Learn how Greenville County is preserving its natural and historical gems in today’s conversation with Alex Reynolds, a board member of the Greenville County Historic and Natural Resources Trust. We dive into the trust’s mission, formation, and triumphs, exploring how the trust has successfully attracted $7.20 for every county dollar invested. Discover inspiring projects like the Paris Mountain Project and the preservation of a historic YWCA building, while learning about the trust’s commitment to transparency and communication. Don’t miss this fascinating conversation about safeguarding Greenville County’s natural and historic treasures!
Greenville County Historic and Natural Resources Trust Website.
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Katy Smith: In 2019, Greenville County received projections that it could lose 200 square miles of natural land to development without measures to direct growth.
The county’s 2020 comprehensive plan calls for the identification and protection of critical open space and important rural vistas as a top priority for the county, along with developing strong and durable partnerships to protect tourism, parks, and recreation. The Greenville County Historic and Natural Resources Trust was created by County Council to do just. Today we’ll speak with Alex Reynolds, who is an appointed member of this new trust board about the role of the trust and some of its accomplishments to date. We’ll also hear about the value of getting involved on a board or commission and how you’ll get just as much out of your service as you give.
I am so pleased to be here today with Alex Reynolds, who is appointed by County Council as the District 20 representative on the Greenville County Historic and Natural Resources Trust. He’s here today to talk about all the great things that the Greenville County Historic and Natural Resources Trust does.
Alex Reynolds: Yes, I’m, I’m really excited to be here today. Thanks so much for, uh, having me on.
Katy Smith: Thanks, Alex. Can you start by telling us about why is there a historic and natural resources trust?
Alex Reynolds: This is gonna probably be shocking news to everyone, but Greenville County is growing. I know you’ve probably, if you’re regular listeners to this podcast, I know I am. This is a novel message for you. No, but Greenville County is growing a lot. Right. And part of that growth especially the parts of it that were called out and identified in the 2019 county comprehensive plan was just the staggering amount of development that would happen if development continued at its current pace.
That comprehensive plan laid out several different strategies the county should employ to try to control that growth and make sure that growth happens in a good way. Growth is good, right? We need growth. Sprawling growth. Growth doesn’t happen in a way that is thoughtful and controlled to the degree that you can control it, really can go eat up all of the special places that make Greenville County what we love. Right? I’m not from here originally. I’m from East Tennessee and when I, when I came down here about approaching 20 years ago at this point. I remember in my mind I thought South Carolina was the beach.
And I got down here and I looked up. We have all these really beautiful, natural and historic places scattered throughout the county that really do make the county what it is, right? And one of the tools that the county’s comprehensive plan called out, among the many tools, was the creation of the Historic and Natural Resources Trust, which basically works as an entity to fund the protection of properties throughout the county.
Katy Smith: Got it. Got it. Well, I’m so appreciative that it exists because it’s, you know, when the 2019 plan was being pulled together and making these dramatic projections about how much land we would lose if we didn’t put some strategies in place. While it seemed likely, it also seemed hard to get your head around and in just a couple years, it’s amazing to see some of that already happen.
So tell us about how the trust came to be put in place to get working on it.
Alex Reynolds: Yeah, it was actually one of the final acts that county council did in 2020. We’ve just started the 2023 legislative sessions. Right? The 2021 was also the beginning of a new legislative session, but one of the final acts of 2020 was the creation of the trust. So they created the trust.
Later in 2021, they funded the trust. So the trust uh, was created and funded in late 2020, early 2021. We’ve had to come together and initially just form right?
We had to adopt our own rules. Creating a county entity, as it turns out, is both harder and easier than I thought it would be. We have an ordinance, right? Much like any, anything else that happens in Greenville County an ordinance is passed. Obviously we talk about the zoning ordinances and those sorts of things a lot, but an ordinance was passed that created the trust.
So basically that ordinance that established to the trust is kind of like our constitution if you think
Katy Smith: Ahuh, that makes sense.
Alex Reynolds: It, lays out what we do. It actually lays out all the criteria that we judge projects that are submitted to us by. It lays out how many funding cycles we have, it, it lays out all of those sorts of things.
There are then, however, a few things that we, at our own discretion as a board, we have to set up our committees, appoint people to be on those committees. And then actually work to implement what that ordinance lays out. So it was actually really exciting for me. I’m, I’m a younger person. I’ve not ever been involved in something like that. To, to get, to take part in building something like that.
And for me, I very quickly, I’ve got a communications background, got involved on the communications committee. . And so it was like, okay, how do you, how do you set up a website for a government entity, right? And like, just all these questions that, you know, you’ve never really thought through. And there’s like the whole government procurement process.
So, so it was just diving into all the details of that and figuring out, okay, how do we, how do we build this thing? And that’s, that’s just not even getting to how do we start accepting projects and how do we start figuring out, okay, how do we actually do the work that we’ve been put here to do.
