Conservation easement preserving rural vista

Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Landowner Matt Mulliniks, left, confers with Doug Rodman of the Land Trust for Tennessee about the conservation easement contract that's now preserving his property in perpetuity.

Matt Mulliniks and his wife, Allison, of Marshall County have entered into another contract that's to last forever. It's a conservation agreement for land they own next to his parents' home near Talley Station.

The contract is with The Land Trust for Tennessee "to permanently restrict development on their land," as defined by the Trust, a nonprofit organization that's to enforce the agreement which prohibits use of the land in any other way than its current use.

Creation of The Land Trust for Tennessee was a project of Phil Bredesen between his service as Nashville's mayor and governor of Tennessee. It exists to preserve the unique character of Tennessee's natural and historic landscapes and sites for future generations.

Development of land has been at a rampant pace until the housing bubble bust in the fall of 2008. Then and now, people with a sense of place and a love of their land have decided to enter into contracts that would keep things the same. Contracts are tailor-made by the Trust and other organizations. The Allen Dairy on the banks of the Duck River is an example of another custom contract. Hill View Farm at College Grove is another.

"My dad, Joe, has instilled in me a real love of land since I was a little kid," Matt Mulliniks said last week while announcing the conservation agreement that he and Allison struck with The Land Trust. "It's important to have a sense of place and this is what makes Marshall County special."

Allison says, "It's Matt's passion to preserve the land and nature in general. It is something that we both wanted. By working with the Land Trust and having an easement, we still have our land so our children can enjoy it, but it restricts the type of development that could be there in the future. Preserving nature is important... Green space is important.

Matt and Allison are Marshall County High School graduates. She studied accounting at Tennessee Tech. He learned Japanese at Rhodes College in Memphis. After college, he landed a sales job with CKNA here. It sends him around the world, so he's seen how land is consumed in Asia, Europe, South America and Mexico.

"When you travel, it's absolutely unbelievable how much land is developed," Matt said, "and to me - obviously I'm partial - southern Marshall County is the most beautiful place."

Doug Rodman, Duck River Highlands Project manager and a forester for The Land Trust, noted that territory has "good agricultural land and rolling hills." Fishing Ford Road and Cane Creek border the property that Matt and his father bought in 2005 during an auction. Joe has since sold his share of the 73 acres to Matt and Allison.

Matt and Joe removed a concrete block dairy barn and have taken steps to prepare the land for continued agricultural uses.

"Allison and I have been thinking about this (agreement with the trust) for about three years," Matt said.

Allison is a senior manager for CHAN, an auditing firm specializing in health care audits. She and Matt have two children. Joseph will be eight on Monday. Annabelle turned four today.

Doug says the Trust doesn't solicit for these agreements. Its employees and associates wait for landowners to approach the organization.

The contract allows Matt and Allison to build another home on the land and to maintain what they've got as far as structural improvements and continue with what's considered normal agricultural uses of their land. However, it's not to be subdivided for home-sites. Tracts of the 73 acres cannot be sold off. If all 73 acres are sold, or change hands, the restrictions continue to apply.

"They're willing to make that sacrifice," Doug said, acknowledging there are tax benefits from relinquishing property development rights.

The Mulliniks have a tranquil sanctuary and wildlife is attracted to the area because there is that natural setting.

"Then there's the scenic beauty" for the couple and Joe and Linda Mulliniks, Doug said. "They'll always see undeveloped land."

So will motorists driving by now and forever.