Kenyon College / Knox County, Ohio Land Preservation

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Douglas L. Givens
P.O. Box 510
Gambier, OH  43022

Initiative Description and Primary Objectives 

In locating Kenyon College on a wooded hilltop in Knox County, Ohio, in 1824 its founder, Bishop Philander Chase, envisioned a serene rural environment that would promote serious thought and good conduct. For 188 years the College, and those who have found their way to it, have valued this setting. It is this environment that captures the interest of prospective students, and their parents. Long after graduation, students remember:  the campus, the surrounding fields and forests, the twists and turns of the Kokosing River, a State designated Scenic River.  These are not incidental or decorative things. They represent the past, present and future. And in recent years as farm auctions, land sales, pell-mell subdivision and commercial development have accelerated, it became clear that continuing interest and timely action were required. The threat of unchecked development to Kenyon and its surroundings led to the formation of the Philander Chase Corporation (PCC) in 2000.  At the same time another, non-College related land trust, the Owl Creek Conservancy (OCC), was established in order to promote land conservation in the rest of Knox County, Ohio, thereby moving land preservation into the larger non-College community.

The principle objective of PCC is to preserve and maintain the open spaces, scenic views, farmland, and characteristic landscapes surrounding Gambier, Ohio.  The principle objective of the OCC is to preserve natural and agricultural lands in the Knox County area through widespread private action specifically by preserving woodland, wetlands, farmland, waterways, scenic vistas, and wildlife habitats of environmental, historic, and community importance. OCC has a special, focused objective of protecting the aquifer that supplies drinking water to 40% of County residents.

The PCC was established as an entity separate from Kenyon College because the most effective way to protect land was to establish a land trust.  Buying land is sometimes necessary but it is the most expensive way to preserve property.  It is much more cost effective to take advantage of agricultural and conservation easements.  When the PCC was being formed, its leadership knew that the State of Ohio and the Federal government had easement programs emerging.  The College itself, however, could not qualify for those programs because it is not set up as a land trust.  The PCC’s status as a land trust enables it to accomplish many things impossible for the College.

Key Partner Organizations and Individuals 

An important part of the success of the PCC and the OCC is based on the successful alliances with government agencies and partnerships with policy makers at the Township, County and State levels. Crucial partnerships were forged with the County Commissioners, the County Park District, the local Soil and Water Conservation Office as well as with the local Farm Bureau. A close relationship also exists between PCC and the College's Brown Family Environmental Center. The managing director of the PCC was appointed to the Ohio Farmland Preservation Advisory Board thereby connecting local efforts to State-wide initiatives. He also chaired the County's Farmland Preservation Committee.

Initiative History and Champions 

Within months of its establishment, several Kenyon College alumni donated almost $1.5 million to support PCC's initial work.  At the same time the citizens of Ohio passed by an overwhelming majority a $600 million bond issue called the Clean Ohio Fund. Monies from that Fund were dedicated to farmland preservation, open spaces, parks and brown field cleanup. Shortly after, the Knox County Commissioners prepared a comprehensive plan in which protection of the rural environment was a key provision. The early champions were alumni of the College and local farmers, with many of the families having owned the land since the early 1800's.  And of course, the Board of the College was instrumental in creating the PCC.

Distinctiveness and Strategic Significance of the Initiative 

As far as can be determined the PCC is the only land trust in the country that is part of an educational institution. PCC is a separate 501 C 3 organization. However, it was established as a "membership" organization and Kenyon College is the sole member. In this way PCC can operate as a separate entity while at the same time remaining under the ultimate control of the College's Board of Trustees.  By creating PCC in this manner it was possible to remove its public persona from the shadow of the College thereby avoiding town/gown issues. It was also strategically significant to form the OCC at the same time in order to set forth a larger agenda that PCC could support.  Both organizations collaborate on many projects.

Measurable Effectiveness of the Initiative 

The PCC and its allied land owners have been remarkably successful in garnering coveted easement funding.  Indeed, it is an Ohio leader; currently Knox County ranks fifth in the state in obtaining agricultural easements, and all but one of those was facilitated by the PCC. The PCC raised several million dollars in contributions which is an important sign of success. In addition to easements PCC has purchased hundreds of acres of land. Between the PCC and the OCC well over 9,000 acres of Knox County land is protected in perpetuity.

Transferability of the Initiative 

Everything that is part of the formation of the PCC and the OCC and everything that both organizations have done is imminently replicable at any educational institution in the country.

The Initiative’s Ability to Endure 

PCC has an obligation to monitor easements in perpetuity. In its initial phase, the emphasis was on acquisition of land and easements. In its next phase the emphasis will shift to more of an educational function involving students, faculty, community members and alumni on the importance of land preservation.

Engagement Strategies 

The main method that PCC has used from inception has been in forging and fostering partnerships among a vast cross section of the local community. PCC is seen as a champion of preserving the County's rural heritage and as a catalyst for action on multiple fronts. Students engaged with local farmers by assisting them in preparing funding applications and helped them write the essays that were part of the application. Students also work on local farms during the College year and some stay during the summer as well. A student organization has been established to provide students an opportunity to be more directly involved in conservation work. Kenyon's sports teams are named The Lords after Lord Kenyon and the new student group calls itself, The Land Lords! 

In addition and while not a part of the PCC, the College has established the Rural Life Center. It promotes education, scholarship, and public projects about Knox County, Ohio. In active partnership with the surrounding community, it seeks to ensure the vitality of rural life in a changing society. One of its initiatives is Food for Thought, a project to build a sustainable local market for foods produced in and around Knox County. This collaborative effort is developing a countywide food system to enable local farmers to market their products to individual consumers and institutional buyers including schools, hospitals, restaurants, grocery stores and caterers.