Greenbelt Land Trust: Protecting the Health of Our Valley, One Acre at a Time

Photos courtesy of Greenbelt Land Trust

The misty, green livability of Corvallis—praised by journals and magazines around the nation as one of the greenest, safest, and bike friendliest—didn’t come to be without the hard work, awareness, and perseverance of its citizens. The beauty of the Willamette Valley is not just in the physical environment, but in the sturdy spirit of its people: people who invent, strive, and use their lives to make change, however incremental. Corvallis’ own Greenbelt Land Trust is just one of those organizations of people who care, and they are tantalizingly close to beginning an exciting new project.

Greenbelt Land Trust focuses on a connection to nature, preservation of sustainable working farms, the health of endangered and native plant and animal species, a connective web of natural areas throughout the Mid-Willamette, and the education of students of all ages. The organization began in 1989, kicking off its first year with the purchase of over 40 acres of property that is now part of the Bald Hill Natural Area. It has brought us the steep climbs and gorgeous views of Bald Hill and Fitton Green, the meandering discoveries of Jackson-Frazier Wetland, and Philomath’s Evergreen Wetland.

Photo by Erica Johnson
Photo by Erica Johnson

Now, almost 24 years later, with a newly awarded $1 million grant from the Fish and Wildlife Fund and a $1.5 million grant from the Bonneville Power Administration, Greenbelt Land Trust comes one step closer to purchasing the number one priority area identified in the 2003 Benton County Trail System Plan: Bald Hill Farm. Situated south of Oak Creek Drive and northwest of the intersection of West Hills Road and Reservoir Avenue, the farm is vital for the connection of the Philomath, Bald Hill, and Fitton Green areas. It offers the opportunity to integrate local and sustainable farming, additional trails, nature education, and the protection of native habitats.

“[The property] lies within a corridor of native habitats that make it really important for future restoration opportunities on the property,” noted Greenbelt Land Trust’s Development Director Jessica McDonald. “It is right at the epicenter of all of this prairie restoration work that’s already going on; and it does have [endangered species Kincaid’s Lupine and Fender’s Blue Butterfly] in it—so it does have this great opportunity to enhance those habitats, to be able to allow movement of those plants and wildlife.”

This strategic area is also home to the actual eponymous working farm, specializing in grass-fed meats; it’s a business that the Greenbelt Land Trust plans to incorporate into its restoration goals when it takes ownership.

“One of the values that we see in the property is having it remain as a farm, and having that be visible to people as they’re out hiking. They love to see cows, the sheep; they love to see where their food comes from. We want to look at this large property where there already is grazing, and say, ‘How can we use grazing as a restoration tool and use it in conjunction with all the other things that we’re working on?’ We have to be enhancing the habitats and doing restoration and planting trees, but we don’t see that [agriculture and restoration] are two separate things,” said McDonald.

In addition, the land offers great value as a resource for nature education. “We already have people calling us, knocking on our door every day—professors at OSU, K-12 teachers, community people that want to take groups up there; this is going to be a great place that we own and manage and can use it as an active learning laboratory for people.”

Photos courtesy of Greenbelt Land Trust
Photos courtesy of Greenbelt Land Trust

Greenbelt Land Trust constantly juggles many properties in different stages of negotiation, funding, and management. At its start, the organization worked a lot with publicly accessible lands. But for the past 10 years, its focus has concentrated more on private lands with great restoration potential. One of its larger projects now is conserving and restoring the side channels and floodplains of the Willamette River between Corvallis and Albany.

“It might not be that we’re protecting a property because of how it looks today, but what role it plays in that area in a hundred years,” said McDonald. “Right now it might look a lot different than it’s going to be in 20 years when we’ve planted 200,000 trees and it’s back to a flood-plain forest.”

Once the Trust has focused on a property to conserve (either by being approached by the owner, or through identification of critical areas with several other agencies and organizations), it then has to work—sometimes for years—to secure funding. In another lengthy process, management of the land must also be negotiated. The Trust can either own the property outright, or negotiate a conservation easement, in which case many of the management rights of the property belong to Greenbelt Land Trust while the property is actually owned by another person or entity. Negotiations on a recent property along the Willamette River were just successfully completed after four years of work.

Greenbelt Land Trust offers myriad ways to get involved and appreciate the Mid-Valley’s unique habitats, offering lectures, volunteer events, and nature walks. For an incredibly informative online experience, including maps, long-term strategies, current and past projects, a land selection criteria list, and a stewardship manual, visit www.greenbeltlandtrust.org. Better yet, purchase a membership (starting at $35) and sign up for the bi-weekly newsletter!

by Mica Habarad

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