Entrusted to the Future

By Gene Kelly | September 2, 2004
From Missouri Conservationist: Sep 2004

"This land has been good to me, and good for me," said Ronald VanDyke about his 317 acres in Mercer County. "Through the years I put a lot sweat into these acres, but it was a labor of love. Now I want others to enjoy it, walk over it, appreciate the wildlife, breathe deep and take in its beauty."

Ronald VanDyke donated his land to the Missouri Department of Conservation as a memorial to his parents and brother who also were interested in resource management. The property now is called "The Russell B., Hazel S. and Arnold VanDyke Conservation Area." It is open to the public for hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities.

Cecilia Fitch also had in mind a memorial when she donated her 167 acres in Platte County.

"My great-grandfather, Dr. Fredrick Marshall, owned this land," Fitch said. "We repaired the cabin and enjoyed many weekends with friends, viewing wildlife and enjoying the calmness of the land and the silence of being away from the city. It's a wonderful place. Others should have the same enjoyment."

The tract is named in honor of Fitch's great-grandfather, the first physician in Platte City. He arrived in 1837, when the town was still known as Martinsville. "I'm sure my great-grandfather would be pleased with my decision to make certain this land will always be available for people to enjoy," Fitch said.

Small tracts also can be important if strategically located or if they have special features. In 1997, for example, Maureen and Dan Cover deeded eight acres on the Warm Fork of Spring River near Thayer in Oregon County to provide boating access. The George and Vida Martin Access is a memorial to Maureen's parents.

However, this was not the Covers' first gift to the citizens of Missouri. In 1985 the Covers donated 282 acres in Oregon County for use by the general public.

"We are pleased to have the opportunity to donate this land to the Department of Conservation and encourage others to do the same," Dan Cover said. "Giving the land wasn't a totally altruistic thing on our part. There were economic incentives. We used the tax breaks to buy a larger piece of land."

The 736 acres Dan and Maureen bought were closer to their home, making it possible for them to invest more time in their land. The Covers spent the next 15 years, as well as considerable time and expense, converting the vegetation on the tract from brush to prairie. They recently donated the tract, located near the Howell/Oregon County line, to the Department to ensure that their efforts will be continued.

Because of Dan's lifelong fascination with hawks, the Dan and Maureen Cover Prairie Conservation Area is managed primarily to provide falconers a place to hunt and train their hawks. Special regulations provide falconers the first opportunity to hunt quail and small game in the fall before the area opens to the general public.

Some donated tracts have high outdoor educational potential because of their location. Thanks to the family of William Lowe, the public can enjoy 133 acres along the south city limits of Mexico, Missouri. William Lowe purchased the property in 1949 and lived on it with his family for more than 50 years.

Pearle Lowe recalls her husband's love of the land and his family: "He would often take our three daughters and me on nature hikes."

"Our father was greatly concerned that the property might some day be subdivided," said Barbara Rynearson, one of William and Pearle Lowe's three daughters.

Lowe loved to hunt and fish, and was very committed to adhering to the state's wildlife regulations. To honor his dedication to sound conservation and ethics, his family wanted the property to be preserved in its natural state and available to the public.

"We requested that the tract be used primarily for educational purposes," said Pearle Lowe, "with developments consisting of nothing more than a parking lot, signs and walking paths."

Some donors start with a small tract and gradually add to it. Carrick "Bose" Davidson and Robert G. Paris purchased an 80-acre tract in Howell County in 1958. They gradually added to their ownership until they owned 270 acres.

"We got real serious about quail management." Bose said. "I guess we were doing something right, because one autumn the property was home to 12 coveys. Good quail management not only provided more quail, but also resulted in an increase in other game, including rabbits, turkey and deer."

Bose and the widow of Robert Paris eventually donated the land to the Conservation Department, but retained a life estate. Retaining a life estate assures the donor that the property will go to the Department any time the donors choose to relinquish the life estate or at their death. The holder of a life estate still retains control of the property.

"I decided recently to turn the property over to the Department so that public can benefit from using it," Bose said. "I am pleased that the Department let me be part of the planning team that developed the management plan for the area."

Choosing the Best Way to Donate

Those interested in donating land to the Department can choose from a variety of methods. In some cases, grantors may make special requests to suit their personal needs. Donors have input into naming the donated tract, which they often name after themselves or their family. Always, an appropriate sign is erected. Depending on the capabilities of the land, it may be open to public use.

Following are four general methods of donating land:

  • * Warranty Deed - Land can be donated at any time simply by deeding it over to the Conservation Commission of the State of Missouri. This method allows immediate tax benefits and provides the opportunity for donors to see the results of their generosity.
  • * Warranty Deed with Life Estate - Donors continue to operate the land in accordance with an agreement with the Department, which may include some restrictions. Grantors continue to pay the taxes, control public access and conduct other normal land-use activities during their lifetime or until they choose to relinquish the life estate and turn it over to the Department. This method provides some tax benefits and eliminates concern about future ownership of the land.
  • * Beneficiary Deed - Grantors file a beneficiary deed with the county recorder and send a copy to the Department. The land automatically goes to the Department at the time of the grantor's death. The beneficiary deed eliminates the need for probate and provides tax benefits to the grantor's estate. Grantors can revoke the beneficiary deed at any time.
  • * Will - Donors commonly convey property via their last will and testament. This method assures that the land will be deeded to the Conservation Department and provides tax benefits to the grantor's estate. It is always in the grantor's best interest to discuss the potential gift with the Conservation Department before the will is finalized. Wills are not revocable after death of the grantor.
  • * Trusts - Donors increasingly use inter vivos, or lifetime created trusts, to govern disposition of their property. They create a trust, naming themselves as trustee over the trust assets and often naming spouses or children as successor trustees. The trust document dictates terms for the trustee to convey their property to the Department. Trusts can be either revocable or irrevocable. Prior consultation with the Department is recommended.

Hunting and fishing seasons on the Carrick W. Davidson and Robert G. Paris Conservation Area are reduced because of its relatively small size and close proximity to West Plains. However, the tract is very accessible to local schools for educational programs.

The size of the tract being donated is not important, especially if the land contains unique features or allows access to an existing resource. For example, Mr. and Mrs. Louis S. Sachs and Ms. Nancy R. Sachs recently donated a 15.3- acre tract in St. Charles County to the Department. The tract, which appraised at $1,030,000, allows people access to the August H. Busch Conservation area on the north side.

Conservation-minded people enjoy their land so much that they often want others to share their natural wealth.

"My wife, Gerhild, and I looked a long time in several states before we found this property," said Graham Brown of his 190 acres in Dent County. "We enjoyed watching the deer and turkey and seeing the flashes of colorful birds. Now we want the general public to enjoy it."

The Browns donated their property to the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation, which in turn donated it to the Conservation Department. Gerhild and Graham Brown are both deceased now, but their memorial will always be a reminder of their thoughtful generosity.

For information about the Department's donation program, write to Missouri Department of Conservation, Donation Program Administrator, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0180, or call 573/751-4115, ext. 3139.

For information about the foundation, write to Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation, P.O. Box 366, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0366, or call (573) 751-4115, ext. 3379.

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Tom Cwynar
Managing Editor - Bryan Hendricks
Art Director - Ara Clark
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Photographer - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Staff Writer - Joan McKee
Circulation - Laura Scheuler