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Happy to Be Here: You can buy in to the future

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Do you know what $12 million can buy? Or $1 million?

The second number is what Heritage Conservancy is targeting in its latest fundraising effort. It’s the amount that can unlock $11 million in funding from other sources to protect forests, farms, park lands and wildlife habitat. That amount will allow for securing matching grants from government agencies, foundations and private donors.

The total price includes 22 projects, including purchase of development rights, some land ownership or continuous stewardship, and the cost of developing and guiding the relationships that make preservation possible. That’s protection for 1,200 acres, 900 in Bucks County and more than 300 in nearby Montgomery and Northampton townships.

It’s a steep goal – 12% of the 10,000 total acres Heritage has preserved in its 60 years of existence. Altogether, the conservancy now owns 51 properties and holds development rights to 250 properties.

But there’s urgency today – land that covers forests and meadows and farms and gives people space to move around is becoming more scarce. The farsighted conservancy has been nurturing relationships in the proposed properties for years.

”We’re in the forever business,” Bill Kunze, president and CEO of Heritage Conservancy, said at a meeting of supporters at Cradle Valley Farm in Solebury Township on a rainy autumn day.

”We take the long view,” he said. The conservancy stays engaged with owners of land that might be preserved. Timing is important. Once a property owner commits to preserve land, the conservancy pledges commitment to its promise of protection.

Heritage actively pursues partnerships in some areas that are particularly desirable – links that create a contiguous string, for example, or land on a waterway or near some special place.

”When two properties come together,” Kunze said, “they strengthen each other. New projects build on past projects.”

I sat with Kunze and Kris Kern, Heritage director of resource protection, to discuss the new “mini-campaign” last week.

Kern emphasized the environmental advantages to preserving open space, more important than they have been in the past. “It’s good for everyone,” she said. “It’s more than liking to see the natural landscape. It’s having clean air, clean water.”

Climate change has created an imperative to preserve land in its natural state, Kunze said, pointing to the effect of natural green vegetation absorbing carbon dioxide and helping to protect us from higher temperatures and floods. One of the conservancy’s missions is to plant more native trees and shrubs to increase the green cover in its domain.

Bristol Marsh, Croydon Woods and Quakertown Swamp are three of the Heritage-protected areas that are especially tuned in to the environment. There’s an ongoing effort to clear and plant in these spaces.

Kunze pointed out one of the human benefits of providing public spaces – during the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands flocked to parks, where they could congregate outdoors.

For all of the reasons above, the conservancy is asking for support for its latest ventures. Kunze could not give details but he hinted that at least one involves Cooks Creek, the exceptional quality waterway in Springfield Township. And the land at stake is more than 2 square miles, the size of Doylestown Borough, and 1½ times the size of Central Park in New York City.

Projects in the “mini-campaign” include five farms totaling almost 400 acres and natural areas totaling roughly 825 acres.

Most of the projects are conservation easements. Heritage will hold the conservation easements and private landowners will continue to own and maintain the land. Two projects involve Heritage Conservancy’s acquiring land and managing the natural resources and public access.

By donating you’re doing more than acquiring land; you’re buying in to the future.

Donations for the special fund can be made at heritageconservancy.org. Contact 215-345-7020.


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