With their gift of 80 acres to The Nature Conservancy, an Oak Ridge-area couple has ensured that a Nature Conservancy mountain sanctuary is protected forever. The Conservancy’s John R. Dickey Birch Branch Sanctuary — 469 acres of densely forested, stream-laced Appalachian mountain land — is now shielded from development on all sides, thanks to the donation.
What made the gift-giving even more gratifying to Tim and Teresa Myrick is that they will continue to live on and enjoy the land. In the future, they will even be able to pass it on to their heirs or sell it. “It’s a real treat for us knowing exactly what we protected,” says Teresa Myrick of their wooded ridgetop farm in Johnson County. “It’s a marvelous place."
Plus, they will be able to deduct a portion of the land’s value from their taxes. That’s because the Myricks’ gift to The Nature Conservancy in December was a conservation easement on their weekend home, located in the mountainous Shady Valley community of Johnson County.
A conservation easement is a voluntary, legally binding agreement that limits certain land uses or prevents development from taking place on a piece of property now and in the future, while protecting the property’s ecological value. Increasingly, The Nature Conservancy and other environmental organizations are looking to conservation easements to protect lands and waters because they preserve private property rights and ownership while allowing people and nature to exist together in ecological harmony. Nationwide, The Nature Conservancy has protected more than 2 million acres through conservation easements.
The Myricks’ hillside farm, which contains a trout stream, a pond, forests and pasture, was strategically situated to protect The Nature Conservancy’s Birch Branch Sanctuary. The Myrick property is located immediately south of the preserve, and the two properties meet along a ridgeline. Both properties contain streams that flow into Beaverdam Creek, which boasts first-class native trout habitat. So, by agreeing to certain environmental restrictions on their property, the Myricks not only protect their forested, ridgetop land from development forever, but they are also protecting the Birch Branch and Beaverdam Creek watershed. Because the Birch Branch Sanctuary is bounded on three sides by the Cherokee National Forest, its tributary creeks and streams are now all on protected lands.
That preserve is very much worth shielding from encroaching development. The John R. Dickey Birch Branch Sanctuary contains dense Appalachian forests, interlaced with rhododendron thickets, streams, fields and wetlands. These forests are home to increasingly rare animals and plants such as Swainson’s warbler and Carolina saxifrage. Owned by The Nature Conservancy since 1996, this scenic preserve is open to the public with permission.
Although the conservation easement that the Myricks agreed to does restrict them from most new construction or development on their farm, it does not prevent the couple from living and using the land as they normally would. For example, the easement allows occasional Boy Scout camp-outs on the land, plantings in the farm’s open fields and normal recreational uses.
“We feel very good about this easement,” says Tim Myrick. “It was a way to invest real estate capital in something that is permanent.” He hopes others in northeast Tennessee will use conservation easements, especially along the scenic Clinch River. “The message I would like to send is this: With a conservation easement, you have a way to preserve the land you own and love for the future. You can protect the land and still get normal use out of it, for yourself and your family. You don’t have to fence people off the land to protect it.”
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.
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