Archive for Sunday, December 7, 2008

ECO2 pegs hardwood forest for conservation

‘Poster child for open-space preservation work’

This photo of Baldwin Woods looks east from East 1600 Road south of County Route 460. The woods encompass a swath of more than 2,000 acres of hardwood forest. Kansas Land Trust, along with the ECO2 Commission, want the city and the county to help preserve the Baldwin Woods, a unique piece of forest land between Lawrence and Eudora.

This photo of Baldwin Woods looks east from East 1600 Road south of County Route 460. The woods encompass a swath of more than 2,000 acres of hardwood forest. Kansas Land Trust, along with the ECO2 Commission, want the city and the county to help preserve the Baldwin Woods, a unique piece of forest land between Lawrence and Eudora.

December 7, 2008


City hall to take closer look at Baldwin Woods

Environmentalists are banding together to preserve Baldwin Woods. Enlarge video

Baldwin Woods

This panorama scene shows an area in the Baldwin Woods where 40-foot sandstone cliffs curve along a section of Coal Creek in rural Douglas County. Enlarge video

Kelly Kindscher and Rex Buchanan lean over a creek, examining — touching — a vein of crumbling coal, wondering whether it would burn in a woodstove.

What’s remarkable is not that there’s coal in this creek — it’s named Coal Creek, after all — but rather that Buchanan and Kindscher can see it to begin with.

The water here is as clear as a lens, illuminating moss-covered limestone, worn smooth from nature’s constant force. Behind the duo is a 40-foot sandstone bluff, complete with initials carved in the late 1800s. In front of them is dense forest, featuring some trees now into their third century of growth.

Buchanan, a leader with the Kansas Geological Survey, picks up a pebble and tosses it like a dart at a flat stone farther down stream. Onlookers focus on it as he points out the ripples on its face.

“You are basically looking at 350 million year old ripple marks in the sand,” Buchanan said, explaining that the ripples are evidence of a time when the area was covered with massive amounts of water.

A find in the forest. And a realization, too.

“I would say almost anyone in Lawrence, if you blindfolded them and brought them out here, they wouldn’t guess they were still in Kansas,” Kindscher said.

• • •

But this is Kansas. Douglas County, in fact. It is an area known as the Baldwin Woods, a swath of more than 2,000 acres of hardwood forest between Lawrence and Baldwin. This small piece is part of a pair of privately owned parcels totaling 256 acres south of County Route 460.

Not only is this Douglas County land, it is really important Douglas County land, say environmentalists like Kindscher and Buchanan. Important enough that Douglas County commissioners and Lawrence city commissioners soon will be lobbied to spend upwards of $450,000 to help the Kansas Land Trust purchase a conservation easement that would forever guarantee that the 256 acres remain undeveloped.

“This strikes me as the posterchild for open-space preservation work,” Buchanan said. “It is just a beautiful place.”

But these aren’t exactly ideal days for any project that involves local government spending more money. Douglas County commissioners recently were told that they likely will have to make serious cuts to the recently approved 2009 budget. City commissioners already have been through two years of cost-cutting measures that have led to a handful of City Hall layoffs.

That may leave the project facing a route through City Hall as steep as some of the hills on the property. Mayor Mike Dever said he has concerns about whether the city can help make the project a reality.

“The money is obviously going to be the major issue,” Dever said.

• • •

Jason Fizell, executive director of the Lawrence-based Kansas Land Trust, said there never will be a perfect time to pursue the preservation project. But he said now could be a particularly troubling time to reject the idea.

The property has been selected by ECO2, a city-county advisory board, as the location for the first major open space project in a program that seeks to balance the interests of economic development and land preservation.

The ECO2 concept, which both city and county commissioners have endorsed, calls for the community to invest in open space projects whenever public funds are used to build new industrial or business parks. For months now, city commissioners have been discussing spending public funds to purchase and renovate the former Farmland Industries fertilizer plant into a new business center. Commissioners just last week authorized staff members to submit a new bid for the 456-acre piece of property, which is tied up in bankruptcy court.

Fizell said his group is now looking for some assurances that if the Farmland project moves forward that city and county commissioners will follow through with the ECO2 concept by committing money to the Baldwin Woods project.

“I do think as an article of good faith, it makes a lot of sense,” Fizell said of moving the Farmland project and the Baldwin Woods project together at the same time. “The ECO2 process has brought people from different viewpoints together. I think there is a greater degree of trust now, and it is important not to lose that.”

City commissioners agree with that, but the road for the project may still be bumpy. Money issues aside, Dever said he would like the first ECO2 project to be closer to Lawrence, and he’s not sure he’s thrilled with the idea of a conservation easement. A conservation easement wouldn’t turn the property into parkland available for the public to explore. Instead, the property would remain in the hands of the current owners: Ray Wilber and Cathy Dwigans and the corporation Common Land Farm LLC. The conservation easement essentially would ensure that neither the current owners nor any future owners could develop the property.

But for the estimated price of about $450,000, that may not be enough for some.

“I have some hesitancy,” Dever said.

