What Does a Land Trust Do?
Land trusts protect land directly by buying or accepting donations of land or of conservation easements. They also educate the public and advocate for the need to conserve land. They can help landowners tailor a conservation plan to their individual situation and financial circumstances, and determine the property’s conservation values and future ownership. Land trusts like Champlain Area Trails (CATS) are community-based and essential to local needs.
What types of land can be protected by land trusts?
Land trusts protect a variety of lands, but many concentrate their efforts on: Natural habitat for wildlife, fish, and plants such as prairies, forests, bluff lands, or wetlands:
- Watershed areas like lakeshores, rivers, streams, and other natural features Scenic landscapes, particularly those with the local community, cultural or historic significance Working landscapes like farmland and ranch-land have special significance for growing food.
How Does a Land Trust Conserve Land?
Land trusts have many options available to them in order to conserve land. Two of the most popular options are fee simple and conservation easements.
What is a Conservation Easement?
A conservation easement (or conservation restriction) is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency that permanently limits use of the land in order to protect its conservation values. It allows the landowner to continue to own and use the land and to sell it or pass it on to heirs.
A landowner may sell a conservation easement, but usually, easements are donated. If the donation benefits the public by permanently protecting important conservation resources and meets other federal tax code requirements, it can qualify as a tax-deductible charitable donation. The amount of the donation is the difference between the land’s value with the easement and its value without the easement. Placing an easement on the property may or may not result in property tax savings.
Champlain Area Trails is a non-profit organization and an accredited land trust, established in 2009. In its short history, CATS has developed 60 miles of trails. Some of those trails will be part of a 30-mile trail loop between Westport and Essex. CATS is working to create trails that make it possible for people to “Hike the Lake” by walking from hamlet-to-hamlet. CATS long-term plans include extending the trail system to neighboring towns around Lake Champlain and eventually connecting them to trails in the Adirondack Mountains, Vermont, and Quebec.
Enjoyment of CATS’ trails depends on conserving the Valley’s scenic vistas, natural areas, farms, businesses, and communities. The CATS Board recognized this and formed The Champlain Valley Conservation Partnership Project (CVCP) as a program for CATS to protect farms, forests, and clean water, promote local farming, sustainable forestry, and historic hamlets, and develop outdoor education and outdoor recreation-based tourism initiatives. Thus, CATS focuses on trails, and through its CVCP program, it conserves land, increases understanding of nature, promotes outdoor recreation, and enhances economic vitality.
The Champlain Valley is a beautiful landscape of farms, forests, low mountains, charming hamlets, and breathtaking views. Unfortunately, the Valley has little public land and few hiking trails which combine to limit the economic benefits and pleasures of outdoor recreation. CATS is addressing this problem by developing trails, conserving land, and promoting tourism, local farms, and businesses.