The Triangle’s leading land conservation group has a new executive director.
The Triangle Land Conservancy announced last week that it has promoted its director of development, Sandy Sweitzer, to lead the organization. Sweitzer replaces Chad Jemison, who resigned in March.
Sweitzer said Jemison was hired in 2012 to turn the conservancy around and to oversee development of a strategic plan, which was finished last June. In broad terms, it calls for continuing to protect land from development in the Triangle and working to improve the conservancy’s nature preserves that are open to the public.
“That was an important milestone for the organization, to get clarity about what our priories are,” she said.
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The conservancy has protected more than 16,000 acres in Wake, Durham, Orange, Chatham, Johnston and Lee counties, including a canoe access area on the Haw River and six preserves where Triangle residents can experience nature close to home.
The conservancy plans to open two new preserves to the public in coming years. The first, the 613-acre George and Julia Brumley Nature Preserve about two miles southeast of Hillsborough, will open by the end of next year, with about 12 miles of hiking and multi-use trails and a pond.
The conservancy bought the Brumley land in 2010 for $4.4 million with money from the state’s Clean Water Management Trust Fund and a variety of other sources, including the city of Raleigh. The property lies in the Neuse River watershed, and saving it from development helps protect Raleigh’s drinking water supply, Sweitzer said.
The other new preserve, the 409-acre Walnut Hill Farm Preserve, straddles the Wake-Johnston county line near Shotwell. It will have hiking trails that tie into the Neuse River Greenway and the Clayton Riverwalk on the Neuse trail in Johnston County, both part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
The conservancy bought the Walnut Hill property in 2013 for about $2.7 million, the largest chunk of which came from Wake County.
Sweitzer says it takes years to turn these properties into public preserves, as the conservancy works with foresters and other experts on plans for restoring and protecting various habitats and determining where and how to allow public access.
The conservancy will also work in coming years to protect farmland in Johnston County through conservation easements that will let farmers benefit from the value of their property without selling it for development.
“A lot of farmers are land rich and have a lot of development pressures,” Sweitzer said. “If we can purchase the underlying development rights from the family, they can then expand or keep their farm. It keeps it in farming in perpetuity.”
While previous Triangle Land Conservancy executive directors have had a background in science and conservation, Sweitzer, 54, brings a more general expertise in leading and building nonprofits. She worked in development with Habitat for Humanity in Durham and Orange counties and led the effort to establish the Durham Library Foundation.
Her first conservation job was with the state chapter of The Nature Conservancy seven years ago. She joined the Triangle Land Conservancy as development director in 2012 and is a natural choice to lead the organization, said its board president, John McAdams.
“Sandy is an effective and experienced leader, a calm and trusted manager, and a strong fundraiser familiar with the organization, the staff and the community,” McAdams said in a statement.