The Piedmont Land Conservancy has announced a win on its effort to permanently preserve 92 acres of farmland near downtown Winston-Salem.
The group said its Peace of Land campaign had raised the $6.5 million it needed to buy a conservation easement from Crossnore School & Children's Home that will protect the northern end of the institution's property and allow for the construction of a walking trail across it.
With a goal of raising the money by the end of 2019, the contributions that pushed the effort across the finish line came in the waning days of December, according to Kevin Redding, the executive director of the Piedmont Land Conservancy.
"A number of private individuals stepped up and really helped," Redding said. "The James G. Hanes foundation made a commitment of $250,000. It was one of the largest chunks received. A lot of individuals made cash contributions."
Redding said the PLC and Crossnore are now finalizing the terms of the conservation easement, a land transaction that will possibly close in late January.
The easement doesn't change ownership of the land, and Crossnore can continue to use it for pasturage or other non-development purposes in perpetuity. What the PLC and the community get is a guarantee that the land will never be developed.
"It is really up to them (Crossnore) how they want to manage the property," Redding said. "I don't anticipate any major changes. I anticipate them keeping the cows."
Crossnore chief executive Brett Loftis said the cattle are raised and managed for beef production by a farmer who has a partnership with Crossnore. Loftis said Crossnore sees the land as a beneficial presence for the children, and that Crossnore sees no changes coming because of the easement purchase by the PLC.
"It is a healing space and we want it to continue to be that," Loftis said. "We don't have any other plans."
Crossnore also has goats, horses and even a llama. The animals are a lesson in science, biology, food production and the environment, Loftis said. The deal with the land conservancy "makes that land accessible to the community and to the children," Loftis said.
Once the trail is constructed there will be public access from the Boston-Thurmond community on the east side of the property and from Reynolda Road on the west.
"We are working on the plans," Redding said. "Obviously, a public trail can't run through the cows."
On a trip to the property last week, Redding pointed out that the cows graze on the northwestern side of Peters Creek as it makes its way across the Children's Home property. Redding said the thinking is that a trail could run through the property on the other side of the creek from the cows.
The Piedmont Land Conservancy is not finished raising money: the group has a total fundraising goal of $7.9 million, with the additional $1.4 million going for things such as the construction of the trail and parking areas, a stewardship and management fund for ongoing maintenance, and other administrative costs.
Local businessman Michael Hough chaired the Peace of Land campaign.
Redding said he hopes the trail can be finished over the next six to nine months, so that a public opening can take place later this year.
The preservation effort drew controversy in November and December last year, when the Winston-Salem City Council divided over how much money to donate toward the project. With support basically unanimous at a $100,000 contribution level, some council members successfully pushed to double the amount.
Forsyth County donated $100,000 toward the project.
The Children's Home dates back to 1909, when the Western North Carolina Conference of what is now the United Methodist Church opened an orphanage on the former site of Davis Military Academy. The home merged with Crossnore School, based in Avery County, in 2016.
Crossnore School & Children's Home has some 212 acres of land on Reynolda Road, but only the northern, undeveloped part of the property is covered by the easement. Crossnore's buildings, including the barn, are not covered by the easement.
The Piedmont Land Conservancy was formed in 1989. It preserves natural and scenic lands, along with farms and other open spaces.
Redding said the purchase of the conservation easement only a mile or so from downtown Winston-Salem is a first for the group.
"We cover nine counties," he said. "Most of our projects are in rural areas. This is a very unusual project for us. Once this is done, we don't see doing a similar one for a long time to come."