1999 when the City of New York, in search of revenue, sought to auction off many of its garden properties. But in an eleventh hour deal, The Trust for Public Land negotiated the purchase of 64 community gardens from the city auction block, and with the subsequent donation of an additional five gardens, saved 69 gardens from destruction. Since that time, TPL has invested more than $4 million in improvements to the 69 gardens, which cover nearly eight acres and are worth more than $7 million.
The Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land (STPAL) was founded in Cobb County, Georgia in 2012. It is dedicated to responding to the need for preservation of undeveloped or restorable land in various areas and making it available for public recreation, science education, plant and wildlife habitat, and the quiet enjoyment of nature. STPAL has taken ownership of over 10,000 acres of natural land across 36 properties in various counties in Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee.
One of their land examples is the Talking Rock Nature Preserve which was donated to in 2012. Desiring to preserve the natural land while providing experiences for the general public, STPAL embarked on a park plan visioning and designing phase. A Master Vision Plan has been created and amenities will be implemented in phases and as community support allows. The Vision calls for some opportunities not currently found in Pickens County.
The Westerly Land Trust has been working to conserve open space since its founding in 1987. They have grown from conserving one property, Avondale Preserve (50 acres) in 1998, to now having conserved over 1,600 acres of forests, grasslands, agricultural fields and wetlands. These properties are not only meant to stand as conserved open space but to also be used for their fantastic environmental education opportunities.
The mission of the Coastal Land Trust is to enrich the coastal communities of North Carolina through conservation of natural areas and working landscapes, education, and the promotion of good land stewardship. It saves the cherished lands along the North Carolina Coast. One of 24 land trusts in the state, the focus is on saving and restoring special places in the coastal plain like barrier islands, nature parks and preserves, family farms, and longleaf pine forests.
The Coastal Land Trust purchased the Latham-Whitehurst property and then transferred it to Craven County for permanent management as a Nature Park. The Latham-Whitehurst Park opened in 2011 and is comprised of 133 acres of preserved pristine coastal land. This is Craven County’s first nature park, which is geared towards the natural environment as it offers hiking, nature observation, bird watching and access to Broad Creek by way of a boardwalk. It offers an extensive gravel walking trail, a 2,000 ft. boardwalk, a picnic shelter, canoe, kayak and boat docking, restrooms, and natural walking trails.
All of these examples share one thing: protecting the places that matter to the people who live there. Now is the time to make sure everyone has access to a place that matters to them. Land trust and city parks conservancies are here to help.