Third Annual County Land Conservation Awards Announced

WASHINGTON, D.C. 3/3/2007- The Trust for Public Land (TPL) and the National Association of Counties (NACo) today announced three winners for the third annual County Leadership in Conservation Awards, which recognizes leadership, innovation, and excellence on local land conservation and park creation initiatives by county leaders across America.

The winning counties-Pitkin County, Colorado; Sonoma County, California; and Lake County, Illinois-were honored at NACo’s annual Legislative Conference in Washington D.C. In addition to the national recognition, each county received a travel scholarship to promote countywide land conservation programs as effective solutions to thoughtful regional growth issues.

NACo President Colleen Landkamer, Commissioner, Blue Earth County, Minn., and TPL Senior Vice President Ernest Cook noted that the 2007 County Leadership Awards come at a time when counties are increasingly leading innovators in the protection of open space as a strategy for managing growth.

Since 1996, 150 counties have prioritized land conservation with new or reconsidered conservation programs. In that time these counties have passed 247 ballot measures, generating $12.9 billion for open space, parks, watersheds, recreational lands, and wildlife preserves. Over 77 percent of all county conservation ballot measures in the last decade have won voter approval. These results demonstrate that both voters and counties are acting locally to address issues that really matter to them, such as the protection of land and water resources.

“We can react to pressures like development, or be thoughtful in our responses,” said Will Rogers, TPL President. “Local conservation programs can help our communities shape thoughtful growth. This year’s winners are being recognized for their commitment to creating healthy, livable places.”

Said Landkamer, “I applaud these counties for their leadership and commitment to critical land conservation programs. NACo is proud to join our friends at The Trust for Public Land to showcase the best practices in land conservation initiatives across America.”

The Winners:

Lake County, Illinois

Lake County is home to more endangered and threatened species than any other county in Illinois. It’s also home to a diverse and growing population of nearly 700,000 people, including some of the most rapidly expanding communities in both the Chicago region and the nation.

Since 1999, Lake County voters and the elected, 23-member Lake County Board of Forest Preserves Commissioners have made commitments to protecting open space and wildlife corridors threatened by this growth. Voters have approved three referenda: two bond measures generating $140 million for acquiring, maintaining, and improving Preserves; and an additional tax increase that generates $3 million annually for managing Preserves. In 2005, the commissioners approved another $85 million in bonds (non-referendum) over the following four to five years to purchase an additional 1,400 acres. The Lake County Forest Preserve District has leveraged voter-approved funds with over $20 million in state, federal, and private grants and donations.

Since 1999, the Lake County Forest Preserve District has protected an additional 5,000 acres of land (bringing the total to 25,300 acres), opened 12 entirely new preserves, expanded 17 existing preserves, and reached a total of 125 miles of trails. Each year, some 2.5 million visits occur on preserve lands, allowing the public to learn about nature, interact with wildlife, and participate in outdoor recreation. The District has strong partnerships, thousands of volunteers and considerable community involvement in all facets of its mission.

Plans also call for a five-year Capital Improvement Program of nearly $50 million.

In 1999, the Lake County Forest Preserve District was voted National Gold Medal Winner by the National Recreation and Park Association as the best park, conservation, and recreation agency of its kind in the nation.

Sonoma County, California

In the late 1980s, Bay Area cities began to merge, losing their individuality and unique character. Fear of this and concern for significant growth patterns led Sonoma County to support an Open Space Element in the update of the County General Plan in 1989. That Open Space Element recommended the creation of the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District and the voters agreed a few months later.

In 1990, Sonoma County voters authorized a quarter-cent sales tax (for a 20-year period) to fund and create the District, one of the first sales tax-funded open space programs in the country to focus on the preservation of agricultural properties and open space lands. The District has spent $212 million to protect more than 70,000 acres of farmland, open space, wildlife habitat, and recreational lands. The Sonoma County District has leveraged voter-approved funding with an additional $26 million in local, state, federal, and private funds. In addition, the District has received generous endowments from landowners that total over $1.6 million. District staff has saved some $61.5 million in discounted purchase prices.

In November 2006, 75% of the voters overwhelmingly approved an extension of the sales tax through 2031.

One particularly notable achievement the District claimed in 2005 was a partnership with The Trust for Public Land, State Coastal Conservancy and State Parks to protect the 3,373 acre Willow Creek property as an addition to Sonoma Coast State Beach, the third most-visited State Park unit in California. The District also recently completed a yearlong community process to update its Acquisition Plan, “Connecting Communities and the Land.” This guiding document responds to changes in the community over time and has an additional focus, that of acquiring lands that connect urban dwellers to open spaces around them.

Pitkin County, Colorado

Pitkin County is a rural, mountainous region and home to the resort communities of Aspen and Snowmass. Boasting some of the highest real estate prices in the country, development pressures are extreme, making land conservation both costly and daunting.

Pitkin County residents have not been deterred. In 1990, voters passed a ballot measure creating the Open Space and Trails (OST) program. Two subsequent ballot measures have extended a 3.75 mill property tax to 2020, and a total of $38 million in General Obligation bonding authority has been authorized. Grants and partnerships have leveraged significant funds for the program (43 cents for every OST dollar spent). To date, Pitkin County has preserved 14,000 acres of farmland, wildlife habitat, open space, recreational assets, and trails.

The county’s success in preserving undeveloped land can be attributed to its strong partnerships with myriad public and private entities, a spectrum of conservation tools, and long-standing relationships of trust with local landowners.

“As America grows, counties are leading the way with setting aside the places that matter most,” said Will Rogers. “The Trust for Public Land’s partnership with counties-and with the National Association of Counties in particular-shows how creating parks and conserving open space are at the heart of making communities great places to live, work, and play.”

Additional information and nomination forms can be accessed on the Web at either or or by calling (617) 367-6200 ext. 303.

The Trust for Public Land is a national nonprofit land conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens and other natural places, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Since its founding in 1972, TPL has helped protect more than two million acres in 46 states. TPL depends on the support of individuals, foundations and corporations. Visit TPL on the Web at

The National Association of Counties (NACo) is a full-service organization that provides legislative, research, technical and public affairs assistance to county governments. Created in 1935, NACo continues to ensure that the nation’s 3,066 counties are heard and understood in the White House and Congress.