When it comes to real estate, it seems like all Moore County thinks about these days are new subdivisions and the latest rumored sightings of a Publix.

But quietly these past 18 years, a force has helped shape Moore County for generations to come, with barely the turn of a spade.

That would be the Sandhills Area Land Trust, which has worked since 1991 to conserve and protect more than 15,000 acres in this region for the enjoyment and protection of generations.

SALT has focused its efforts in Moore, Cumberland, Hoke, Scotland, Richmond and Harnett counties, and it has protected longleaf pine ecosystems in Lee and Robeson counties.

Land trust organizations are a valuable component of the real estate environment. Through their benefactors, donors and volunteers, these organizations work to preserve fragile and environmentally significant lands in communities. Do you enjoy the Pinebluff parks? The Paint Hill trails in Weymouth Woods? The Whitehall Trail around Reservoir Park in Southern Pines? All of that is the work of SALT.

‘A Real Opportunity’

And so we admit to having some apprehension when the news hit last week that SALT would be merging with the larger and slightly older Three Rivers Land Trust, based in Salisbury. Three Rivers has protected over 26,000 acres through projects in Anson, Cabarrus, Davidson, Davie, Iredell, Montgomery, Randolph, Richmond, Rowan and Stanly counties.

The merger, expected to be done by June, will add SALT’s territory and efforts to Three Rivers and leave a field office in Moore County. As Three Rivers grows to include the Sandhills, it is only natural to be concerned about how focused the larger organization will be on this region.

But as in most businesses, scale is important. Simply, a bigger land trust organization will have greater resources and capabilities.

“We see this as a real opportunity,” said Kyle Sonnenberg, SALT board president. “The whole land trust movement has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. To protect land we have had to become more sophisticated because projects have become more complicated. To bring all the pieces together, we need more expertise in-house, and basically that is where we are today.

“Being part of a larger organization allows us to have a greater number of staff where people can specialize and we can be more efficient.”

Don’t Neglect the Sandhills

SALT has worked with great care and diligence to preserve and conserve precious lands across the Sandhills these past 20 years. As Moore County — and the greater Sandhills region — experience more growth in the coming years, those efforts are only going to become more important.

Land conservation plays an important role in ensuring we hold on to large, vital swaths of the ecosystem in order to protect a host of animal and plant species, the very things which make us unique.

But doing that will mean greater resources to reach out to donors and prospective members. Membership is key to a land trust. SALT has 485 members, while Three Rivers boasts almost three times that.

“By uniting our organizations, we will increase our ability to conserve our natural resources,” said Three Rivers Executive Director Travis Morehead. “This merger will allow us to reach more constituents and grow the base of support for local conservation.”

Most importantly, the new, larger land trust has a clear-eyed view of its relationship with the growing region. The land trust believes that development should be occurring within areas where services are more readily available, rather than sprawling out into virgin lands.

SALT has served the Sandhills well in its mission. We will be looking for that same impact from Three Rivers Land Trust.

(1) comment

Kent Misegades

Our ecosystem is anything but fragile and the surrounding forests are anything but virgin - look at photos from a hundred years ago from the region - there is hardly a tree to be seen. The best things for the environment are Capitalism and development. The wealthiest countries have the disposable income to spend on the most advanced technology for pollution reduction - the reason the US leads the world in this regard. For instance US developed fracking has led to low-cost, low-pollution natural gas. Its expanded use is the main reason that CO2 from power generation is dropping in the US but not so much in Europe, despite all their windmills and solar panels. Wildlife too likes development, otherwise we would never see all of it in our neighborhoods. Not so long ago, a bear was spotted on that nice trail around Reservoir Park, built to provide a water source for the area residents. If you want to see ugly sprawl, take a look at solar farms spreading across the area like kudzu. First go all forms of vegetation underneath them, them come the chemicals to keep the weeds away. If the land trust does anything it ought to work to prevent more ugly, land-robbing solar farms.

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