Land Trusts and Conservation Easements
The undeveloped stretches of the Lake of Bays shoreline are a special part of the lake's natural heritage. Conservation easements and land trusts can ensure that they retain their special place for future generations.
The Lake of Bays Heritage Foundation provides assistance to residents seeking permanent protection of their lands through a land trust donation or acquisition, conservation easement or other means.
Depending on the method chosen, landowners can maintain the use and enjoyment of their property and may receive income tax and property tax benefits. A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement by which a landowner enters into a binding legal agreement with a conservation body to "conserve, maintain, restore or enhance" the significant natural features of the landowner's property by placing conditions on the use and management of the property. Attached to the title of the land, the easement is a way to protect the natural attributes of a property in perpetuity. This involves placing development limits on a property, but all other rights remain with the property owner.
A "land trust" is a legal entity set up specifically for the purpose of protecting heritage properties. By donating land to such a trust, the owner can receive a charitable tax receipt (for fair market value) for tax planning needs and also know that the land will be protected forever in its natural state. The Lake of Bays Heritage Foundation is such a Trust, as are the Ontario Heritage Trust or the Muskoka Heritage Trust. These Trusts are charitable corporations and adhere to the policies and principles of the Ontario Land Trust Alliance and hold properties throughout Muskoka. The Lake of Bays Heritage Foundation also works as a local partner to monitor sites and ensure properties are not disturbed. Conservation easements likewise are administered through a land trust.
Land Trust Example
The decision in 2004 by the late Ross Boothby is a great example of creativity in conservation and raised interest from many people around the lake. In his case, he arranged for a large parcel of land to be purchased at below market value by the Ontario Heritage Foundation (OHF). The Lake of Bays Heritage Foundation facilitated this transaction by raising the funds from private donors and also acts as custodian of the land for the OHF.
As protectors of the Boothby land, we established rules that prohibit camping, fires, snow mobiles, ATVs or any activity that would detract from the pristine quality. These rules are in keeping with the family wishes and LBHF volunteers will monitor. The land is held by the OHF which was created by the Government of Ontario several decades ago for the purpose of conserving valuable pieces or land or built heritage. If the OHF should ever cease to exist (unlikely), the title ownership on the Boothby land transfers to the LBHF.
Conservation Easement Examples
Several years ago, the Goering family on Lake of Bays placed a conservation easement on several hundred feet of their shoreline, to keep it natural forever while still enjoying their cottage.
In the fall of 2003, a conservation easement was placed on a total of 11 acres that include 939 feet of pristine natural shoreline on Longline Lake, in our watershed just east of Muskoka Road 117. LBHF worked with the Muskoka Land Trust to complete the documents and legal work. The owners are three sisters - Elisabeth Stewart, Megan Winstanley and Martha Lewis - and our community is indebted to them for preserving a piece of nature in perpetuity.
If you are interested in learning more about land trusts and conservation easements from the LBHF, please contact the chair of our Natural Heritage Committee, Mark McLean (416) 944-0631.