Yale and Alicia Muhm live a few miles north of Marthasville, nestled in the quiet, rolling landscape of the Missouri River Hills. They own more than 1,000 mostly wooded acres, which are dotted with small ponds and streams, and home to an abundance of wildlife. Not far to the east is St. Charles County and the fastest growing urban population in the state. Strip malls and subdivisions mark the growth, which appears to be on a collision course with the Muhms.
They began to worry several years ago about what development could do to the area.
“Many of the areas I saw as a child that were beautiful or pristine are now part of some kind of development,” Yale says. “We could sort of see the writing on the wall.”
Last year, the Muhms donated a conservation easement of more than 1,000 acres to the Ozark Regional Land Trust. The arrangement allows the Muhms to retain ownership and for their children to build one home each on the property, but it also guarantees the land will never be subdivided.
“It says in the simplest of terms that it can never be developed,” Yale says.
The Ozark Regional Land Trust is one of more than 1,600 such organizations nationwide working to help landowners protect property well into the future through conservation easements and land preserves. Edward Heisel is the group’s executive director, and says that since the trust’s founding in 1984, it has arranged roughly 100 conservation agreements to protect more than 21,000 acres in the lower Midwest.
“Our mission is really to offer landowners tools to accomplish conservation goals,” he says.
When landowners donate a conservation easement to a land trust, they generally set terms that forfeit some development rights while retaining the right to live on the property. The land can be sold or handed down, but future owners will be bound by the terms of the easement. The land trust’s job is to act as a steward, and to make sure the easement’s terms are followed.
“Most land trusts feel that we have a higher bar set because we’re taking on permanent obligations,” Heisel says. “We’re basically making a promise to these landowners that we’re going to be able to do that.”
The trust is responsible for maintaining a relationship with future generations of owners and for monitoring the condition of the land.
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