March 29, 2012 (Orange Co., NC)
A partnership of the Eno River Association, Orange County’s Lands Legacy Program, and the NC Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), has secured the purchase of two conservation easements on a 114-acre farm near Hillsborough. The easements serve the dual purpose of protecting prime farmland, and protecting the quality of water in streams adjacent to and downstream of the farm.
The farm is owned by Dennis and Linda Brooks, and is located on Ben Johnston Road. Sevenmile Creek and its tributary, Rocky Run, flow through the farm and merge with the Eno River less than 1,500 feet downstream from the property. The farm has been managed as a cattle ranch since its acquisition by Mr. and Mrs. Brooks in 1978. The Brooks’ strong connection to the property and their agricultural roots led them to reach out to Eno River Association and Orange County staff in late 2010 to discuss potential land protection options. The Brooks wanted to pass the farm on to their family knowing that it would remain forever undeveloped and available for agriculture, just as they loved it.
“We had looked earlier at the CREP program and at the Eno River Association’s and Orange County’s conservation options, but by themselves neither program worked for us,” said Mr. Brooks. “Combining the two into one project allowed us to accomplish all of our goals.”
In addition to protecting the prime agricultural land on the property, these conservation easements will have significant water quality benefits. The tract is located within the Upper Eno protected watershed and has approximately 8,000 feet of stream frontage. As part of the project, Mr. and Mrs. Brooks voluntarily worked with NC CREP to fence cattle out of the streams on the property, thereby creating a protected buffer ranging from 35-200 feet wide. They also worked with NC CREP to reforest this buffer to provide additional protection for the streams. The Town of Hillsborough, which draws its drinking water from the Eno River less than a mile downstream of the property, partnered on the project, funding the reforestation of a seven-acre field adjacent to Rocky Run, assisting with the cost of fencing, and supplying a portion of the acquisition funding. The City of Raleigh, which draws its drinking water from Falls Lake, fed by the Eno River, provided funding as well. In total, approximately 17 acres were restored to forest as part of the project. The reforestation of the property and the establishment of stream buffers will have direct benefits to the quality of the water in these streams and the Eno River.
This project will have additional significant ecological and resource protection benefits. The NC Natural Heritage Program identifies this portion of Sevenmile Creek as part of the nationally significant Eno River Aquatic Habitat Natural Heritage Area, due in part to the occurrence of rare and endangered mussels, including the Green floater, Creeper, Eastern lampmussel, and Notched Rainbow. Its protection will add to the network of nearly 1,100 acres of protected land located within a mile of the property, further preventing fragmentation of natural habitat and helping to maintain healthy plant and animal populations.
Orange County Commissioner Pam Hemminger said, “This conservation easement exemplifies the County’s steadfast dedication to preserving its natural resources. As our communities continue to grow, it becomes even more important to protect our waterways and wildlife corridors. The County has been able to conserve even more land by partnering with other entities as was the case for this project. This is a win-win for all citizens, and we thank the Brooks family for their vision and commitment to conserving these resources.”
Milo Pyne, President of the Eno River Association agreed, adding, “Partnerships such as these are invaluable in making great projects happen. It was a collective effort that I think was not only rewarding for all parties involved but also for the Eno River community in general, and for the protection of the aquatic resources.”
Conservation easements are written agreements that permanently protect land for its natural or cultural resource values, while leaving it in private ownership. The Brooks farm is Orange County’s 26th conservation easement (totaling 1,990 acres), and the second conservation easement held by the Eno River Association (totaling 727 acres). The project would not have been possible without the support and expertise of the Orange County Soil & Water Conservation District, Town of Hillsborough, City of Raleigh, USDA Farm Service Agency, Natural Resource Conservation Service, NC Forest Service, US Endowment for Forestry and Communities, Conservation Trust for North Carolina, and, most importantly, Mr. and Mrs. Brooks.
The Eno River Association has been working on land and water quality conservation in the Eno River Basin for more than 45 years. It was instrumental in the creation of the Eno River State Park in the early 1970s and continues to actively work to expand protected areas throughout the Eno River basin. The Association’s efforts have resulted in the protection of more than 6,700 acres in the watershed.
Orange County’s Lands Legacy Program just completed its 12th year. Since 2000 the County has conserved 2,991 acres of land for a variety of public purposes, including new parkland, nature preserves, watershed buffers, and farmland conservation.