In the 1980s, people living in the suburbs of Baltimore and Washington, D.C. discovered what long-time residents of Adams County already knew—that this is a delightful place to live. Our open spaces, farmlands, woodlands, cultural amenities, and relatively low tax rates began attracting urbanites and suburbanites who wanted to live here. Suddenly, land that had been farmland or woodland for generations was threatened by unplanned development. While this growth was welcomed by many, it concerned those who wanted to see the rural character of Adams County preserved while integrating development in a thoughtful way.
In 1990, the Adams County Agricultural Land Preservation Program was established to protect viable agricultural land by purchasing conservation easements. This program operates with state and county funding, and, as of early 2014, has preserved more than 20,000 acres of agricultural land in Adams County. It is a wonderful program with a great mission, but it does not encompass many types of land that are worthy of preservation in Adams County: historic farms and many orchards with poorer soils, forested tracts, and other areas of cultural or environmental significance.
Spurred by increasing development, in 1990 the Adams County commissioners adopted a comprehensive plan that called for, among other things, the creation of a nonprofit, nongovernmental land trust to help preserve lands that did not qualify for preservation under the Agricultural Land Preservation Program.
The growing land conservation movement had many threads that wove together to lead ultimately to the founding of the Land Conservancy of Adams County, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, in late 1995. In 1996, the founders elected the first officers: Dean Shultz, president; Gary Sterner, vice-president; Jim Paddock, secretary; and Allan Haar, treasurer. Later that year, LCAC settled its first conservation easement and accepted its only fee simple donation of land.
The Founding Member Campaign generated about $34,000 for start-up cash, but the board of directors soon realized that it needed funds in excess of annual membership renewals. In 1998, volunteers held the Conservancy’s first annual Art Auction, selling works donated by local and regional artists committed to helping conserve Adams County’s artistically inspiring vistas. In 1999, other volunteers initiated the Land Conservancy’s first annual Road Rally, which encourages participants to explore the Adams County countryside as they learn about its rich history and natural beauty.
The Conservancy led a successful effort in 2001 to obtain a grant of $850,000 from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. The grant was funded by a portion of the fines collected from an industrial groundwater polluter in a section of the Marsh Creek watershed, which provides the drinking water for the Borough of Gettysburg and other customers of the Gettysburg Municipal Authority. Its purpose was to create the Marsh Creek Watershed Protection Project. Some of the grant funds were used by the Conservation District to implement watershed improvements. The Land Conservancy used its share of the funds to complete twelve bargain-purchase conservation easements on 1,011 acres of land along Marsh Creek. The creativity and success of this project prompted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to give its Source Water Protection Award to the Land Conservancy, the first nongovernmental organization to receive this prestigious award.
In 2003, the Land Conservancy was awarded its first grant to preserve an historic farm through the USDA’s Farm and Ranchlands Protection Program (FRPP). This funding enables the Conservancy to purchase easements on agricultural properties that cannot be funded by the County Agland Program. This farm was the first of many properties the Conservancy has preserved in collaboration with FRPP, the Civil War Trust, and other partners to protect lands with agricultural, historic, and environmental significance.
During the summer of 2005, the Land Conservancy celebrated the preservation of 3,000 acres of Adams County land with our first annual Summer Picnic for members. By the end of 2007, we had surpassed the 5,000-acre mark with the preservation of our largest project up to that time—more than 400 acres of forested land in the Narrows.
Soon afterward, Tree Farm #1 in Hamiltonban Township was placed on the market, opening 2,500 acres of forestland to development. The Land Conservancy partnered with local, regional, and national conservation groups in 2008 to pass a $10,000,000 bond initiative to fund land and water conservation projects, supported by more than three-quarters of Adams County voters. This led to the creation of the Adams County Green Space Program. With Green Space and other funding, Tree Farm #1 was purchased and added to the Michaux State Forest, protecting headwaters of Middle Creek and providing public access for endless opportunities for outdoor enjoyment. While the Conservancy does not hold an easement on this property, we are proud of our role in its conservation.
Over the two decades that Conservancy has been woven into the fabric of Adams County, it has worked with more than 100 Adams County landowners to preserve more than 9,000 acres of land through conservation easements that protect our beautiful woodlands, open spaces, farmlands, and freshwater streams in perpetuity. We look forward to reaching our goal of preserving 10,000 acres in the near future.
The Land Conservancy always works to deserve the trust placed in it by the people of Adams County. In 2013, its integrity was recognized through accreditation by the Land Trust Alliance. Accreditation is awarded to land trusts that have demonstrated the highest standards in all aspects of operations, from bylaws to fundraising efforts to financial accounting practices.
In June 2016, the Civil War Trust presented the Land Conservancy its Brian C. Pohanka Preservation Organization of the Year Award. The Trust, the nation’s largest nonprofit organization devoted to the preservation of the nation’s Civil War battlegrounds, presents the award each year to an organization that shows outstanding dedication to the preservation, promotion, and interpretation of Civil War history.
Today the Land Conservancy is in its third decade of working to preserve the rural lands and character of Adams County. It holds 145 conservation easements totally 9,822 acres of preserved land. The Land Conservancy acknowledges with gratitude the many landowners who work with it to craft these easements to protect our natural resources, as well as our volunteers, members, and staff, all of whom provide the lifeblood of the organization.