• • •

Such consternation may be fitting for this piece of ground. More than a century ago, this place was the ultimate fish-or-cut-bait land. The place where the rubber met the road, if rubber and roads actually existed back then.

During the westward expansion of the 19th century, the Baldwin Woods was a place a pioneer would not soon forget. That’s because it was right about here that the world began to look very different.

After miles and miles of traveling through the thick, bountiful forests of the eastern United States, this is where it ended. Even today, this area is considered to be part of the western edge of America’s great eastern deciduous forest.

But 150 years ago, that probably meant more than it does today. Just imagine, somewhere just west of here, pioneers emerged from the thicket and were confronted with a sea of grass — and a question: Do we really want to do this?

“As soon as you go west of here they started calling it the Great American Desert,” Fizell said. “I think this was really the last refuge for a lot of folks.”

• • •

Today, on a smaller scale, it continues to be a land where change begins to come into focus. The property is lined with gravel roads worn slick by rural residents who live in beautiful homes with shake shingles and redwood decks that overlook Mount Oread.

Atop the property that Buchanan and others hope to preserve, there’s no denying it would make a great front porch. Dense woods, patches of native grass, and in the spring “a carpet of wildflowers.” And, of course, the view.

Buchanan and the others worry there won’t be one front porch but dozens. The view would remain, but the land would be forever changed, they say.

“That’s why now is the right time to do this,” said Buchanan, who is a member of the ECO2 commission. “This is the type of thing that if you wait, sometimes you may wait too long.”


SteelHorseRider 9 years, 6 months ago

The Nature Conservancy would be my pick to buy this land for preservation.

Richard Heckler 9 years, 6 months ago

This kind of investment does not add to the taxpayers bill as does stretching miles of new infrastructure. Therefore this is a good investment for taxpayers. Protecting areas such as this actually provides value to the city/county while at the same time being an investment that saves tax dollars.New homes on the other hand cost taxpayers dollars because they require:construction of the $88 million sewage treatment plant,which in and of itself increases the cost of community services water and sewer lines streets and repairsmore housespublic schools fire stations law enforcement manpowersidewalks snow removal bike trails and cross walks Traffic signals Traffic calming developers requesting more tax dollar assistance(new infrastructure) for theirwarehouses and retail strip malls.In general increases the cost of community services to all taxpayers.With increased numbers of houses you have increased demand on services, and historically the funding of revenues generated by residential housing does not pay for the services, they require from a municipality. Wild forest area does not need any of the above thus no burden on the taxpayers.Seems like the city tourism leaders would get behind this beautiful idea.Hey homeschoolers and science teachers this looks like a field trip waiting to happen. A fossil hunting paradise.

4chewnut 9 years, 6 months ago

The owners get the money and keep the property? Wow! Maybe they can hire some recently laid off folks.

Tandava 9 years, 6 months ago

Omigod, you mean there's still a remnant of the huge old-growth forest that used to everywhere??!!! We can't have that!!! Get in there and clear-cut it all, put up a housing development and a pig farm! And there's actually a stream that still runs clear??!!! Of all things! I didn't think there were any of those left anywhere here in Kansas. We certainly can't have that, either! Figure out a way to pollute the stream, and quickly, too, so it will be like all the others.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 6 months ago

How about a much smaller cash payment up-front, and then a property-tax abatement as long as it stays undeveloped, with a substantial penalty due if it's ever developed?

Jason Fizell 9 years, 6 months ago

SteelHorseRider, The Nature Conservancy is a huge national organization, with an active Kansas Chapter, that focuses on -- and has the money to -- buy outright large tracts of threatened ecosystems of thousands of acres. They play an important role in Kansas in protecting areas like the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve and Cheyenne Bottoms.In this case, we are lucky -- many significant tracts of the Baldwin Woods -- Breidenthal, Rice, Wall, and Boyd Preserves -- are already protected by KU and Baker ( the Kansas Land Trust (KLT) proposes to do here is protect one of the last remaining "pieces of the puzzle" and thereby ensure an intact and contiguous area of preserved land in the Baldwin Woods. These 256 acres may seem small -- and, in fact, they are too small for The Nature Conservancy -- but they are very important for the local protection of this significant, and extremely beautiful, woodlands. That is why KLT has stepped up to help.As for buying the land outright, you might imagine that that would be a significantly more expensive scenario, and you would be right. Moreover, that's the beauty of using a Conservation Easement instead -- it costs less, still protects the land from development, and yet keeps the land in the hands of private landowners. This is a win, win, win, esp. for those of you who are wary of government intervention and ownership. This is the ultimate free market solution for land protection!

