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Ohio River preservation organization turns 50

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Each year, thousands of people visit
Henry's Ark, a unique animal farm and petting zoo on Rose Island
Road off U.S. 42 in Prospect, Ky.
Goats, zebra, sheep, capybara, camels, bison, porcupines and the
rest of the menagerie have found a peaceable kingdom at Henry's,
located on the Wallace Farm - a 600-acre, scenic parcel of land
that is almost completely surrounded by subdivisions, commercial
development and highways.
Until Dec. 28, 2000, the property could have been developed,
with as many as 2,400 houses built there, with the possibility of
nary a donkey, llama or water buffalo in sight.
Instead, it is farmland that will be preserved forever. River
Fields holds the conservation easement on the Wallace Farm.
That's another mission accomplished by River Fields, a nonprofit
organization whose goal is to "protect, preserve and enhance
natural and cultural resources on the Ohio River between Westport
and West Point, Ky., on both sides of the river."
It is the largest and oldest river conservancy on all 981 miles
of the Ohio River. For five decades, the conservancy has provided a
long-term vision for land and water use, taking a leadership role
in land conservation, encouraging preservation and conserving
resources by preventing sprawl development.
"We are very proud that in our 50-year history, River Fields
has preserved 2,200 acres of land forever, for the benefit of the
public," said Meme Sweets Runyon, the group's executive director
since 1986. "Because of River Fields, this land will be here for
our grandchildren and great-grandchildren."
Runyon said the organization was founded in 1959 by a group of
visionary community leaders, including Archibald P. Cochran, James
W. Stites Jr. and Sally Brown - who, at age 98, is the only
surviving founding trustee.
The group, originally known as the Louisville River Area
Foundation, changed its name to River Fields in 1969.
"Some civic leaders from 50 years ago were blessed to be able
to travel around the world," said Runyon. "They saw that great
cities didn't ignore their rivers, such as Paris and the Seine, and
London and the Thames. Rivers were treated as centerpieces for the
city and the culture of the city. That is how we see the
relationship between Louisville and the Ohio River."
The group's, 2,100-plus members, whose addresses cover 104 ZIP
codes, are pleased with the environmental and preservation
achievements over the past 50 years, said Robert E. Kulp Jr.,
chairman of the board of trustees.
"River Fields was an original green' pioneer in the community -
long before green' was a national buzzword," he said.
Good and productive environmental stewardship, said Runyon, is
accomplished by a three-pronged approach: conservation, advocacy
and education.
"There is no question whatsoever that advocacy sometimes
involves different opinions on what the right thing is to do," she
said.
These headlines from selected River Fields press releases don't
hide the fact that the conservancy often finds itself in the center
ring fighting issues involving land development, road widening,
cell tower mitigation and bridges big and small:
- "Louisville Metro Files Court Documents Refusing Mediation
With Citizens Group."
- "River Fields Files Court Challenge to Protect the Harrods
Creek Bridge."
- "River Fields Files Suit in Federal Court Against the U.S.
Coast Guard."
- "River Fields Scheduled to Testify at First and Only
Scheduled Hearing for Citizen Groups on the Louisville Bridges
Project."
"Our advocacy work gets a lot of attention because our work
involves protection of the Ohio River corridor and laws pertaining
to historic preservation and the environment," Runyon said. "It
isn't always the easiest or most popular position, but we are
passionately committed to our role as guardians of the land and
river."
To date, River Fields owns land or holds conservation easements
on 34 properties.
It owns more than $2.1 million in key river corridor properties
and about $18.5 million in 23 conservation easements, which include
a 412-acre easement on Wolf Pen Branch Mill Farm, valued at $4.68
million.
A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner
and either a public or private land trust. Conservation easements
allow landowners to protect their land without giving up ownership.
However, through an easement agreement, the landowner relinquishes
some rights. For example, he or she might give up the right to
build additional structures, but retain the right to grow crops. As
a land trust, River Fields is responsible for making sure the
easement's terms are followed by current and future owners.
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On the Net: www.50yearsgreen.org.
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Information from: The Courier-Journal,
http://www.courier-journal.com

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

AP-NY-09-12-09 1511EDT


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