Group leading effort to conserve natural resources

Brenda Batey
The News
April 26, 2007

Members of the West Meade Conservancy believe the significant strides they have made in only one year could establish a model for other groups who want to preserve natural resources in Nashville.

Gordon Chenery, Alys Venable and Metro Councilwoman Emily Evans were among those on hand to celebrate the first year of the West Meade Conservancy.
Photo by Brenda Batey

Almost 100 people attended the organization's first anniversary celebration Saturday, where they heard about the progress the organization has made in gaining neighborhood and agency support for protecting the area's old growth woods, diverse wildlife and the two-mile section of historic rock wall from the original property of Belle Meade Plantation.

The event, which was held at a shady circle on Jocelyn Hollow Road, drew a group that included state Sen. Douglas Henry, Metro Council member Emily Evans and Laura Jumonville of The Land Trust for Tennessee.

Evans addressed the crowd about solutions to land issues in West Meade and announced a community meeting on May 24 from 6:30 to 8:30 pm at West Meade Elementary School.

Organizers gave reports on several current conservancy projects, such as the compilation of a list of all species in the area, the monitoring of the numbers of Eastern box turtles and an upcoming workshop on drystone wall-building.

"We recognize that West Meade contains several unique features that ought to be preserved," said conservancy volunteer Anne Williams. "Noah Charney, who called the group together a year ago, described the area for us" 'This neighborhood consists of an 800-acre contiguous mature forest with huge trees that exceed 200 years old, spring fed creeks and a diverse community of plants and animals.'"

To achieve the goal of preservation, the conservancy has created landowner registration forms for those who wish to set aside a portion of their property. At this point 41 residents have signed the forms and more have pledged to complete them. Others who have no woods on their properties or who live outside the area but value it, have signed support forms endorsing the conservancy's mission.

"People who work in the conservation world know how unusual it is to find so many landowners committed to saving woods and wildlife," said volunteer Alys Venable. "Because of those who took a stand and those who have promised to take one, the conservancy's influence and public interest in its cause are increasing. The number of landowner registration forms in the West Meade Conservancy's registry has become impressive enough to earn us praise from several conservation agencies."

Conservancy members recently made a presentation to the board of the Metro Greenways Commission, with some board members of the nonprofit Greenways for Nashville also in attendance.

"The presentation's purpose was to explain why West Meade's wooded ridges deserve to be protected as a natural area important to the city," said volunteer Jane Bibring. "There was enthusiastic agreement about the value of our woods and our mission, and we expect that these agencies will be able to help us in specific ways in the months to come."


"The conservancy also has attracted attention from another conservation agency, Tennessee Parks and Greenways, which advised us to create the registry of landowners interested in protecting woods through conservation easements. Now they are including the story of the conservancy's growth in their next annual report," Bibring added.

Shain Dennison, director of Metro Greenways, said, "Metro Park's Greenways Commission is interested in helping the effort by potentially holding the easements to protect this special land."

Goals of the conservancy include establishing "nature preserves" on 80 percent of the properties in its initial focus area and partnering with two or more large conservation agencies willing to hold these preserves as a group of individual easements.

The conservancy also seeks a continued expansion of the focus area as other neighborhoods join in the effort to protect their wooded hills; a reputation for the area as a place that will remain wooded; and an awareness on the part of Nashville's residents and council members that the city contains a residential section with neighbors who care enough about its woods to find a way of preserving them.

"What we are doing is unusual and we've been unable to find another group in Nashville or elsewhere doing exactly what we're doing," said volunteer Sharon Charney. "And several real estate agents and members of the conservation groups have told us the easements are likely to increase property values because people will be moving into a stable area whose woods are protected."

A Nashvillian who loved roaming the hills of West Meade as a child in the 1940s, Bob Brown became one of the state's foremost conservationists and helped found the Tennessee Trails Association and the Cumberland Trail. He also has served on the boards of the Tennessee Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, Tennessee Parks and Greenways, Nashville Parks and Greenways, Greenways for Nashville, and Friends of Warner Parks.

Brown said when he came home to Nashville in 1954 after three years in the military, the West Meade woods was being replaced by a growing subdivision. He felt a deep sense of personal loss that he would never again walk the ridgetop.

"So especially meaningful to me has been the wonderful news that our West Meade wilderness is not really lost, but much of it remains as I remember," Brown said. "Most wonderful of all is the rallying of an enthusiastic and dedicated group of West Meade neighbors with a carefully crafted plan to conserve the invaluable natural and historic values of their neighborhood forest.

"In preserving this treasure for the families and descendants, they show the way for other neighborhoods in the Nashville community to do the same. And personally they bring me home again to a cherished place I thought was lost forever," Brown said.

For more information, visit www.westmeadeconservancy.org or call Alys Venable at 356-2423 or Anne Williams at 352-0412.