Pacolet Area Conservancy wins grants to seek national accreditation

Published 4:46 pm Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Preparing for accreditation creates a new opportunity for land trusts to review and implement policies that will help streamline their operations and lead to more effective land conservation.

&dquo;At a time when the public is demanding increasing accountability from nonprofit organizations and government, including land trusts, the new independent accreditation program provides the assurance of quality and permanence of land protection the public is looking for,&dquo; said LTA Accreditation Commission Executive Director Tammara Van Ryn. &dquo;Today land trusts can join museums, hospitals, universities and other nonprofit institutions that demonstrate that they deserve the public&squo;s trust through rigorous accreditation programs.&dquo;

Based in Tryon, The Pacolet Area Conservancy (PAC) is celebrating its 20th anniversary as a local land trust this year.

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With the mission of &dquo;protecting and conserving the area&squo;s natural resources,&dquo; and the goal of providing a natural resource legacy that will be valued by generations to come, PAC has helped protect more than 7,000 acres in the Polk County and upper South Carolina foothills region.&bsp; PAC&squo;s vision is a community growing in harmony with the beautiful natural heritage surrounding us.

PAC holds 50 conservation easement agreements, which protect natural resources such as waterways, farmland, forests, greenspace, mountains, plant habitats and wildlife corridors in accordance with the North Carolina State Wildlife Action Plan. The land trust is forever legally charged with protecting the terms of each of those easements. &dquo;The fact that conservation easements are permanent agreements is why we work so closely with landowners,&dquo; says Walker. &dquo;We want to be certain that the landowners&squo; wishes for the land are reflected in the conservation design for the future.&dquo;

PAC also owns 24 properties and offers 3 popular hiking trails from which to observe the flora and fauna native to our area–Wilder Forest on Scenic Byway 176, the Shuford Memorial Wildlife Sanctuary on Shuford Drive in Columbus, and the Foothills Equestrian Nature Center in Tryon&squo;s Hunting Country. All 3 properties are part of the North Carolina Birding Trail experience.

According to Walker, becoming accredited by the LTA is a meticulously thorough process, requiring many land trusts to spend as much as 1,000 hours of preparation time over several years.

The Executive Director notes that while PAC has already been operating under LTA Standards and Practices for several years, the land trust now must standardize all policies, procedures, and record-keeping.

With the PCCF grant, PAC was able to bring on board a contract Accreditation Coordinator to help organize 20 years of administrative and land protection documentation,&bsp; according to the new accreditation standard.

&dquo;Without PCCF&squo;s and other grants, PAC&squo;s small staff would not have been able to go forward with accreditation prep as aggressively as we currently are. We are grateful that our community foundation realizes the importance of having this important industry &squo;seal of approval,&squo;&dquo; emphasizes Walker.