Orleans Conservation Trust is a land trust—a kind of private nonprofit organization whose mission is to conserve land and engage in the stewardship of that land. Land trusts include big organizations of national or international scope, like The Nature Conservancy. Some trusts have a specialized focus; they protect only farmland or ranchland, particular types of wildlands or habitat, urban parks, or cultural resources like archaeological sites.
But most land trusts operate on a close-to-home level, created by concerned citizens to protect special places that are locally beloved or important. They are supported by community members and landowners in various ways: through membership dues and gifts of land or money, by making land available for purchase, or with conservation easements. As private entities, they provide an important alternative to protection by government agencies—in part because they can respond more quickly to conservation needs and opportunities.
The land trust concept was born in New England, when the Trustees of Reservations was founded in 1897. Nearly every town on Cape Cod has its own land trust, of which OCT was among the first to be established (1970). The trusts, along with other conservation groups, receive vital advisory and administrative aid from the Compact of Cape Cod Conservation Trusts. Nationwide there are more than 1,300 accredited land trusts, according to the national Land Trust Alliance.
Land trusts work so well because they are deeply local in essence. OCT exists because people who live or spend time in Orleans treasure its waters, shorelines, and open spaces held in common. They depend on these natural resources for physical refreshment and spiritual sustenance, and understand their importance in safeguarding the community’s health and economic vitality. They endorse the way OCT operates as a private group, citizen-led and tightly knitted into our town’s life. Landowners appreciate being empowered to decide how their properties might be used for conservation.
Most important, perhaps, the Trust makes a promise that the land we own is protected in perpetuity. It will always be there—for us, for our children, for their children, forever.
“Americans around the country are working with land trusts to protect places that they love, close to home. Land trusts embody personal initiative, community cooperation, and a deep connection to the land.”
—Land Trust Alliance