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Land Trusts Merge to Form Royal River Conservation Trust

The New Gloucester Preservation Trust, North Yarmouth Land Trust, Yarmouth Land Trust and Friends of the Royal River (FORR) recently merged, forming the Royal River Conservation Trust (RRCT). While FORR was a watershed based group serving eight communities, each of the other groups operated in a single town. When this process started all of the groups were unstaffed and struggling to keep up with the many tasks involved in operating a successful conservation organization.

Approximately six years ago, Directors of the region’s land trusts began talking about the benefits of consolidating their efforts as a way to strengthen land conservation and stewardship efforts in the region. Because FORR was the only regional group, the decision was made to broaden its mission to include land conservation, and to then have it serve as the merged entity for the other trusts. The idea grew into a reality over the course of six years, many discussions, and increasingly collaborative work. Ultimately the concept gelled during a facilitated session in which over 25 board members from the area’s land trusts gathered to discuss the pros and cons of a merger.

Long term sustainability and creation of efficiencies were viewed as significant benefits of merging, as was the idea of having a regional land conservation force that would have staff to lead and manage the ongoing efforts. A common concern of participants was the potential loss of local identity. In agreeing that the pros outweighed the cons, the group set out to legally merge the organizations while looking at ways to maintain local identity.

At times the process was difficult. “In merging their organizations, some people were concerned that the core strength of their work had been in its very local context. As we move ahead, it is vital that a feeling of ownership and local pride be maintained, while creating a stronger organization and stronger conservation region wide” says Henry Nichols, Executive Director of the Royal River Conservation Trust.

With the legal work complete, the Royal River Conservation Trust is moving ahead on proactive land conservation projects, stewardship, and organizational effectiveness. The group has developed a regional conservation vision and plan that will guide its efforts. To meet this goal and maintain local identity RRCT is forming local groups that will reach out to land owners within conservation focus areas generating projects and support for the organization.

It is easy to see that the merging of four organizations resulted in significant stewardship responsibilities for RRCT. To ensure RRCT is meeting its obligations and adhering to Land Trust Standards and Practices, the group plans to hire a second staff person.

While the ink is still wet on the official documents, the Royal River Conservation Trust is optimistic that land conservation in the communities of the Royal River watershed will prosper under the new organization. Jane Arbuckle, who has been involved in this effort since discussions began, is optimistic about the future, “Now we can really step up to the challenges ahead of us – with a strength and level of sustainability that we couldn’t muster before. After all, we’re talking about perpetuity here, not just the next 10 or 20 years."