Woodford looms large in new land group
More than three dozen Woodford County farms belong to a Central Kentucky group that recently merged with a Louisville-based organization with a shared goal of protecting farmland throughout much of Kentucky. On Dec. 19, the board of directors of the Bluegrass Conservancy and the Louisville-based Limestone Land Trust announced the formation of the "largest regional, accredited land trust in Kentucky." Next month, the board of directors of the merged organization will meet and may pick a new name, according to Elizabeth Buxton, the executive director of the Bluegrass Conservancy. "We're going to have a strategic planning retreat, and we're going to be discussing a lot of things, including a possible name change. We certainly want to review and adopt a new mission, but it will be very similar to our existing mission," Buxton said. "The two organizations have a wonderful opportunity to combine resources and staff and . map out a plan, a strategic plan, for the next couple of years." With 37 farms and a total of 5,532 acres, Woodford County has by far the largest presence in the new organization. The board of directors for the new group includes prominent Woodford County residents like Robert Clay of Three Chimneys Farm and Libby Jones of Airdrie Stud. "As you know, Woodford County has a number of historic districts and we have been concentrating our efforts on preserving those very significant cultural landscapes, which have abundant natural and historic and cultural resources, not to mention scenic resources," Buxton said. "The landscape there is very important to protect ." Lexington's PDR (Purchase of Development Rights) program pays farm owners to give up their development rights in perpetuity. Efforts to begin a similar program in Woodford County haven't been successful, but The Bluegrass Conservancy, formed in 1995, relies on different incentives. "With our program, the land owner donates a conservation easement to the Bluegrass Conservancy and in return, they are eligible for significant federal tax credits, which are a huge incentive for private land conservation across the country," Buxton said. A love of the land also plays a role, Buxton said. "I think that most people who want to convey a conservation easement . they want to do it because they want to protect the land for future generations, and I think that's very important to understand. There are these different tools out there for land owners who want to preserve their farms for the next generation, and we're really wanting to work with more land owners now that we've almost doubled our territory ." Buxton said. Setting up a conservation easement can be a complicated process and, with the Bluegrass Conservancy, includes annual checks by the group. Bob Berger, owner of Woodstock Farm at 5055 Old Frankfort Pike, said he wasn't as familiar with the Bluegrass Conservancy as was his late mother, Mina, who joined years ago. He said someone from the Bluegrass Conservancy does a "drive-through" ever year to ensure the land hasn't been developed. "We do monitoring annually, and we're required to do that," Buxton said. ". When they accept an easement, we accept the responsibility to ensure the terms of that easement are going to be upheld forever. It's a legal agreement between a land owner and the land trust, and the land trust is obligated to make sure that the land owner is abiding by the terms of that easement," Buxton said. Buxton said she wanted Central Kentucky residents to know that the World Monument Fund has named the Bluegrass area as an endangered cultural landscape. "It's really important to preserve the iconic landscape that defines the Bluegrass region. You can go just about anywhere in this country to see Walmart, and I do think . this is a landscape worth preserving. We also want to protect farming. Farming is important to the economy of the state and I think there needs to be an effort to preserve those prime soils that are so important for farming ." Buxton said. A balance between growth and land conservation is important, Buxton said. "Preserving them with easements is a great tool for that, and then development can occur in other areas," Buxton said.