The following is a guest post from Krista Hozyash, Volunteer Maryland Coordinator with the Lower Shore Land Trust.
I jumped out of our four-wheel drive vehicle and circled around behind the trunk to speak with the man who had agreed to meet us. I watched the ground of the parking lot as I walked, observing pieces of broken glass colored various blues and greens between the gravel before looking up. The face that greeted me had the biggest smile I’d seen all day, and kind eyes that expressed real pleasure. For the first time that morning I thought to myself, “this is going to be a great day.”
We had traveled over thirty minutes to meet this man, a landowner in Worcester County on Maryland’s Lower Eastern Shore. “What can I do to help?” he asked.
I work at Lower Shore Land Trust in Berlin, Maryland as a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator, and my colleague and I were there to conduct conservation easement monitoring. A conservation easement is a legal document that restricts future development and some activities on land to protect conservation values. Land trusts, like the one I work for, are nonprofit organizations that preserve farmlands, forests, or natural lands by developing these conservation easements with landowners, acquiring land to set aside for conservation, or actively maintaining and managing protected landscapes and easements.
Conservation easement monitoring is part of a land trust’s responsibility to the landowners it partners with. Annually, staff and our dedicated volunteers must visit each protected property and compare its allowable practices and development detailed in the conservation easement to what is witnessed on the ground. Such work takes passion, determination, and a love of the natural environment. On this day, it also required a tolerance of cold temperatures that chilled the body until there was a free moment to sip hot coffee.
It was late December, and a beautiful layer of white snow covered the grasses and low shrubs that hugged narrow roads we traveled. The landowner had decided to give us a personal tour of his property, and escorted us in his vehicle around the land’s perimeter in the company of his young granddaughter. As I looked out the window at the thick forests moving past, I realized this was truly the best way to conduct our monitoring. The landowner eagerly answered our questions, talked proudly about the land he had owned for years, and learned more about Lower Shore Land Trust and the other lands we were protecting throughout Somerset, Wicomico, and Worcester Counties.
“One day this land is going to be yours,” he said to his granddaughter. She turned around to smile at us, “he always says this to me.” I smiled as well and thought about all the different reasons people decide to partner with us to conserve their land. Landowners choose to protect their properties because they never want to see it developed, and feel that the landscape is too beautiful and special to become stripped and covered in pavement. Others are attracted to potential federal and state income tax deductions, lower estate taxes, or property tax credits that offer some financial benefits. And still others want to practice some control over their own land, and decide how it should look to future generations for eternity.
As our vehicle slowed to a stop and I climbed out to take pictures of the forest stretching along the property’s border, I stood for a moment in the snow that reached halfway up my green boots. I breathed in frosty air that cooled the inside of my nose down into my lungs, and listened to complete silence aside from light bird chirps and snow falling from tree branches. All around me were shades of browns and greens covered in white as I looked out into the trees. I realized how fortunate this man was to live here surrounded by natural beauty, and how lucky I was at that moment to be immersed in it.
LSLT is looking for dedicated volunteers who would like to share a similar experience while conducting conservation easement monitoring. There are also opportunities to help our organization with marketing, community outreach and education, and event assistance. If you are interested in volunteering to assist landowners and promote land conservation throughout the Lower Eastern Shore, please contact Krista Hozyash at 410-641-4467, or firstname.lastname@example.org/.
More information about land trusts and conservation easements can be found at http://www.landtrustalliance.org/. More information about Lower Shore Land Trust and our work can be found at http://www.lowershorelandtrust.org/.