Child hiking at Johnston Mill Nature PreserveTo make the most of our funding and staff time, TLC relies on sound conservation planning to identify and focus our priorities. This is the behind-the-scenes conservation work that makes our land protection projects happen!

Why plan?

One hour. That's all the time it would take a fit hiker to cover the three miles of trails at Johnston Mill Nature Preserve. One hour to experience the culmination of more than 15 years of work. More than 15 years.

TLC opened Johnston Mill Nature Preserve in spring of 2001. However, the Johnston Mill story begins back in the mid-1980s, when Durham and Orange Counties conducted their first inventories of natural areas. The Durham County Inventory was published in 1987, and the Orange County Inventory was published a year later.

The inventories identified some of the most important natural areas in the counties, and both showed a lot of important land on New Hope Creek was under development pressure.

Through TLC, volunteers asked local governments (Durham and Orange Counties, the Town of Chapel Hill, and the City of Durham) to put up money to develop a conservation plan for the New Hope Creek Corridor. A committee was formed and published the New Hope Corridor Open Space Master Plan in 1991. The local governments adopted the master plan into their land use plans. Durham hired a staff person to coordinate land acquisition. TLC volunteers got to work on it, too, making New Hope Creek a priority area.

The planning process created a community vision that got people involved and excited about maintaining their community's character and environmental integrity, as well as about shaping future growth to fit their goals and values.

This led to land negotiations, the New Hope Creek Campaign, the 296-acre land purchase, a year-and-a-half of trail building, and a lucky hiker's one-hour ramble through some of the prettiest woods in Orange County.

Johnston Mill Nature Preserve is, more than any other TLC conservation project, a testament to the power of conservation planning.

Planning is not glamorous, photogenic, or a lot fun to talk about, but it is the behind-the-scenes work that makes popular land protection projects happen.

It is easy enough to say open space should be protected. But with limited resources—volunteer energy, staff time, funding, funding, and more funding—it is necessary to identify and focus on priorities. This is why planning is essential to TLC's land conservation program.

Planning helps TLC identify what land is important, what land to protect now, and what land can be included in the future.

Photo: Jennifer Peterson