Natural land conservation has found favor among the public, civic leaders and local officials, with many communities taking steps to preserve and protect those lands.
According to Katherine Moore, vice president of programs and director of sustainable growth with the Georgia Conservancy, the city of Milton is one of those communities and has seen development from a bucolic horse farm community into a fast-growing one. This growth and the city’s unique history have led residents to want to protect its character.
Through a Fulton County ballot referendum in 2016, residents of Milton and Johns Creek overwhelmingly supported bond packages for land conservation and greenspace totaling $65 million.
During the fall of 2017, the Georgia Conservancy began working with Milton’s leadership to prioritize properties that could be acquired or put under conservation easement. Milton has acquired 345 acres, spending about $15 million of their greenspace bond fund, with additional acreage undergoing due diligence. Georgia Conservancy conducted a greenspace analysis for Milton and presented results to a citizen Greenspace Committee for final recommendations. Milton’s seven-member Greenspace Advisory Committee oversees implementation of the city’s $25 million greenspace bond.
Kickstarting Greenspace Conservation
Moore cites former Gov. Roy Barnes’ 1999 greenspace initiative to protect 20 percent of land in rapidly developing counties and municipalities as the first of several eff orts statewide. She pointed out that what’s happening in places such as Milton along with last year’s statewide passage of the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act are positive signs. Through the act, designed to protect land and water, 75 percent of tax revenue collected from the sale of outdoor recreational equipment goes to fund conservation land.
“The state continues to grapple with growth and greenspace protection,” she said, adding that land conservation is as important as infrastructure planning and needs to be prioritized. Planning, having the right people in place and spurring community support are necessary for communities to kickstart local conservation efforts, according to Moore and her colleagues.
Charles McMillan, natural resources director for Georgia Conservancy, said having the right people who have the “energy and background to carry something like this forward” is one of the elements necessary for success.
Georgia Conservancy Advocacy Director Leah Dixon shared, “We have a lot of work to do across the state to educate and talk to communities about natural resource amenities. Georgians have a lot of greenspace at their fingertips, and they should utilize it, because it’s not guaranteed.”
Once it [nature] is gone, it’s gone,” said Moore.