Preserving our rural heritage and history
Imagine some of the most fertile agricultural land in Whitman County disappearing forever, and with it vital wildlife habitat and open space. It’s almost painful to think of, but thanks to two forward-thinking landowners, it’s a vision that will never become reality. Because of your commitment to the lands we cherish, approximately 509 acres of grassland and cropland directly south of the City of Colfax has been preserved and protected forever.
working together to preserve our history and heritage
For Tom and Cheryl Kammerzell, the managing members of Maple K Enterprises LLC, it was a simple decision. “We have high-quality soil, an extremely favorable climate for annual dryland crops, and access to markets. This type of farmland is becoming increasingly rare and we wanted to do something about it,” said Tom. According to the American Farmland Trust, at least 11 million acres of the best farmland in the county was lost from 1992 to 2012, largely to low-density residential development, and that pace continues to accelerate.
Fortunately, the preservation of our rural agricultural heritage is a critical piece of Whitman County’s Comprehensive Plan and an important goal for the Palouse Land Trust. Loaded down with letters of support from dozens of local organizations, the Palouse Land Trust traveled to Olympia to present the project to Washington’s Recreation and Conservation Office in hopes of receiving help through their Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program.
Additionally, the Land Trust teamed up with over 17 different partners throughout the Palouse region to seek funding for improved water quality, wildlife habitat, and farmland protection from the Regional Conservation Partnership Program provided by the Natural Resource Conservation Service. Both of these programs saw the incredible importance of this land and stepped up to lend a hand. With their support, and an extremely generous donation of land value by Maple K Enterprises LLC, the Palouse Land Trust was able to complete a voluntary conservation solution that benefits our entire community.
The conservation agreement allows the landowners to continue owning, living, and working on the land, but prevents subdivision and residential development in perpetuity, ensuring that the property stays viable for agricultural production. Before the property was purchased by Maple K Enterprises LLC, it had been owned and managed by the Meyers family for over a century, and was sold with a handshake agreement to help keep its unique values alive and protected. Thanks to the support of the community and the vision of landowners like Tom and Cheryl, we can rest assured that this ground has many more centuries of producing important food and fiber. But that is only part of the story.
a multi-faceted conservation win
“Whenever we are approached by a landowner, we look at what conservation values the property provides for the public that would be important to protect. Right from the get go, it was clear that this piece of ground not only had amazing agricultural value, but provides a whole suite of important benefits to the people of the Palouse,” said Nick Norton, Conservation Projects Manager of the Palouse Land Trust.
Late fall and early spring find the landscape covered by a network of tracks, including deer, turkey, and coyotes traveling between Spring Flat Creek and the South Fork of the Palouse River. On the western slopes of the property, highly scenic combinations of hawthorn thickets, native shrubs, and woodlands dot the landscape where herds of Scottish highland cattle lazily graze the fields next to Highway 195 entering Colfax.
The eastern side of the property abuts the Maple K Forest conservation easement completed in 2015, which protects nearly 2 miles of river frontage on the South Fork of the Palouse River. This area is currently undergoing long-term restoration to reestablish and create high quality riparian wildlife habitat in Whitman County by forming new riverine wetlands on the property to further increase flood storage capacity, construct in-stream habitat improvements, and install over 19,000 plantings. Collectively, these conservation and restoration efforts have led to increased water quality and overall stream health, a main goal of the conservation easement.
Together, the two easements conserve just over 622 acres of the very best of Whitman County. For Lovina Englund, the Palouse Land Trust’s Executive Director, this connection is vital: “together, these two projects protect and showcase the heart of the Palouse: beautiful scenery, abundant soil resources, healthy waterways, and vital wildlife habitat. We are just glad to know that this keystone piece of our unique landscape will continue to provide for us long into the future.”