“A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.”
— John James Audubon.
For Dan Burkhardt, that quote says it all.
Standing alongside the Katy Trail Sunday, Oct. 6, waiting for crowds to join him for the third annual family picnic at the Treloar grain elevator, Burkhardt, a St. Louis area businessman who has owned farmland in the Franklin-Warren county area the last 30 years, praised the beauty of the area along the Missouri River and stressed the need to protect it.
Cracking open a copy of a new book he edited, “Missouri River Country, 100 Miles of Stories and Scenery From Hermann to the Confluence,” Burkhardt pointed to the kind of unblemished views that make this region what it is — places like Busch Conservation Area and Shaw Nature Reserve.
Try to imagine this area without those, suggests Burkhardt. It wouldn’t be the same, he said.
Fortunately, those areas are already protected from developers, but there are thousands of equally as beautiful views and vistas that are not, he noted.
Three years ago, Burkhardt and his wife, Connie, in collaboration with the Ozarks Regional Land Trust, launched The Katy Land Trust “to protect the agricultural, scenic and natural resources along the Katy Trail in central Missouri.”
The Burkhardts, who own Bethlehem Valley Farm and Vineyards in Marthasville, a working farm where they grow grapes, cut hay and raise cattle and chickens, became the first property owners to join when they placed 200 acres of their farm in the trust through a conservation agreement.
They retain full use of the property. They can still transfer it to their children or sell it to a third-party. But no matter who owns the land — now or 100 years from now — it can never be developed once it is put in the trust.
“It can be used for farming or forestry, but it can not be developed,” said Burkhardt.
“It’s not open to the public. It’s still private property. But you’re talking about preserving the view, preserving the rural atmosphere, preserving the countryside.”
For some families where the land is being handed down and shared by siblings, the trust can avoid the kind of arguments and hurt feelings that have been known to destroy relationships.
“It really does eliminate those family feuds when people say, ‘What did Dad want to do with that land?’ Somebody says, ‘He’d want us to sell it and get as much money as we could for it.’ Somebody else says, ‘No, he wouldn’t. He’d want us to keep it.’
“So this is a way for people to take control of that and say, ‘This is what I want to happen to my land,’ ” said Burkhardt.
In exchange for placing their land in the trust, the Burkhardts realized some tax benefits. Other landowners can too.
A website for the Katy Land Trust, http://katylandtrust.org, outlines the details of how it works, or Burkhardt is eager to answer questions too.
He will be at the Washington Public Library Friday, Oct. 25, at 7 p.m. for a presentation on “Missouri River Country,” the coffee table book he edited to illustrate exactly why the land is worth protecting in a trust.
“Obviously you can never protect all of the land, but what this does is get people aware of it,” said Burkhardt. “If people are talking about conserving land, then it’s an awareness thing, and people start to realize, ‘Oh, this view that we drive by every day, this could be a subdivision.’ So it makes people think about it.”
‘A Thank-You Letter’
In his introduction to “Missouri River Country,” Burkhardt notes that the book isn’t intended as a history book or a conservation book.
“It is an appreciation book,” he writes. “It is a thank-you letter to the explorers, historians, preservationists, writers, photographers, conservationists, farmers and artists who have worked along the river.”
Whether you own land along the Katy Trail that would be eligible for the trust or not, Burkhardt feels land conservation is something all of the surrounding property owners can support.
“The whole reason we did the book was really to bring attention to what a great resource and asset this area is along the river,” he said.
“It’s kind of you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. We don’t want that to happen with places like this.”
The first 180 pages of “Missouri River Country” are essays written by prominent Missourians and glossy, colorful photos celebrating the beauty along the Missouri River. The last 12 pages, Burkhardt said with a laugh, are about the value of placing that land in a conservation trust.
“I say this a lot, but . . . to get people to conserve things, you first have to convince them that there’s something worth conserving,” he remarked.
So, in essence, the book, which will be reviewed in The Missourian’s “Novel Ideas” column this weekend, is part of an awareness campaign, just like the annual Treloar picnic.
“In many parts of the country, land trusts and conservation easements are something that everyone knows about; they’re very common. It’s like the FFA or the 4-H club. People in the countryside know what the land trust does,” he said.
Not so in Missouri, but the Burkhardts are trying to change that.
One of the early illustrations included in the book is a map of the Missouri River region, from the confluence with the Mississippi River to Hermann, painted by local artist Bryan Haynes. Burkhardt said the idea behind the map was to remind people of the history along this river.
“Our great artists . . . got inspiration from the river. Today our new artists — Billyo O’Donnell, Gary Lucy, Bryan Haynes — are doing it all over again,” he said.
The Burkhardts, who often bring visitors from other parts of the country to their farm near Marthasville, say they prefer to take Highway 94 just so they can take in the views, and their company is always impressed.
“They just can’t believe the beauty of the area,” said Burkhardt. “They just can’t believe this is an hour from St. Louis, this sort of environment.
“And our wineries . . . there’s only one other city in America that has a historic wine producing area 45 minutes away, and that’s San Francisco. But in St. Louis, we don’t talk about it.”
Knowing that sometimes the best way to educate adults is to start with children, the Burkhardts have created a coloring/activity book based on the coffee table book.
“We wanted to get kids to think about it, as a way to get their parents to think about it,” said Burkhardt.
‘Land Doesn’t Protect Itself’
People who don’t own land eligible for the Katy Land Trust may think they are exempt from this conversation, but Burkhardt says that is a mistake. It’s important to let your voice be heard.
“There are very few people who don’t enjoy the views of the countryside, but land doesn’t protect itself,” he said. “If you have unrestricted, unfettered development, at some point, it’s going to develop everything.”
People who support the mission of the Katy Land Trust can put their money where their heart is by purchasing copies of “Missouri River Country,” proceeds of which go to the Katy Land Trust, Magnificent Missouri and The Nature Conservancy to support Missouri conservation causes and to better connect Missourians with the countryside around them.
Published in partnership with Missouri Life Media, “Missouri River Country” is available for purchase at The Missouri Botanical Garden, The Smokehouse Market in Chesterfield, Bowood Farms or online at www.MagnificentMissouri.org.