Putting the Land in Trust
Great blue herons, purple finches and quail are at home here, and red tailed hawks soar above the woods. Sweetwater has a wealth of wildflowers, native herbs, wild plum trees, blackberries, black raspberries and persimmons. Along with this abundance, it has something else you can almost see, if you squint your imagination.
It has forever.
Sweetwater will always be essentially what it is now, a mixture of wilderness, farm land and homesteads. These 480 acres in Wright County will never be sold for conversion to a treeless plain or a grid of streets thick with houses.
Forever, always and never are strong words, but Sweetwater's human residents could forecast its future in 1985 when they created Sweetwater Community Land Trust, a feat made possible by Ozark Regional Land Trust, a nonprofit conservation organization.
ORLT responds to requests for assistance from people who want to preserve land in the Ozark region, which extends beyond what many people think of as "the Ozarks." The land trust's volunteers consult with landowners in St. Louis, Columbia, throughout the Springfield Plateau and southward into the Boston Mountains of Arkansas. ORLT travels with a tool kit of versatile land protection methods, such as the one that brought Sweetwater under the trust's legal-and perpetual-protection.
In the past 200 years, settlement and development have increasingly altered the Ozark landscape. Many people are looking ahead, hoping to safeguard the region's tranquility and what ORLT calls "the diversity of the Ozarks ecological quilt."
Greg Galbraith ORLT president, grew up in Carthage and was a land trust volunteer on the East Coast. When he returned to live in his home town, he met Missouri and Arkansas people interested in learning how a land trust could benefit the Ozarks. Galbraith supplied the know-how to help start ORLT in 1984. ORLT now has over 2,000 acres protected, with over 1,000 acres in Missouri. "That is changing all the time," Galbraith says.
The basic idea of the land trust movement, which started on the east and west coasts around the turn of the century, is to prevent land from being changed. Natural and scenic areas, wildlife habitat, forests, farms, wetlands, river corridors, prairies and other land can be preserved. In 1994, there were 1,095 land trusts in the United States protecting over four million acres.
Jean Hocker, president of Land Trust Alliance, a national organization of land trusts, wrote in the February 1995 issue of