|sign along Old Sutton Road, Barrington Hills, Illinois|
I learned about it last fall, when filmmaker and photo artist Robert McGinley displayed his photos from Horizon Farm at the Barrington Area Library's gallery. I was privileged to attend his presentation about the conservation easement that was created on his family's property, Horizon Farm, in Barrington Hills, Illinois.
|Horizon Farm October 2010|
I managed not to completely gabble in my enthusiasm for this project when I introduced him at the gallery reception. It differs vastly from ordinary conservation easements, which are just small pieces of land which must be left in their natural state. The Horizon Farm conservation easement, by contrast, consists of 421 acres of contiguous land which comprise an ecosystem and habitat for wildlife which will be protected in perpetuity from development.
McGinley wanted to save the special ecosystems on his aging parents' land, but he feared that he would be unable to avoid selling the land because of the taxes that would devolve on their deaths. (Yes, even in Cook County, property taxes are going up.) Had the property been sold, it could have been carved up into 80 5-acre parcels, the minimum zoning in Barrington Hills. Together with the newly created Barrington Hills Conservation Trust (now the Barrington Area Conservation Trust [BACT]), the Conservation Foundation, and the Equine Land Conservation Resource, McGinley crafted an easement which limits the number of parcels which could be developed to only eight, with a vast open tract in the middle to be preserved as open space. This area is wooded and has a wetland and pond which is used by migratory birds.
|Migratory birds coming in for a landing, October 2010.|
The BACT is dedicated to preserving open space, and the rural character and natural resources of the Barrington area, which "is one of the largest remaining connected ecosystems in Northeastern Illinois" (source), including the internationally recognized Grigsby Prairie (see Gardens Illustrated issue #145). The conservation easement is its most powerful weapon for protecting open space. (See Wikipedia for more information on conservation easements.)
Five thousand acres of open space are lost each day in the United States (source). Now is the time to put a stop to it. In honor of Earth Day, I charge everyone with setting up such conservation trust organizations, or if one already exists, joining with them to encourage the owners of large parcels to consider a conservation easement now, before the need to sell the land arises.
Happy Earth Day!