How The Land Trust for Tennessee Works to Preserve Rural Landscapes

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 Land Trust for Tennessee

Photo by Michael D. Tedesco

We all know our state’s scenic countryside is one of its biggest assets, but did you know there’s a nonprofit in Tennessee focused on keeping its landscapes and farmland that way forever?

Celebrating 20 years in 2019, The Land Trust for Tennessee protects natural and historic landscapes, both public and private, across the state. Focusing on sites such as farmland, recreational areas, wildlife habitats and urban open spaces, The Land Trust for Tennessee works with communities and willing landowners to ensure the Volunteer State retains its natural, distinctive beauty for years to come.

“We are a statewide organization that primarily uses conservation easements, which are 100% voluntary agreements between a landowner and a land trust or other qualified entity, to protect land in perpetuity by limiting development,” says Liz Edsall McLaurin, president and CEO of The Land Trust for Tennessee. “Thanks to our many generous donors, we do not have to charge a fee for our work, and we continue to help conserve the land that’s most important to Tennessee without requiring a fee for our part of the transaction.”

Ray Hurt; photo by Michael D. Tedesco

How The Land Trust for Tennessee Helps Conserve Natural Spaces

Founded by former Gov. Phil Bredesen in 1999, The Land Trust for Tennessee has protected 126,000-plus acres since its inception through private land conservation, facilitated projects and partnerships, and the organization has served 69 counties across the state.

Through its efforts, The Land Trust for Tennessee has helped conserve well-loved Tennessee recreation destinations such as Window Cliffs State Natural Area in Putnam County’s Burgess Falls State Park and portions of Radnor Lake State Natural Area in Nashville, along with Civil War sites and the scenic lands visible from the iconic Natchez Trace Parkway.

Of course, much of the organization’s work is accomplished with the help of individual, willing landowners, and McLaurin points out that those who work with The Land Trust for Tennessee will see very few – and often zero – changes to the ways in which they must manage their property.

That’s because the organization enables property owners to continue enjoying their land – farming, hunting, fishing, even selling it or passing it down to heirs – while helping to guarantee their property is protected forever. As a result, landowners who want to see their land protected in perpetuity essentially have nothing to lose and everything to gain when they collaborate with The Land Trust for Tennessee.

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Photo by Michael D. Tedesco

“We want landowners to understand they are not giving up their land or most of their rights when they work with us,” McLaurin says. “The only thing that will change is they now have a trusted partner. We come out to visit once a year, getting to know each landowner and answering any questions they may have, and we work together to accomplish their conservation goals.”

To date, The Land Trust for Tennessee has helped to conserve more than 51,000 acres of farmland across the state, which McLaurin says is one of the organization’s most important missions.

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She points to the fact that agriculture accounts for about 9% of the state’s economy and employs close to 250,000 Tennesseans, making the ag sector something well worth safeguarding and supporting – and what better way to do that than to conserve farmland?

“We feel strongly that protecting the rural heritage and farmland of our state is critical,” McLaurin says. “We are currently the only land trust in Tennessee with an active farmland conservation program, which is something we’re proud to offer because agriculture is so significant to our state’s economy; protecting prime agricultural soils from things like housing and commercial developments is incredibly important.”

 Land Trust for Tennessee

Photo by Michael D. Tedesco

Tennessee Landowners and Farmers Protect Their Properties

In 2015, brothers and Farm Bureau members Ray and Trey Hurt – fifth-generation owners of Hurt Seed Co., located in Halls – began working with The Land Trust for Tennessee to acquire a conservation easement for their 325-acre property in West Tennessee’s Haywood County, where the Hurts grow corn, soybeans and wheat.

“My brother and I loved the idea of preserving our land, so it made perfect sense for us to join forces with The Land Trust for Tennessee,” Ray says. “We also loved that getting a conservation easement didn’t take away our ability to manage and farm the land as we saw fit, and we could still pass it down to future generations or sell it if we wanted to.”

Ray says the process was so simple and smooth that shortly after finalizing their first conservation easement, the brothers got to work on their second, which protects another of the Hurts’ shared properties – a 155-acre active, working farm in Crockett County.

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“Ray and Trey Hurt have a thriving agricultural business that helps drive the economy of both the Halls community and Lauderdale County as a whole, and we’re proud to have had the opportunity to work with them on multiple occasions,” McLaurin says. “The Hurt brothers are leaders in their community and are wonderful examples of forward-thinking businessmen who are passionate about protecting rural Tennessee.”

McLaurin also notes that The Land Trust for Tennessee’s experience with the Hurt brothers isn’t unusual – in fact, she says it is often farmers who best understand the value of land conservation.

“A common trait among many of the landowners we work with, particularly farmers, is they very clearly see the life of the land beyond their own lifetime, and they want the comfort of knowing the land will live on,” McLaurin says. “The Land Trust for Tennessee helps to make this dream a reality and provide peace of mind.”

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