Published: Apr 08, 2012 12:30 PM
Modified: Apr 08, 2012 12:31 PM
HILLSBOROUGH - Dennis and Linda Brooks have raised beef cattle on their 114-acre farm west of Hillsborough since acquiring it in 1978. Now a unique partnership will keep it that way.
The Eno River Association, Orange County’s Lands Legacy Program, and the N.C. Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), have agreed to buy two conservation easements to protect the farm on Ben Johnson Road and the nearby streams. Conservation easements are written agreements that permanently protect land from development, while leaving it in private ownership.
Sevenmile Creek and its tributary, Rocky Run, flow through the farm and merge with the Eno River less than 1,500 feet downstream from the property. The Brooks’ first reached out to Eno River Association and Orange County staff in late 2010 to discuss potential land-protection options. They wanted to pass the farm on to their family knowing that it would remain forever undeveloped and available for agriculture, just as they loved it.
“We had looked earlier at the CREP program and at the Eno River Association’s and Orange County’s conservation options, but by themselves neither program worked for us,” said Dennis Brooks. “Combining the two into one project allowed us to accomplish all of our goals.”
The total cost of the easements was $657,000, according to county records. Of that, $312,928 came from Lands Legacy, using up the funds left in the program for now. Another $252,853 came from the Eno River Association’s Healthy Forest grant, according the records.
The conservation easements will have significant water-quality benefits. The tract is located in the Upper Eno protected watershed and has approximately 8,000 feet of stream frontage. As part of the project, the Brookses voluntarily worked with N.C. CREP to fence cattle out of the streams on the property, creating a protected buffer 35 to 200 feet wide.
The Town of Hillsborough, which draws its drinking water from the Eno River less than a mile downstream, paid to reforest a seven-acre field adjacent to Rocky Run, assisting with the cost of fencing, and supplying a portion of the acquisition funding. The City of Raleigh, which draws its drinking water from Falls Lake, fed by the Eno River, provided funding as well. In total, approximately 17 acres were restored to forest as part of the project. The reforestation of the property and the establishment of stream buffers will have direct benefits to the quality of the water in these streams and the Eno River.
The N.C. Natural Heritage Program identifies this portion of Sevenmile Creek as part of the nationally significant Eno River Aquatic Habitat Natural Heritage Area, due in part to the occurrence of rare and endangered mussels, including the Green floater, Creeper, Eastern lampmussel, and Notched Rainbow. Its protection will add to the network of nearly 1,100 acres of protected land located within a mile of the property, further preventing fragmentation of natural habitat and helping to maintain healthy plant and animal populations.
“This conservation easement exemplifies the County’s steadfast dedication to preserving its natural resources,” said Orange County Commissioner Pam Hemminger. “As our communities continue to grow, it becomes even more important to protect our waterways and wildlife corridors. The County has been able to conserve even more land by partnering with other entities as was the case for this project. This is a win-win for all citizens, and we thank the Brooks family for their vision and commitment to conserving these resources.”
Milo Pyne, President of the Eno River Association agreed.
“Partnerships such as these are invaluable in making great projects happen,” he said. “It was a collective effort that I think was not only rewarding for all parties involved but also for the Eno River community in general, and for the protection of the aquatic resources.”
The Brooks farm is Orange County’s 26th conservation easement (totaling 1,990 acres), and the second conservation easement held by the Eno River Association (totaling 727 acres). The project was also assisted by the Orange County Soil & Water Conservation District, U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency, Natural Resource Conservation Service, N.C. Forest Service, Conservation Trust for North Carolina, and, most importantly, Mr. and Mrs. Brooks.
The Eno River Association has been working on land and water quality conservation in the Eno River Basin for more than 45 years. It was instrumental in creating the Eno River State Park in the early 1970s and continues working to expand protected areas throughout the Eno River basin. The Association’s efforts have resulted in the protection of more than 6,700 acres in the watershed.
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