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Brownhelm landowners reach agreement for land conservation

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    Jean Hays stands on her 25-acre property in Brownhelm Township.




BROWNHELM TWP. — Phyllis DeMark and Jean Hays knew that their property was special the minute they stepped foot on it 25 years ago.

They didn’t own it at that time, but they were considering buying it after seeing a home listing for it in a Sunday newspaper.

“For some reason, I was drawn to it. I called the Realtor and by the end of the next day we had purchased the land,” DeMark said.

“We saw it at 11 a.m., made an offer at 3 p.m., and signed the paperwork at 8 p.m. Some may call it an impulsive buy, but there was just some feeling we had and we trusted it. That trust has turned out to be a blessing.”

The property, situated along a tributary of the Vermilion River known locally as Chance Creek, offers an untainted view of some of Northeast Ohio’s rarest natural resource features. In addition to bald eagles and magnolia warblers, DeMark and Hays have spotted cow-wheat and spotted coral root wildflowers on the property.

Now, DeMark and Hays are making sure that future generations and property owners can enjoy their property. On Jan. 19, the pair partnered with the nonprofit Western Reserve Land Conservancy to permanently conserve the land and prevent development by future property owners.

“We don’t own this land. We’re just stewards to it,” DeMark said, citing her reasons for the decision.

DeMark and Hays preserved their 25-acre property through a “conservation easement,” an agreement that landowners can enter into with a land trust in order to ensure that their land remains protected forever, even if it sold, leased, or transferred to a new owner.

As part of the agreement, Western Reserve Land Conservancy’s stewardship staff will walk the length of the land each year to ensure that the property follows protected property guidelines, according to Emily Bacha, director of communications and marketing.

“They make sure that Phyllis and Jean’s conservation dreams are upheld, even if the property changes hands,” Bacha said.

For DeMark, it’s the property’s surprises that make it worth protecting — the good and the bad. The 74-year-old recalled how on New Year’s Day, a hawk perched just outside while she was having lunch. On another occasion 15 years ago, a pair of unaccounted-for peacocks showed up in her backyard in what would become a six-year residency.

DeMark also joked about another unexpected part of the property, one that over the years has become less of a surprise and more of a chore.

“Raccoons,” she said. “They crawl out of the Chance Creek ravine when they get hungry in the summertime. One summer, we had as many as 23 of them removed.”

According to Bacha, 25 acres is on the smaller side for conservation easement land donations, having received a 199-acre donation in Richland County on the same day. However, Bacha said that the value of the natural resources on DeMark and Hays’ property convinced Western Reserve Land Conservancy to preserve it.

Western Reserve Land Conservancy has permanently preserved more than 700 properties in northern and eastern Ohio totaling 52,000-plus acres. Those interested in granting conservation easements on their properties are encouraged to contact Andy McDowell at (440) 528-4150 or

Contact Lucas Fortney at 329-7155 or

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