PIERRE, S.D. — The South Dakota Agricultural Land Trust (SDALT) celebrated its first conservation easement with a gathering on Thursday, June 23rd. Individuals from across the state were invited to the recently conserved Oak Hills Ranch. The Ranch is located directly adjacent to the city of Spearfish and borders privately-owned and public land. The SDALT Board of Directors could not have envisioned a more beautiful setting to celebrate South Dakota’s open spaces, wildlife habitat, picturesque views, and agricultural heritage.
SDALT partnered with Lawrence County landowner Johanna Meier Della Vecchia to establish a conservation easement on Oak Hills Ranch in the spring of 2022. The agreement conserves 762 acres of forests and mountain meadows, adding to the scenic character of Spearfish while maintaining the local agricultural landscape.
“We all need to be grateful for the opportunity of stewardship,” Johanna Meier Della Vecchia expressed during the easement celebration. She discussed why she chose SDALT to hold the easement, noting that the agricultural-based trust ensures the land would be kept in its pristine productive state. The Oak Hills property will continue to be a working ranch grazing cattle and horses under the direction of ranch managers Mark and Terri Weber.
The protected property will also provide critical watershed protection to the ecological and recreational values of Spearfish Creek and contribute to a clean and abundant natural water supply for the DC Booth Fish Hatchery.
The easement celebration consisted of short presentations on the mission of SDALT, the history of the Oak Hills Ranch, and a discussion of the value of conservation easements. Those in attendance had the opportunity to visit the historic ranch outbuildings and participate in a walking tour to the top of Lone Tree Hill, located near the center of the property. The view allowed everyone to survey the sprawling residential developments surrounding the ranch.
“The best way to keep land healthy is to protect it from encroachment and have it continue to stay productive,” Karl Jensen, SDALT Secretary said. “This hill will always be here, it’s a glorious moment to see what can be done in an area of intense urbanization.”
About the South Dakota Agricultural Land Trust
The South Dakota Agricultural Land Trust (SDALT) is a nonprofit land conservation organization formed in 2019 with the mission to work with landowners to conserve South Dakota’s agricultural heritage and working landscapes for the benefit of future generations. You can learn more about the Trust at www.sdaglandtrust.org.