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May 14th, 2018; Winston Salem Journal

Community approaches to problem solving can take many forms; in this arena, nonprofits benefit from their ability to be nimble and creative. In North Carolina, the Crossnore School and Childrens’ Home and the Piedmont Land Conservancy have done just that, signing a memorandum of understanding for an agreement that helps both organizations.

The Crossnore School has agreed to sell the development rights to 92 acres of their property to the Piedmont Land Conservancy. The school will still own the land but will lose the rights to build on it. The conservancy is starting a capital campaign to pay for the easement, with a target of seven to eight million dollars, according to Piedmont’s executive director Kevin Redding. A portion of the dollars raised will be used to build a parking lot and a 1.5-mile trail.

The money raised by the conservancy will fund its mission of protecting Piedmont’s natural areas, and the fee paid to the school will help support its programming. Plus, the agreement is actually a better guarantee of the school’s continued ability to use the land for its programs.

The Forsyth County Tax Administration has appraised the Crossnore School’s land at a value of $21.5 million. That paper value doesn’t help when there is a shortage of funds to pay for programs; in 2014, the school was giving away livestock because of the cost. The community protested and the school’s trustees sat down and drew up a plan to sustain the farm. Thanks to the agreement, it will be permanently protected. Piedmont Land Conservancy, serving nine northern Piedmont counties, is 28 years old and has assets of $15 million.

Redding told Lisa O’Donnell of the Winston-Salem Journal, “As simple as it sounds, it means nothing is going to change.”

The school is not the first to dedicate land owned by a nonprofit to conservancy. The Sisters of St. Joseph in Brentwood, New York, own 212 acres, their own pocket of rural land surrounded by suburbia. They have created easements so 62 acres remain for only agriculture or forest. The area now supports a 28-acre farm including honey bees and egg-laying chickens, all for sale to the community. A 3,200-panel solar farm was just completed on the Sisters’ land.

The Crossnore school now has a six-year-old support foundation with $26 million in assets.

Ginny Weiler a neighbor who has served on the board of the conservancy, said,

I drive past it a few times a day, minimum. I can hear cows. I can hear coyotes. I can hear and see hawks fly overhead. You can’t get land back once you’ve developed it.

The two nonprofits have partnered to help the land and the school to be sustainable.—Marian Conway