Whitesburg

Western Reserve Land Conservancy has conserved 744 properties totaling 56,237 acres, including farms, parks and publicly owned preserves. The Whitesburg Park covers 106 acres and has added to the protection of the corridor that includes Riverside Park in Chagrin Falls. Between April 2014 and April 2015, volunteers supported Chagrin Falls Village, Chagrin River Watershed Partners and Western Reserve Land Conservancy in planting 2,050 native trees and shrubs over 7.5 acres at Whitesburg.

More than 40 years of scientific studies prove that being in nature improves human health and wellbeing, making everyone healthier, happier and smarter, according to data collected by the Western Reserve Land Conservancy.

Since 1990, the land conservancy has permanently conserved 744 properties totaling 56,237 acres, including 240 farms and 170 public parks and publicly owned preserves.

Rich Cochran, president and CEO of the conservancy now headquartered in Moreland Hills, said the land conservancy is one of less than 100 organizations in the United States that has permanently preserved more than 52,000 acres. The land conservancy has conserved 181 properties totaling 8,391 acres in the Chagrin River watershed.

In addition to preserving valuable natural areas for the future, conserving property creates effective water filters, keeping streams, lakes and rivers clean and protects water for drinking, recreation, agriculture and providing a healthy ecosystem, Mr. Cochran said.

“We cover 18 counties, all in Northeast Ohio,” Mr. Cochran said. It extends to the west to Sandusky Bay and south to Wayne and Columbiana counties.

Locally, some of the lands with conservation easements on them include the Whitesburg Nature Preserve at the former Chase Bag Co. in Chagrin Falls, the South Russell Village Park, the 53 acres of the Modroo Farm in Russell Township as well as the Russell Uplands Preserve with more than 100 acres. There is also the Tremaine Preserve of about 64 acres in Hunting Valley village and the Centerville Mills Park with about 160 acres in Bainbridge Township.

There are many acres of private properties in the area that are conserved including Snake Hill Farm with 282 acres in Bainbridge and 127 acres owned by Bob Solomon in Bainbridge. Also in Bainbridge is a property bordered by Depot and Geauga Lake roads formerly owned by the Henry family that is conserved as open space in the township.

Typically a conservation easement is a set of permanent restrictions that make the property undevelopable and it is kept in its natural state as agreed upon by the owners. Conserved farms remain as farms and cannot be developed in the future.

There is also the Forest Ridge Preserve in Moreland Hills at the land conservancy headquarters on Chagrin River Road. “We created the preserve in partnership and working with Moreland Hills,” he said. The 140 acres includes mature upland forests with diverse species and animals as well as a “beautiful trail that is open to the public.”

One property which the land conservancy owns and manages is in Ashtabula and Trumbull counties, Mr. Cochran said, called Sugar Island Preserve that includes more than 1,000 acres that are open to the public. It is just north of Route 87 in Bloomfield Township in Trumbull County and in Orwell Township in Ashtabula County.

In addition, the land conservancy just preserved and owns Bay Point, a rare habitat in Sandusky Bay with 65 acres. It is a sandy peninsula and extends into Sandusky Bay. Most coastal wetlands in Ohio have all been filled in, which occurred when everyone wanted to live by the lake, Mr. Cochran said.

Bay Point has about 34 acres of pristine coastal wetlands that provide a natural filter to the lake. It is a stop-over site for migratory birds that are exhausted after crossing the lake, he said. Bird watchers go there to observe them. It has more than 2 miles of shoreline and 20 endangered species are documented on the property, including the snowy plover and the black-crowned night heron, Mr. Cochran noted. “We are going to make it open to the public in the future.”

The land conservancy bought the Waterfall Preserve in Mansfield in Richland County which includes 285 acres with beautiful waterfalls. A conservation easement will be placed on the land, Mr. Cochran said. It is adjacent to the Richland B&O bike and hiking trail. The land conservancy is planning to put in a trail through the preserve as well.

The Western Reserve Land Conservancy started out as the Chagrin River Land Conservancy in 1987 and preserved its first property in 1990.

The Chagrin River Land Conservancy merged with the Russell Land Conservancy in 1995, and Mr. Cochran was hired in 1996. There were less than 400 total acres preserved at that time. Then 13 different land conservancies were merged to form the Western Reserve Land Conservancy making it the largest conservation organization in Ohio.

Western Reserve Land Conservancy moved from Chester Township to Moreland Hills in 2012, Mr. Cochran said.

The conservancy has 50 staff members with 24 of them at the Moreland Hills office. The land conservancy is funded by donations, individual foundations, corporations and grants such as the Clean Ohio Fund, he said.

The land conservancy works with owners who want to place their properties under conservation easements. No funds are involved and the owners are eligible for tax deductions.

“We are the largest land conservancy in terms of the number of properties and acres preserved in Ohio,” Mr. Cochran said. “We also have a large urban program to preserve land,” he said. More than 12,700 trees have been planted in Cleveland since 2014 on both public and private land.

The land conservancy also raised $440 million statewide for communities to fight blight by removing vacant and blighted homes. A county land bank receives the property. “We have established more than 50 county land banks in Ohio so that two-thirds of Ohio counties now have land banks to eliminate blight and to re-green communities,” Mr. Cochran said.

“We’re very grateful to have a lot of partners,” he said that could be municipalities, park districts and many others. The land conservancy has also founded many coalitions including the Ohio Land Trust and the Ohio Land Bank Association and the Great Lakes Land Conservancy Coalition, which includes eight states.

“I think our work is important. It makes everyone healthier, mentally, physically and intellectually,” Mr. Cochran said.

Learn more information on the Western Reserve Land Conservancy and about preserving lands through conservation easements at https://www.wrlandconservancy.org/.

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