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Landowners choose preservation over development

Marti Shaw
Land Conservancy of Adams County

(12/7) This fall two local landowners rejected plans they had made to subdivide their land into a housing development—choosing instead to preserve their 135-acre Highland Township farm through a conservation easement with the Land Conservancy of Adams County.

"We even went so far as to have all the surveying done and all the development plans drawn up," said landowner Paul Davis. But Paul and his wife Julie found that by the time they received final approval to move ahead with their development, they weren’t so sure they wanted to go through with it. "We looked at each other and said, ‘We don’t want to do this anymore,’" Julie said. "We’re surrounded almost completely by preserved land, and the more we talked to the people who had preserved their property, the more we thought that’s what we wanted to do. We don’t want to look out and see houses—we want to see corn."

An offhand comment by a friend started the Davises down the preservation path. "It was during our annual Super Bowl party," Julie said. "We were talking about our plans for our land, and Mark Berg asked us, ‘Have you thought about the Land Conservancy?’ Then we learned that other couples who are friends of ours have their land preserved with the Land Conservancy also."

Once they started thinking about it, the Davises found more reasons to preserve their land. "We started paying attention to things that were being printed about water quality, because one whole side of our farm borders on Marsh Creek," Paul said. "We were concerned about what might happen to the creek if we developed the land."

So the Davises contacted the Land Conservancy’s conservation coordinator, Sarah Kipp, to begin working on developing a conservation easement for their property. A conservation easement is a legally binding document attached to the property deed that spells out the kind and amount of development the landowner wants to allow on his or her land, forever.

The Davises learned that their farm was a perfect candidate for preservation. "The Land Conservancy has recognized the importance of preserving this property for many years, as its half-mile, forested border along Marsh Creek provides wildlife habitat and protects the creek’s water quality," Kipp explained. "On top of that, this farm has excellent soils that are now permanently available for agricultural production, and it’s wedged between two other preserved farms, so this conservation easement resulted in the formation of a contiguous block of permanently protected lands. Protecting our water resources, our farmland, and our rural landscape are essential elements of our mission, and they all came together in this project."

Paul Davis, a retired United Airlines pilot, bought his Highland Township farm in 1971 to escape the suburban sprawl growing up around his home in northern Virginia. The Davises have researched their property at the Adams County Historical Society, learning that the land was originally settled in about 1739. The central section of their home is a log cabin dating to 1790, and a stone barn still stands on the property built at the same time. Over the 40 years Paul Davis has owned his property, the land has supported a Christmas tree farm and a fully functioning landing strip for private pilots.

Grant funds for the purchase of the Davises’ conservation easement were provided by the federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP), which is overseen by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. These funds were matched by contributions from Sharon and Peter Sheppard through the Eva K. Sheppard Trust, the Highland Township Board of Supervisors, and the Land Conservancy.

"The success of this project is due in large part to the willingness of the Highland Township supervisors to invest in the future of agriculture here in Adams County and in their township," said Land Conservancy president Norma Calhoun. "Without their contribution we would not have qualified for the FRPP funding. With diminished availability of county Green Space funding, we are heartened to see that townships, local organizations, and individual donors are willing to step up to continue making land conservation a priority in Adams County."

"Along with the more immediate and visible considerations such as roadways, construction, sewer and water, and public safety, local government also has a responsibility to promote future land use that is desirable, appropriate, and sustainable," said Craig Rockey, chairman of the Highland Township board of supervisors. "The unique opportunity afforded by the preservation of the Davis property assists residents in retaining the rural character of Highland Township by protecting its natural and agricultural resources, while at the same time enhancing property values, dampening infrastructure costs, and retaining a premier, strategic viewshed. Partnering with the Land Conservancy of Adams County, and leveraging the available resources of the federal government, was an efficient and expedient means of obtaining these benefits for the current and future Highland Township community."

As far as the Davises are concerned, the experience of preserving their farm could not have been more pleasant. "The Land Conservancy made the whole process as easy as possible," said Paul. "They knew what had to be done and how long it would take." Julie especially enjoyed working with Kipp on the project. "Sarah is delightful and so smart and so good at what she does," she said. "We both have enjoyed working with her so much. I can’t come up with any real good reasons why a landowner shouldn’t preserve their land.

"We’re happier with our decision every day," Julie said. "I watched four bucks in the back yard the other day, and I see wild turkeys often. It’s perfect."

The Land Conservancy of Adams County is a member-supported, fully accredited nonprofit land trust established in 1995. Its mission is to preserve Adams County’s beautiful rural lands and character by working with interested landowners to protect their property from unplanned development both today and in the future.

The Land Conservancy partners with local landowners to preserve their land through conservation easements—voluntary legal agreements tailored to the landowner’s wishes and attached to the property title that specify the development the landowner wants to allow on the property, both now and in perpetuity. To date the Land Conservancy has worked with more than 100 Adams County landowners to preserve more than 9,000 acres of land through 133 easements. For more information about the Land Conservancy, visit, email, or call 717-334-2828.

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