SAVING THE WOODS
How determined residents preserved a doomed forest
In 2011, a group of North Kingsville residents were stunned to learn they were about to lose the forest where their children played, where teens posed for prom photos next to the big tree with the wildly crooked branch, where colorful dragonflies congregated, where a peaceful walk could help sort out a jumbled day.
The new owner of the 26-acre property was going to clear-cut the forest. Most of those who live next to the woods found out about the timbering plan from a letter to the editor written by alarmed neighbors Bill and Kim Tackett. Bill Tackett learned about the logging by talking to the surveyors roaming the property.
“NK land to be gutted,” read the newspaper headline.
A handful of distraught residents gathered. “We had a dozen folks,” said Beverly Santee, one of the residents, “with tears in their eyes.”
The neighbors had no idea what to do and little time to deliberate, since the timbering was to start in two weeks. The landowner told the residents he’d sell the property to them – for twice the amount he paid for it. Undaunted, residents passed out fliers inviting people to meet at the Presbyterian Church of North Kingsville to discuss the proposal. “We told them to bring their checkbooks,” said neighbor Ron Santee.
For the more than two dozen residents, clear-cutting the forest was unthinkable.
“What would we have if it was gone?” asked neighbor Penny Coxe. Resident Jill Peet added, “We did not want this devastation in our neighborhood.”
What happened next was nothing short of amazing. Within a week, the group -- called the North Kingsville Woodland and Wetland Preservation – secured about $65,000 in pledges, enough to make what amounted to a non-refundable down payment on the property. A petition opposing the timbering plan garnered 1,300 signatures. Over the next three years, the neighborhood organized bake sales, 5-kilometer runs through the woods, 50/50 raffles, rummage sales and other fundraisers. The Santees’ own grandson sold lemonade and gave up his $50 vacation spending money for the cause. The girl who won the 50/50 raffle gave the $400 back to the group.
The residents also turned to Brett Rodstrom, Western Reserve Land Conservancy’s vice president of eastern field operations, for help. Rodstrom began a series of regular meetings with the group aimed at permanently protecting the land with a conservation easement and taking some of the funding burden from the neighbors.
The Land Conservancy landed a major grant from the Charles Lathrop Pack Forestry Trust and secured federal funding to buy the land through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, which is administered by Ducks Unlimited. In June, the Land Conservancy acquired the forest and placed a conservation easement on the property, one that prohibits the land from ever being developed. The organization hopes to eventually transfer ownership of the land, which includes hardwood and hemlock forests, coldwater tributaries that flow directly into Lake Erie and high-quality wetlands, to a conservation partner.
“I can’t say enough about the residents of North Kingsville and the passion they demonstrated in preserving this forest,” Rodstrom said. “What they did is special. Without their efforts, there is no doubt they would have lost this beautiful property.”
Ron Santee said, “We’re thankful to Brett and to Western Reserve Land Conservancy for helping us every step of the way.”
A Rock Creek woman who heard about the neighbors’ efforts repeatedly sent handwritten letters to actor/director Robert Redford, urging him to make a film about the fight to save their forest. While no production crews have descended on North Kingsville, it is clear the story of the woods will have a happy ending.