Along the banks of Kinchafoonee Creek just outside of Plains, Georgia, two farmers, Michael and David Weldon, owned an 870-acre tract of land that the family considered too important to be developed. Due to financial considerations, the Weldon family needed assistance to be able to permanently preserve the land’s natural beauty and retain the ability to grow peanuts, corn and soybeans on the property.
The property’s natural state included hayfields, irrigated cropland, dryland cropland, pine and hardwood bottomland timber, and various animal habitats that would need to be protected forever through a conservation easement. The land also had five ponds, deemed as high-priority sites in the Southeastern Plains Region and 8,500 feet of creek frontage on Kinchafoonee Creek that flow into the high-priority watershed of Kinchafoonee-Muckalee Creek.
In order to meet their financial obligations and also continue their family farming operation, the Weldon family began discussing terms with a partnership of individuals who appreciated the intrinsic beauty and environmental value of protecting the Weldon’s land from development and who were interested in acquiring a majority interest in it. The family also allowed a regional land trust, the Atlantic Coast Conservancy, to tour the property and conduct a baseline environmental study to document the pristine condition of the land and determine the extent of the land’s conservation purpose.
In 2013, after having sold a majority interest in the land to the investment partnership, the property was appraised for its development rights, and later a conservation easement was placed on the property, thereby protecting it forever. As part of the terms of the conservation easement, the land trust implemented a 100-foot buffer zone surrounding each of the property’s five ponds.
It also established an Agricultural Area protection zone, thus preventing any development of the land, but allowing for an exception to keep parts of the land in service for agricultural purposes.
Working hand-in-hand with the legacy landowner, the Weldon Family, and the Atlantic Coast Conservancy, the new ownership group formulated a plan for the easement, which focused on three main factors:
The lease continued for several years, with the Weldon family farming peanuts, corn and soybeans on the land. New owners have since acquired the property, which is still encumbered with the perpetual easement today and still serving as productively farmed land.
“Conservation partnerships are an essential tool for landowners like me,” said Mike Weldon. “This land will forever be protected due to the incentive created by Congress that worked as intended when my family worked with the Atlantic Coast Conservancy. Our community and our environment have benefitted as a result.”
This tremendous conservation effort would not have been possible without private capital and conservation-minded individuals coming together to preserve and protect our lands.
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