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Land donations help preservation effort in county

Published: Monday, July 14, 2014 11:37 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Kyle Grillot – kgrillot@shawmedia.com)
Mainstay Therapeutic Farm volunteer Sonja Lilljeberg of Chicago takes a horse for a ride in between therapy sessions Tuesday in Richmond. The farm was the latest to donate a 40-acre easement to The Land Conservancy, which now has more than 2,100 acres.

RICHMOND – More than a year ago, the staff at Main Stay Therapeutic Farm began talking about what would become of their 40-acre property if the group ceased to exist.

They turned to The Land Conservancy of McHenry County for answers.

After signing a few legal documents, Main Stay made the decision last month to keep its land overlooking the Glacial Park conservation area intact, whether or not the group sells it in the future.

“So much of what we believe in – our mission here – is about showing respect for the animals, the land and nature,” said Main Stay Executive Director Loriann Dowell. “It really aligned with our organization’s values.”

Main Stay, a nonprofit that uses animals and nature to treat people with social and emotional disorders, signed a conservation easement to ensure its 40-acre property in Richmond would remain in its natural habitat regardless of how the title switches hands.

The Land Conservancy has helped numerous property owners preserve their own land even after they die or sell it through conservation easements. Nearly 2,100 acres of open space and farmland have been donated to The Land Conservancy through the easement process.

It’s a tool many property owners use following a life-altering event, such as a family death, that stirs their thinking about how their land would change in the future, said The Land Conservancy Executive Director Lisa Haderlein.

“Our role has always been from the beginning to work with private landowners on helping them realize their vision and make sure the property they enjoy using today continues to remain open and available for either farming, scenic beauty or nature,” Haderlein said.

In Main Stay’s case, the decision to donate was easy, Dowell said.

Off Keystone Road in Richmond, the group’s 40-acre property rests between Glacial Park and a portion of the Hackmatack reserve, an 11,200-acre national wildlife refuge spanning northeastern Illinois and southeastern Wisconsin.

The Main Stay donation ensures wildlife in the area can safely navigate between Glacial Park and Hackmatack while also protecting the animals’ natural habitat. A row of Oak Savanna trees unique to McHenry County also will be protected in future years.

The “painless” easement process allows Main Stay to continue its therapy program but guards against the future and any potential developer who may want to redevelop the location, Dowell said. It also is a step toward Main Stay’s evolving operation, which now incorporates horticulture and more animals into programs.

“There’s a real sense of peace here,” Dowell said. “It seemed very fitting that being in the [Hackmatack] reserve that we also keep this habitat in its natural state.”

Using its tax resources, the McHenry County Conservation District owns most of the 25,000 acres it manages.

But the district has strategically used conservation easements throughout its history, securing 13 land donations since 1983, said Executive Director Elizabeth Kessler.

The 372 total donated acres have connected neighboring sites together, much like how the Main Stay easement joined Glacial Park with the Hackmatack reserve. The donations add territory but allows the district to shed some management costs while the landowner still uses their donated property, Kessler said.

“The district never imagined we would able to preserve all the open land in the county,” she said. “It’s a collaborative effort between groups like The Land Conservancy and private owners, to protect the treasurers of our county.”

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