Jason Fizell 9 years, 6 months ago

Reality_Check,That's great to hear of your personal experience with the Baldwin Woods. For more background on the area, there's this LJW story from April: value of the Conservation Easement was determined by a trained and qualified appraiser located here in Douglas County. As we all know, property values in Douglas County, and in this developing area near Baldwin, are higher than the rest of the state.Moreover, the landowners already are offering a "bargain sale" -- less than fair market value -- for the Conservation Easement. Also, since the Kansas Land Trust is taking on the responsibility of protecting this property forever, the property owners also contribute a significant sum towards a "Stewardship Fund" (think of it like an endowment to ensure the future protection of the property). Finally, KLT is also donating our services and many of the transaction costs of completing this deal.I appreciate the sentiment of trying to save public dollars, but "shaming" willing, conservation-minded landowners who are already sacrificing a great deal to protect their property just isn't a good faith means of operating our city and county governments. These bodies rely on qualified appraisals to compensate landowners for road easements and other "takings" all the time.Cheers,Jason FizellExecutive DirectorKansas Land Trust

BigPrune 9 years, 6 months ago

This looks like a progressive movement project of days gone by. Why should the taxpayers pick up the tab especially when the property owners still get to keep it? Why not have a private entity foot the bill? Don't worry about the funds. I wonder if Dever is just trying to sound skeptical about the money and location thing? I bet you'll get your money from the taxpayers anyway. After all, this is Lawrence, KS.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 6 months ago

It's called maintaining a balance, Prune. There are many examples throughout the country where industrial/commercial development has produced vast areas of ugliness and environmental blight that few people want to live in. So whenever development is approved, and especially when public money is spent on it, we also put money and effort into maintaining the natural elements required to keep this a place where people want to live.

BigPrune 9 years, 6 months ago

So other than the City buying Farmland debacle instead of letting a private enterprise buy it, what other things will the City be purchasing or buying into in the future?Like I said before, I don't think you have anything to worry about not getting the money from the City for the buy into these woodlands. This commission let's people raise chickens in the city and the Mayor's Task Force On Alleged Global Warming says it all. These commissioners are just like the commissioners they replaced. The special interests run the show. You should be quite pleased.

camper 9 years, 6 months ago

This area is really one of the most scenic areas in all of Douglas County. I think the scenic river route and Lake Clinton are beautiful as well. It would really be nice to preserve it.

Bud Stagg 9 years, 6 months ago

Why should the government pick up the tab for this or Farmland? If this group is so popular they should be able to raise the money themselves from the private sector. History shows that the downfall of any republic is when it's citizens figure out how to get money from it's government. Merrill, you talk about how houses raise the cost of all those things, isn't that what the city is in business for? They charge taxes for all those services. Homeowners are like customers, they pay for services with their property taxes. Right now this city needs more customers because of a huge budget shortfall. Don't get me wrong, we don't need more homeowners, we need more commercial, they pay a lot more taxes and provide jobs.

Quigly 9 years, 6 months ago

this is America. The moment they find oil or coal it is going to be taken one way or another. So Lawrence, you better be ready to welcome strip mining. The way this town is acting it wouldn't surprise me that it is met with open arms. Save the world? save me some money on my heating bill. Isn't that the American way?

RedwoodCoast 9 years, 6 months ago

The coal is probably lignite, which is the lowest quality of the three types of coal. Anthracite is the highest quality and the only type that is really used these days. SE Kansas has quite a bit of bituminous coal, but the mining industry down there is pretty much defunct, since bituminous coal is considered 'dirty.'But seriously, folks, Kindscher and Buchanan have produced several very unique and important books about Kansas plants, history, and geology. I am inclined to trust their judgment when it comes to this type of thing.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 6 months ago

From what I've read elsewhere, Missouri and eastern Kansas are indeed the western edge of the Great Eastern Forest. Over the course of the last several millennia, the western edge of the forest has never been static-- the prairie and the forest ebb and flow back and forth into each other. Much of the land in southern Missouri that was once savannah when european settlement first began is now forested because grassfires that kill young trees began to be controlled.For much the same reason, this part of Kansas is more forested now than it was 160 years ago, but the oak-hickory forest in this article predates european settlement, and should be preserved.

Michael Capra 9 years, 6 months ago

JASON FIZEL lost his job in east cost now he comes back to do the rundle bundel gangs work, this guy lost in lawrence and in washington now he is back to do what to lawrence kill it

RedwoodCoast 9 years, 6 months ago

Bozo is correct about the forest/prairie boundary. 7000 years ago, the prairie reached nearly to the Mississippi River. The oak/hickory association really became prevalent in NE Kansas around 5000 years ago, but yes, there once were much fewer trees in eastern Kansas than what we see today. Regular burning of the prairie by both Native Americans and lightning was a large factor in keeping the grasslands free from trees. Simply put, the landscape you see around Lawrence today is, for the most part, not the landscape one would have seen 200 years ago. Heck, 11,000 years ago, we had spruce trees growing in eastern Kansas.

RedwoodCoast 9 years, 6 months ago

No, prospector, but bison were certainly important. Much like the prairie/forest boundary, bison populations have also fluctuated over time, regardless of whether or not there was prairie grass to eat. I know of patches of native prairie in Kansas that are doing just fine without large ungulates chomping and stomping them.

Jason Fizell 9 years, 6 months ago

458casul/Mike Capra, aka Vito's Plumbing -Can't say I'm happy to see your ignorant self is still around, but you make for a convenient foil. Keep it up.Toodles,Jason

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