If the idea of conservation easements seemed new for West Virginia 25 years ago, that’s because it was relatively new everywhere. It was December 1994, and a group of Eastern Panhandle residents gathered in Shepherdstown to explore the possibility of forming a land trust that would use conservation easements to protect land in the Eastern Panhandle.
Nationally, the number of land trusts was growing exponentially and a national association, the Land Trust Alliance, had been formed to provide services, training and opportunities for collaboration. The IRS had established regulations covering the deductibility of the value of conservation easements. Land conservation across America was being strengthened through land trusts.
Here in West Virginia, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) had done a few easements by a cumbersome process under which the easement had to be attached to an adjacent property owned by the same entity. In the case of Altona Marsh easement — one of a few easements done by TNC before adoption of the law — the landowner deeded to TNC an acre in the center, to which the easement was attached. The passage in 1994 of the West Virginia version of the Uniform Conservation Easement Act, cleared the way for what have become standard conservation easements and sets the stage for critical, local action.
Fortunately, that December night at the home of Susan Nash on Old Prospect in Shepherdstown, the room was alight with individuals with a variety of experiences, including conservation, and essential connections and community stature. All of whom would pave the way for the effort’s forward movement and credibility. They would form the steering committee of the future land trust.
Sue Nash had been chair of the Jefferson County League Women Voters; Karene Motivans had monitored easements and preserves with TNC on Long Island; Cam Tabb is a respected Jefferson County farmer; David Malakoff was a science writer who had worked with environmental organizations in West Virginia and nationally; Jean Neely, founding president of the Potomac Valley Audubon Society; the late Bob Putz, a West Virginia native and internationally known fish biologist who would later be instrumental in locating the National Conservation Training Center in Jefferson County; Martin Burke, worked for the National Park Service; and others.
As the articles of incorporation were prepared, the group was joined by Stuart Wallace, Motivans’ husband, who also had land trust experience in New York, and attorney Lacey Rice III. On April 24 1995, the Articles of Incorporation for The Land Trust of The Eastern Panhandle, Inc. were filed, signed by L. Campbell Tabb III and Martin Burke. The Land Trust was official!
While some nonprofit founders are hard-driving forces who lead the march, Nash saw herself as the convener. Her job, she would say, was to get the right people in the room so that every idea was heard. When consensus was reached on an action, she would ask, “Who can take this on?” And, always, “Who else should we invite?”
Ultimately, Sue’s example would define the Land Trust of the Eastern Panhandle, and today she says “founding the Land Trust was the single most important thing that I did and what I am most proud of”.
Today, the LTEP has 50 conservation easements protecting 4,838 acres of farmland, historic viewsheds and key riparian property. Next year’s newsletter will share how all the people and partners got from the humble beginnings in 1994 to that total, and how the easements continue to be protected and new easements purchased and protected. We look forward to sharing those success stories of the people and the protection of the land and water with you.