In the three years since the Haywood County commissioners authorized a new “enhanced voluntary agricultural district” ordinance, 15 Bethel-area landowners have now placed more than 1,000 acres into the program.
“This total represents real progress in our efforts to protect Bethel’s rural heritage,” said Bill Holbrook, chairman of the Bethel Rural Community Organization’s Rural Preservation Committee. “We have this great new tool for land conservation, and landowners are putting it to good use.”
Through the ordinance, often referred to by its initials as “EVAD,” landowners volunteer to keep their land in agricultural, forestry or horticultural use for at least ten years in return for certain benefits, such as a higher percentage of cost-share funds for conservation projects. A more basic agricultural district option is also available, with a more flexible timeframe, but fewer benefits. The Haywood Soil and Water Conservation District manages both programs, with Haywood County’s Agricultural Advisory Board responsible for review and approval of applications to the programs.
“We’ve also been active in promoting permanent conservation easements to keep Bethel rural for the long term,” added Holbrook, “but the EVAD program provides a valuable intermediate option while landowners consider more permanent conservation easements and while we work to secure grant funds to help pay for those easements.”
Landowners outside the Bethel Community have also embraced the EVAD option, with 14 landowners elsewhere in Haywood County enrolling another 1,500 acres into the program.
Funding to help promote the EVAD program in Haywood County comes from the Pigeon River Fund, which has embraced the idea of protecting rural lands in order to protect the region’s high water quality from the impacts often associated with more intensive land development.
To learn more about EVAD, contact Leslie Smathers with the Haywood Soil and Water Conservation District at 828.452.2741, extension 3. To learn more about rural conservation efforts in the Bethel Community, contact George Ivey, coordinator, Bethel Rural Preservation Project, at 828.648.2710. All inquiries are handled confidentially and place the landowner under no obligation.