By Carole Robinson, Staff Writer
The Land Trust for Tennessee was created in 1999 as an effort to protect historic landscapes from development. Fourteen years later, more than 200 land owners and agencies have designated 75,000 acres in 50 Tennessee counties to be protected “in perpetuity.”
In Williamson County 41 parcels – a total of 5,733 acres – are under easement with 35 different landowners, including the City of Franklin, which has protected six parcels from future development.
In an effort to spread the word about the work of Land Trust for Tennessee, the non-profit organization has released a book, “Home to Us” about six families who have chosen to safeguard land that, for many, has been in the family for 100 years or more.
Three of those families are Williamson County residents. The family stories as told by Susan and Steve Fisher of Bethesda, Perry and Elaine Ozburn of Arrington and Elizabeth Crunk from Bethesda are eloquently retold in this book.
Susan Fisher, the Bethesda librarian, is the seventh generation to live on the 150-year-old, 265-acre Century Farm she named Bag End Farm – from J.R.R. Tolkein’s book, “The Hobbitt;” it means escape.
“It’s more of a hobby farm,” she said. “We have sheep, a vegetable garden and some fruit trees” …and a peaceful place to escape.
The Fishers lease some of their pasture to a local cattle farmer. They developed a wildlife sanctuary in another section where they are working to restore native grasses that were once crowded out by exotic grasses.
“We love the farm and wanted to protect it – not to be developed,” Susan said. “Now Bethesda is mostly rural, but we can see it will change like the rest of Williamson County.”
With Steve, the principal at Bethesda Elementary, the couple raised the eighth generation on Bag End Farm hope one day one of them, or their children will return to love and care for it as did the generations before.
To insure the farm would still be there for future generations, in 2004 the Fishers set wheels in motion to develop their own Land Trust easement in which two additional homes may be built on a designated area of the property.
“I grew up visiting [the farm] – I love it still and I am happy knowing it will be protected in perpetuity,” Susan said. “We are thrilled. We’ve never had a day’s regret over what we’ve done.”
According to Audra Ladd, Middle Tennessee project manager for Land Trust for Tennessee, an easement is the official document setting the parameters around how the land will be protected.
“It’s based on the conservation values we evaluate need protection and the family’s goals for the future,” Ladd said. “What we want to do is maintain in perpetuity the potential for the land.”
Conserving the integrity of his 200-year-old family farm was a worry for Perry Ozburn. The 500-acre Ozburn Hollow farm was founded in 1804 or 1806, Perry said proudly, and after eight generations, he wants to make sure it stays in the family for his three sons and his two granddaughters. Five years ago, he did just that.
“We all share the same dilemma – we want the best for our kids,” Perry said gazing down the hollow at black rail fences and black cattle grazing behind them. “Eight generations – it’s a gut wrenching situation. You want to make the right decision. You want it to stay in the family. The Land Trust option helped solve the problem. Now my grandkids will always have a place to stay.”
There is no minimum size for properties to be considered for protection, Ladd said. The three-acre Collins Farm in Franklin was significant enough culturally to be included in the Land Trust.
“We look for important features – a cave with threatened or endangered species, a hillside with an amazing view, streams that provide clear water, a natural wildlife refuge or an historic site are a few of the characteristics considered by the Land Trust projects committee, Ladd said.
Property protected by a Land Trust easement not only protects the property for future generations it enhances the value of neighboring unprotected land.
For more than 70 years, Elizabeth Crunk has been working the 151-acre farm she and her husband Johnny named Hill View Farm when they purchased it in 1946. For years Hill View was a dairy farm, but after Johnny died of a heart attack 37 years ago at the age of 58, Elizabeth eventually had to sell off the cows and turn to working at the post office, the Garden Center and the Goose Creek Inn to pay the bills to maintain her much love land.
At 94, the work isn’t as easy as it used to be.
“I love to ride the tractor but I can’t anymore – I still ride the lawn mower,” she said. “If you don’t get up and move you don’t move. I get flustered dealing with skinks, coons and groundhogs – all that flusterates (sic) you. But then I stop and say – what do you expect, Old Woman?”
Years later she added 360 more acres when she bought her parents’ farm – where she was born.
“I have more wildlife than Colorado,” she said. “I love the land. I just love the land and I hate to see it abused and destroyed.’
For that reason, soon after the Land Trust for Tennessee was created, she jumped on the bandwagon and had an easement drawn up that will protect her beautiful land, which contains the headwaters of the Duck River, “in perpetuity.”
“I am a Tennessee Clodhopper Hillbilly,” she proudly announced with a twinkle in her gray eyes and then, for those who didn’t know, went on to explain a Clodhopper was someone who hopped on clods in freshly plowed fields until they were reduced to softened mounds of soil suitable for planting.
“When we bought a hill farm, it made me a clod hopping hillbilly” she laughed. “I’ve been blessed. God has taken care of me.”
“Home to Us” continues the stories of the Fisher, Ozburn and Crunk families along with the Neal, Pierce and Knight families with photos of the farms that explain without words the reason they should be protected.
To purchase a book or for information about Land Trust for Tennessee, visit www.landtrusttn.org or call Audra Ladd at 615-244-5263.
Posted on: 11/29/2012