The West Meade Conservancy (WMC) is an association of neighborhood volunteers seeking to preserve an unusual natural area in the West Meade section of Nashville. In this endeavor, the WMC has been guided and encouraged by the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation who recognized the potential of an enthusiastic group of conservation newcomers.
|Baby barred owl -Photo by Dan Lindstrom|
The focus of the West Meade Conservancy is a series of forested hills and ridges containing species of flora and fauna rarely found within a big city Trees and plants such as white azaleas, appendaged waterleaf, and centuries-old chestnut oaks grow in the sandy chert soil of the Western Highland Rim. Barred owls, white-tailed deer, red foxes, box turtles, and many smaller animals find a habitat in the old-growth woods. These woods help form an ecological corridor with Radnor Lake and Warner Parks that provides breeding acreage for large birds and mammals. In addition more than two and a half miles of the ridgeline is marked by a large section of dry-stone wall built in the mid 1800s.
How can we keep these forests intact as more and more trees give way to residential and commercial development? The question was posed in April 2006 when biologist Noah Charney distributed a brochure to residents in the Rolling Fork/Jocelyn Hollow neighborhood, describing the area's natural assets and inviting neighbors to a meeting. More than 75 people showed up, and the result was a name for the group, a mission (preserving woods, wildlife and wall), and a steering committee.
How to carry out our mission? Help in answering this question came when Kathleen Williams and Nora Beck of the Foundation accepted our invitation to hike up one of the local slopes. They proclaimed the area well worth preserving and advised using a chain of conservation easements on the hilltops. That advice and other suggestions they made have been important to our progress.
To make the group official and its mission known, we registered as a non-profit organization and set up a website (www.westmeadeconservancy.org). We hosted guest lectures on West Meade's history and on native trees and shrubs, and attracted newspaper coverage.
Our next step (a Foundation suggestion) was to build a registry of people interested in placing conservation easements on parts of their wooded lots. But how? The steering committee's answer was to devise a Landowner Registration form and advertise it through a public meeting, the website, and a contact list of interested people
During the period of experimentation that followed, we learned two important: 1) simpler is better and 2) overcoming inertia is difficult.
On the first version of the form, we asked landowners to sign a statement saying they wished to set aside a section of their property as a "nature preserve" and to choose the restrictions they would like to place on that section. After a neightbor said, " Itried to fill this out, but I don't know what it means!" we whittled the choices down from 60 to 4 in the final version, leaving space for adding further qualifications, such as retaining the right to remove trees that threaten a house. All signers so far have chosen the key restrictions: no cutting of trees and no building of new residential structures on the preserve. In the beginning, we asked signers to attacha a map showing the preserve's extent and placement. Now we simply include a lot diagram with each form. Local interest in our project increased increased as more volunteers joined the core group and helped recruit other neighbors by phone, e-mail, informational packets, small-group sessions at homes, and individual conversations.
Progress ReportIn March 2007, ten months after our first meeting, the WMC has 40 Landowner Registration forms in the Registry and 190 people onits contact list. Interest in our mission has grown beyond our initial focus area to include an expanding stretch of woodland. There is also a group of Support Forms signed by people who don't have wooded properties but who feel strongly about the WMC's cause.
In Spetember, when we had only twenty forms in our Registry, we asked TPGF whether they would accept responsibility ofr our easements. Although they recommend Nashville organization as more suitable primary holders, they said, "We'll do it." Bolstered by TPGF's support and by the expanding Registry, we have recently applied to local conservation agencies to hold the easements, and this process has brought us new advisers, including Shain Dennison of Nashville's Greenways Commission, Jane Laub of Greenways for Nashville, and Emily Evans, Councilwoman for Nashville's 23rd District.
The WMC is no longer a group of conservation greenhorns, but we still have a lot to learn and much to do: involve more neighbors in the cause, add more forms to the Registry, and build a reputation for the area as a place where residents protect the woods and wildlife.
It's reassuring to know that in the months ahead we can continue to turn to Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation for advice and support.