Updated: Feb 4
New fishing pier at Glade Run Lake. Credit: Erica Dietz Photography
When we established Glade Run Lake Conservancy (GRLC) in 2011, our priority was to rebuild the dam and return the fish to the lake. In 2017, the lake was successfully restored and we are all now enjoying this peaceful retreat, with its expanded fish habitats, updated fishing pier, and new walking trails (especially in these days of COVID-19 restrictions).
Today, our region is changing rapidly, and we are facing a new challenge: If Glade Run Lake is going to continue to thrive, we need to protect the ecology of the land that drains into it.
Glade Run Lake is home to hatchery rainbow trout, bluegill (pictured on left), pumpkinseed, white sucker, golden shiner, smallmouth and largemouth bass, as well as osprey, bald eagles, chimney swifts, and black-crowned and yellow-crowned night herons. Preserving their habitats involves supporting growth of forest and scrubland; maintaining wetlands, feeder creeks and streams; stopping slurry runoff; and, above all, preventing storm water runoff damage.
Approximately 3.3 miles and 2,000 acres of private property around the lake sits on the lake's watershed. The GRLC recognized that conservation of these properties is crucial to the lake's preservation. If thoughtfully planned, land use, economic security, and environmental vision can come together for the good of our community, and the GRLC has been working on how to make this happen.
There are four paths to land conservation:
Direct purchase or donation of land
Agricultural preservation easement
The GRLC Board studied all of these options to determine where to begin its work on conservation of the lake's watershed. The purchase of lands and zoning solutions were set aside for now, the former being financially difficult in these challenging times, and the latter, while the best long-term option, is subject to change beyond the GRLC's control. So for now, the best path forward regarding efforts to conserve land is to develop mutually rewarding partnerships with landowners within the lake's watershed through agricultural or conservation easements. Here's how it works:
For both agricultural preservation and conservation easements, a landowner enters into an agreement with a trust that is either a government entity or qualified land trust (such as the Allegheny Land Trust) to leave property undeveloped in perpetuity (i.e., forever). The landowner maintains ownership of the property and can use it as usual, or buy/sell/lease it, but the property cannot be developed. The landowner can map out a footprint of what they want to conserve/protect into three categories of Protection Areas - from high protection zones in which the most protections of the environment occur, to medium, to lowest protection area, which is typically around the areas where the family or farm are most active.
The time to specify what the landowner wants their conservation easement to contain is at the sit-down/planning stage with the land trust. In cases where it may be anticipated that a landowner may wish to build an additional home or structure, this can be built into the planning of the easement.
Conservation easements provide a benefit to the public by preserving green space, scenic views, and preserving the ecology of properties whose waters flow into Glade Run Lake. In return for providing this public benefit, landowners who donate an easement are eligible for a federal tax deduction that can be claimed up to 50% of AGI (adjusted gross income), either taken at one time, or spread out over a maximum of 15 years for the cash value of the donation. The easement may also lower property value assessment for the landowner's property tax and inheritance tax calculations. It is always recommended that landowners consult their own tax advisors to determine their individual situation.
An easement stays with the property forever, even if ownership changes hands. The trust that holds the easement is legally responsible for stewardship of the terms in the agreement, which means it has the responsibility in perpetuity to enforce the terms of the easement. This guarantees that the property is preserved as designated by the owner at the time the easement was established, even if ownership or local zoning changes. The trust is required to establish a stewardship fund to secure this ongoing obligation.
Agricultural paid easements - State and county governments receive a limited amount of funding each year for the purchase of agricultural preservation easements. These are competitive and are based on several criteria. These include: land or soil evaluation - the better the soil, the higher the value and ranking; development potential - the higher the threat to be developed, the higher the value; farmland potential - the opportunity to develop farms; and clustering potential - the more farms clustered together, the better. Only 1-3 properties are selected in any given year. It can take years to be selected for a paid agricultural preservation easement, and there is no guarantee that an applicant will ever be selected. A brand new application could be moved to the top of the list if it has several qualifying features, but in so doing, could bump existing applications lower on the list. There is a 50-acre minimum requirement to be considered for an agricultural easement.
Agricultural donated easement - The landowner donates the development rights in an easement and can use the donated value for tax deduction.
Conservation donated easements - The cash value of this type of easement can be used as matching funds for Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) grants, which, in the case of the GRLC, could assist in purchase of properties that hold important conservation value for the lake. This means that landowners who set up a conservation easement for the lake can additionally help the GRLC conserve other neighboring properties at no cost to themselves.
The Allegheny Land Trust, DCNR, and Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission have all been providing leadership, direction, and instruction to the GRLC concerning these options since the lake was filled in 2017. We are now eager to help landowners learn how to conserve their own properties and adjacent lands, ultimately doing their part to preserve Glade Run Lake and its watershed.
Closing Thoughts From the Author
In 2017, when we thought the hard work of the GRLC was over, we had only conquered our first challenge. Today, we recognize that our dynamic community is faced with new challenges as it grows and changes, and it is now critical that we establish as many easements as possible to protect Glade Run Lake. Protection of the watershed is as monumental a task as was restoration of the dam at Glade Run Lake. But we know what we can achieve when we work together for such an important priority that impacts us today as well as future generations.
There is a role for every person in our watershed conservation initiative. Landowners willing to look into conserving their property and reaping financial benefits are obviously the most important, but non-landowners can also help with professional expertise in such areas as legal, real estate, environmental and engineering, and fundraising. Community enthusiasts can also help raise money for stewardship funding, appraisals, closing fees, and potential purchase of additional properties. EVERY person's talents and resources are needed and welcome.
In this time of COVID-19, the lake has become important to so many people. We are seeing more visitors than ever at our lake. If we don't protect the lands and water coming into the lake, this gem will very quickly be at significant risk. Do you want to risk losing the lake a second time? We think not. So, please contact us at www.gladerunlakeconservancy.org to see how you can get involved.
Becky Miller (pictured above) currently serves as the Vice President of the Glade Run Lake Conservancy and is actively involved in efforts to preserve the watershed of Glade Run Lake through the use of conservation easements.