There can be considerable confusion about open space ownership and public access on Open Space properties. Here is a brief explanation.
Land that The Salem Land Trust Owns: Private landowners may donate or sell the land they wish to have forever preserved in its natural state to an organization such as The Salem Land Trust, or other nonprofit conservation organizations with federal 501(c)(3) non-profit tax status. Such non-profits do not have to pay local property taxes on the land they own outright, and the IRS considers gifts of land or funds to them charitable gifts for public benefit. The Salem Land Trust’s Preserves are all open to the public free of charge for passive recreation such as hiking, nature study or bird watching, or for simple relaxation and enjoyment.
Conservation of natural areas provides benefits to our economy, our health, and our happiness. They are essential for clean air and water and for preservation of our native plants and animals. All Americans have a shared responsibility to protect the natural world, to use only what we need, to live sustainably, and to use land more wisely, The Salem Land Trust’s donors, members and volunteers are dedicated to protecting land, water and wildlife, and to passing on the benefits of nature’s beauty and natural resources to all future generations.
Preserved lands (or easements) may prevent the significant costs to the Town of residential development; costs that are usually not offset by the property taxes collected on the development. So the long-term tax consequences to the Town by such purchases are likely to be financially, as well as environmentally, beneficial.
A Private Conservation Easement through the sale or donation of development rights, also known as a “conservation restriction” on a deed, is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust, conservation organization (like The Salem Land Trust) or government agency (Town, State, Federal) permanently limiting a property’s use. The land still belongs to the private landowner and the owner still pays Town property taxes on the land under easement. Tax benefits to property owners who desire a conservation restriction to be placed on a deed would be in deductions for the donation portion of the restriction, from Federal or State income taxes. Property owners have the right and responsibility to control the land to ensure privacy, security, and maintenance, as with any other privately owned parcel. Whether or not to allow public access is the decision of the landowner.