On the Hunt for Conservation Easements: Past, Present, and Future

A major goal of FLOW’s Lower Olentangy Greenspace Plan project was to inventory and map existing green and open spaces within the Lower Olentangy Watershed. This not only includes the obvious suspects such as parks, but also more obscure parcels such as conservation easements. Conservation easements are voluntary legal agreements between landowners and a qualified organization in which the landowner places restriction on the use of the property to protect the natural value of the land. Donation of a conservation easement typically protects land permanently while keeping it in private ownership.

Locating conservation easements proved harder than one might imagine. It might seem that one could go down to the local court house and simply request a list?  Or perhaps one could go on-line to the county recorder’s database and do a simple search for easements? As a FLOW researcher recently discovered, it’s not quite so simple.

Some easements are old and discovery requires examining the ownership history of the land parcel and plat. A plat is a map of a land area, usually on the scale of a neighborhood and a parcel is a piece of land used for a single purpose (such as a park or a home). Essentially a plat map shows the collection of parcels that make up a neighborhood. While old plat maps may be photographed and stored electronically, original public land survey plats were hand drawn and the artistry and penmanship of each plat is unique. Some were drawn with color, others in shades of gray, and others in black and white. The level of detail captured in each plat map was dependent on the diligence and accuracy of the individual surveyors. Some surveyors created maps of remarkable detail, while other surveyors were less meticulous

Figure 1. 1803 Plat Map                                             Figure 2. 2004 Plat Map and Conservation Easement (Worthington, OH)                                                                                (Kempton Run Drive, Columbus,OH)

Another challenge is that multiple organizations currently hold conservation easements. And no single clearinghouse exists. The Lower Olentangy watershed spans two counties and multiple government jurisdictions. Each has its own record keeping, its own type of database, and its own policies and procedures. To complicate matters, the costs of surveying land is sometimes prohibitive and electronic files are not even available or accurate.

So what role will conservation easements play in the future preservation efforts?  As central Ohio strives to accommodate population growth and ensure enough green space – both for healthy humans and healthy functioning ecosystems, the conservation easement may need to evolve as well. Climate change and other potential landscape changes raise questions about the effectiveness and adaptability of permanent instruments.

Attracting Wildlife to Your Property

Attracting Wildlife

Emilee R. Hardesty, Private Lands Biologist with Ohio DNR Division of Wildlife, discussed changes you can make to attract pollinators to your yard spoke at the March 2017 FLOW public meeting. Many pollinators are in decline, but there are simple things you can do at home to make your yard a friendly place for pollinators. Slides from her presentation are at the link above.

Webster Park History

Jeff Caswell of Friends of Webster Park

by Lucy Caswell

The area now known as the Webster Park subdivision was sold to Amason Webster (not “Amazon,” despite the street name) by the Rathbone heirs on May 29, 1846.  Webster’s daughter Orell inherited the land upon his death in 1900.  In 1909 she and her husband Lewis Legg subdivided the land, and the initial plat shows “Webster Park” at the 1.8 acre site now bounded by North Delta Drive, East Delta Drive, Webster Park Avenue and Olentangy Boulevard (the entire subdivision runs from High Street to Olentangy Boulevard, and from Erie Road to the edge of Whetstone Park).  

The City Bulletin of May 8, 1926 records the transfer of this park plot to the city: ”Whereas, the tract…has been preserved in its natural state and protected as a wild bird asylum and wild flower preserve and it is well suited and adapted for such purposes…the same is hereby set aside…as a wild bird asylum and wild flower preserve.   …The superintendent of parks…is hereby directed to maintain and protect the same as nearly as possible in its native state…”  Columbus Recreation and Parks Department is the city’s administrative unit responsible for Webster Park today.

The provision that the park must be maintained in its “native state” means that, insofar as possible, it should be left alone to allow the native species to follow their natural progression.  For example, naturally fallen trees in Webster Park remain where they land, to decay and provide shelter for small animals.  The city must provide special permission before any plants can be removed from or added to the park.  

For many years, neighbors kept the park litter-free by picking up refuse when they saw it and by organizing occasional clean-up days within the park.  In recent years, growth of invasive plants such as euonymus (wintercreeper), English ivy, Asian honeysuckles, and garlic mustard changed the ecosystem of the park significantly.   As a result, the volunteer group Friends of Webster Park was organized in 2005 to remove invasive plants under the supervision of the Recreation and Parks Department, and generally to protect and care for this natural area.  In 2014 the city’s Nature Preserve Advisory Council voted to name Webster Park as a Nature Preserve.

In the years since the Friends began work, the park has seen a resurgence of wildflowers that had been smothered by the groundcovers, many trees have been saved from damage by removing invasive vines, and the native bushes are thriving with less competition from honeysuckle.  One of the park’s outstanding features is the wetland on its west end, unique because it hosts one of Ohio’s very few stands of skunk cabbage.

The Big Give is May 12 – Amplify your generosity to FLOW

The Big Give is a 24-hour online giving rally to benefit community nonprofits. Show your community spirit and support the Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed (FLOW) online using PowerPhilanthropy.® A record $1.3 million Bonus Pool will amplify giving on a pro rata basis.  This means that everyone who gives will have their donation(s) increased based on the total amount raised during The Big Give.

All major credit cards, with a minimum donation of $20, are accepted. All credit card fees are covered by The Columbus Foundation— so 100 percent of Big Give donations go to FLOW.

It’s easy to participate!

1. CLICK on The Big Give banner when you visit columbusfoundation.org, beginning at 10:00 a.m. EDT on Tuesday, May 12. SELECT Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed.

2. GIVE securely using a major credit card, with a minimum of $20. Columbus Foundation donors can also make a grant (minimum of $100) through their Donor Advised Fund or Supporting Foundation.

3. CELEBRATE, knowing that you are strengthening our community for all! Share your experience and why you gave, and follow The Big Give at #BigGiveTCF.

The funds raised during The Big Give will support FLOW’s mission to educate residents about how they can help protect the Olentangy for future generations.