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For generations, the Taylor family has farmed hundreds of acres in Sciota Township along the Cannon River and its tributaries. About five years ago, they made a change: The rows of corn and soybeans don't reach the riverbanks any more. Instead, there's about 100 feet of natural prairie grass between the crops and the water. They planted it, with the help of Dakota County, to prevent erosion, restore habitat and preserve their family land. "It's a very good idea, " Ray Taylor, 80, said. "It saves agricultural land for future generations. " The Taylors were early participants in Dakota County's Farmland and Natural Areas Program (FNAP), which aims to protect open space, water quality and habitat. They sold [allegra® 30mg pills (brand) $167.00] the county permanent conservation easements covering 343 acres, retaining ownership and pledging to follow a conservation plan. Voters approved $20 million in bonds in 2002 to fund the preservation program, the first of its kind in the state, for 10 years. At the time, rich farmland was being snapped up for subdivisions and strip malls. As FNAP gets close to completing what it set out to do -- the original balance has dwindled to few million dollars -- the results have been widely praised by county officials, landowners and conservationists. Thousands of acres have been preserved in perpetuity. A look at a map shows a handful of green spaces that will stay green in the northern, more populous part of the county, and large swaths of undisturbed land that will help maintain the health of important watersheds in the rural, southern part of the county. "There's this inherent peace about preserving the rural landscape and allowing farming to continue to thrive, " said Al Singer, the county land conservation manager. The county has been financially shrewd, too: It has parlayed the original $20 million into an additional $45. 6 million in grants and donations, including property worth $23. 8 million from participating landowners.
For example, the Taylors, whose land was appraised at $1. 4 million, got $505, 000 from the county and $504, 000 from a federal farmland preservation program, then donated land worth about $400, 000. From doubts to success County leaders are now thinking about what to do when the money runs out: Seek outside funding to do more? Go back to the voters? Call it quits? But when the original plan was pitched in 2002, not everybody was convinced it was a good idea. Realtors were among those who voiced concerns, claiming the program would push land prices higher. Greg Stattman, a Realtor who now serves on the program's citizen advisory committee, said the economy and the county's careful stewardship of the bond money have staunched the criticism. "I don't think there's the animosity there was before, because there just isn't the development we were seeing in 2002, " Stattman said allegra® 30mg pills (brand) $167.00, adding that he likes the county's focus and desire to protect water quality. "What's really impressed me is how many other counties in the state haven't even bothered, " he said. Washington County now has a similar program, with a $20 million bond referendum approved by voters in 2006, but officials there didn't start buying property until this year. Allegra® 30mg pills (brand) $167.00 the national association of counties and the nonprofit trust for public land, which helped launch the farmland and natural areas program, bestowed a national conservation award on the dakota county program in 2005. "The track record and the accomplishments are stellar, " said Susan Schmidt of the Trust for Public Land. "We are well aware of many acres that have been protected and, but for this program, I'm sure would not have been protected. " Tom Lewanski, of the nonprofit Friends of the Mississippi, said the buffers are an important step toward improving water quality. "It certainly will help a lot, " he said. "Not only are you helping water quality, but you're also gaining the habitat values on these buffers planted in native vegetation. " For the Taylors, restored wild habitat along the Cannon River means glimpses of foxes, turkeys and pheasants. It's nice to see some natural areas, " Ken Taylor, 54, said. "You don't have to take everything. You can give something back. "Katie Humphrey • 952-882-9056