by Christina Whiting
Kachemak Heritage Land Trust is the oldest land trust in Alaska. It was founded in 1989 by a group of community members who were concerned with local lands and stewardship and sought to preserve the natural landscape and beauty of the Kenai Peninsula for future generations.
KHLT’s founding members were Daisy Lee Bitter, Toby Tyler, Janice Schofield, Jon and Nelda Osgood, Roberta Highland, Robert Archibald, Mary Pearsall, Diane McBride and Devony Lehner. Together, they decided that the best vehicle for saving land was a land trust.
“The persistent, grassroots efforts of the founding board, volunteers and other early participants explored uncharted territory,” said Director Marie McCarty.
The Land Trust filled a niche in the conservation world by working with private landowners who owned land that had significant natural, recreational or cultural values. KHLT’s first land and easement donations were in 1991.
Walter Johnson was the first landowner to donate land, five acres across Kachemak Bay in Neptune Bay that was surrounded by parklands.
“My parents made some fortunate acquisitions of land, including this piece of property,” Johnson’s son Eric said. “Having gotten this land so inexpensively fostered a sense of not clinging quite so tightly to it, and when my Dad retired, he felt like it would be a good decision to give some of it away to a conservation oriented purpose.”
At that time, KHLT was a fledgling organization that needed a few projects to cut its teeth on and that was something Johnson wanted to support. Johnson’s generosity inspired his son and 17 years after his father’s donation, Eric made arrangements with adjacent landowners and Kachemak Moose Habitat Inc. to protect a 120-acre parcel near Homer.
Yule Kilcher was the first to establish a conservation easement, a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and the land trust that permanently limits uses of the land to preserve important scenic, recreational or wildlife resources.
“All of the conservation easements KHLT holds were donated by willing landowners, most of whom had nothing to gain financially,” said former long-time Director Barb Seaman. “These individuals loved their land and wanted to ensure its perpetual protection as open space, habitat or recreational land.”
This early work continued and to date, KHLT has helped landowners conserve over 3,000 acres on the Kenai Peninsula.
“Land is so personal, and decisions about your property are hard, requiring a great deal of thought, discussion and vision,” McCarty said. “For people to entrust their land to us says a great deal about their faith in KHLT as a responsible, solid organization.”
In 1993, Cal Calvin and Maury Coyle donated 10.5 acres of land and in 1997 Harry Buxton donated an adjacent 18.17 acres. This property became the Land Trust Calvin and Coyle Nature Trail.
“This trail is a great example of community partnership in action,” said Board President Dotti Harness. “The land was donated, bridges were built by Eagle Scouts, the parking pad was funded by ConocoPhillips, wood was donated by Small Potatoes Lumber, the parking lot kiosk was built by Ed Murphy and the Homer Soil and Water Conservation District partnered with us.”
Between 1999 and 2007, KHLT acquired various lands, including a 59 acre salmon habitat on the south fork of the Anchor River, 3.47-acres of Poopdeck Platt property downtown that is home to the KHLT office, a 26-acre shorebird habitat on Louie’s Lagoon on the Homer Spit and 275 acre recreation and wildlife habitat in the Diamond Creek area, including the Baycrest Trails.
Currently, KHLT is building a short, educational walking trail on a piece of Skyline Drive property that was donated by the Effler family. Among Homer’s first homesteaders, this family dreamed of creating a nature trail on their land.
KHLT collaborates with scientists and organizations like U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services Coastal Program, Cook Inletkeeper, Kachemak Bay Research Reserve and Kenai Watershed Forum to determine where and in what ways they can work to preserve land for conservation.
“When we accept a property for conservation, we agree to steward it forever, so we’re careful about which properties we protect,” McCarty said.
For each property they conserve, KHLT calculates the cost and secures and invests the funds necessary to monitor the property for perpetuity. They are supported by Stewardship funds, memberships, estate bequests, donations and grants and income from community fundraisers.
John and Rika Mouw have been Land Trust members since 1997.
“We support the Land Trust because they hold the same values that we do in caring about land and how people are connected to the land,” they said.
They also value that while KHLT is grounded in local focus, staff have the vision to network with similar efforts both inside and outside the state in considering conservation priorities for protecting salmon habitat and preserving corridors for bird flyway habitat and vegetational migrations linking to Alaska.
In 2013, KHLT became one of 229 nationally accredited land trusts. This April, they will host the statewide meeting of land trusts, with the goal of increasing community involvement in land trust conservation efforts.
“Protecting land comes straight from people’s hearts and is a selfless gift to the future,” McCarty said. “When we’re gone and our children’s children are gone, these gifts of land will be our community’s treasured spots.”
KHLT will celebrate 25 years of land preservation and conservation during their free, non-smoking event at the Down East Saloon 7 p.m. on Saturday, Mar. 8. There will be food, music and stories about conservation highlights.
KHLT is always looking for volunteers and new members. For more information, stop by the office at 315 Klondike, call 235-5263 or visit the website kachemaklandtrust.org.
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