Katy Smith: Okay. I wanna come back to that. But speaking about the funding and the projects, so you were formed, you, you all were appointed to make this board. You figured out some of the rules you would use to make decisions by. So tell me, how does the trust get its funds and how do you decide what projects to spend the funds on?
Alex Reynolds: It’s a great question. So the trust currently gets its funding as an appropriation in the biannual budget. We were funded at a million dollars per year. So $2 million for the two fiscal years. That funding was allocated to us, goes into a separate account that Greenville County holds. So we, it’s not like I’m we, we took a check for a million dollars and walked down to a bank and deposited it.
Greenville County holds that money in trust for the trust. The, the way the process works is what we would call eligible entities are the organizations that exist out in the community. Uh, normally nonprofits, they can also be government entities.
Again, what an eligible entity is, is actually defined in our trust. It’s basically who is eligible to receive money from you. A lot of times that it’s groups like nature land trust, right? We’ve worked a lot with them. Actually, the Paris Mountain Expansion project that I got in the news a few weeks, uh, months back, I guess at this point was actually conducted by Nature Land Trust. Upstate forever is another one of those groups. Actually any of the county entities or, or cities. So, Greenville County Recreation could be an applicant or one of the city parks and rec departments could be an applicant. They haven’t applied. But essentially they can identify projects of a historic or natural nature.
So we can say, Hey, I’ve got this historic home, I’ve got this vista on the side of Paris Mountain, or, or whatever. They identify a piece of property and say, Hey, we want to protect it. Or most likely what happens is actually the property owner says, oh, I’ve got a piece of property and I want to protect.
And a lot of times that’s where, that’s where another use case comes out, where, like farmland for example, we don’t really think about farmland very much, but it’s really hard to make a living as a farmer, right? And what we see, if you live out in the northern and southern parts of the county, this isn’t gonna be news to you.
Developers can come in and offer way more money than they’re making on their farm so the developer will come in and buy that farm. That farming family may not want to sell. It may be a generational farm that they have. They may not wanna sell, but financially they may need to. What this gives them the option to do is say, Hey, we can actually put an easement on that property. We fund projects that are brought to us by eligible entities and those type, those projects typically fall into one of two categories.
They’re either fee simple purchases, which just like when you go and buy a piece of real estate that you know, hope, maybe you’ve got a house on or whatever that’s a fee simple purchase, right? That is you buying that property. The other type of acquisition that an eligible entity can do is what we would call a conservation easement.
So if you think about it, if you, if you’ve got a home or, or some piece of land, right? There’s likely easements on it, right? A lot of times those are with Duke Energy or Piedmont Natural Gas or whatever, right? A conservation easement actually works in a very similar way. When you think about that easement that’s been given to you by that utility company, right?
What you have done is you have sold the rights, certain rights to a piece of your property to someone else. In the case of a conservation easement, what you’ve done is you’ve sold the, what we would call development rights. The landowner maintains ownership of their property, but they’ve basically just said, in exchange for some money, we won’t develop this.
We won’t do certain things with it. So those are the two types of engagements that we can fund through an eligible entity. And that’s where those eligible entities are out there working with property owners. And I think that’s the other big thing. A lot of times I think people have in their mind that, hey, people are just out there grabbing property from private landowners, and that’s not.
All of these types of projects really have to start with a friendly property owner, right? Like a property owner basically has to be, I want to do this. And at any point, at any point they can be like, oh, nope, this isn’t what I wanted to do and I’m done. So it’s, it’s really a very partnership oriented thing, right?
It has to be a partnership between that property owner, between that eligible entity who’s going to either buy the property or hold the easement, and then the funding partners, which is where the Greenville County Historic and Natural Resources trust comes into play.
Katy Smith: That makes a lot of sense. I can imagine that if you’re a family that has farmland, that you’ve treasured for generations, but it might be difficult to make ends meet as a farmer or you’re getting pressured to sell it. This is a way for you to preserve the heritage of the land and remove that financial barrier.
If you are a nonprofit or a town that has a great historic amenity, a town hall or something like that, and you can’t keep it up, this is a way to engage another partner to help make it work. So I can imagine having.. There’s probably a lot of friendly partners out there that need help that can be provided through something like this.
Alex Reynolds: That’s right. And, and that’s, and that’s really where this is a partnership, right. And that’s where we are, as board members, out working with people, talking with people. And it, it’s really been exciting as the trust has grown. Obviously, when, when the trust was initially created, it is a novel thing, right? There aren’t that many of these types of entities in Greenville County, so I get it.
Katy Smith: What I also wonder is if the value of local dollars.. It helps show that our local community cares about a project so that a state or federal or private entity would say, okay, well if they care then we care too. But I wonder if there are sometimes or may in the future be projects that are really small and are very locally important, but might not just be big enough to get on the radar of a large federal entity.
Is that another function that a local trust can play?
Alex Reynolds: So right now now for every county dollar that has gone into a project, uh, of the nine projects we funded, we, that has currently attracted $7 and 20 cents from outside of Greenville County.
Right? So, so our money is multiplied and that’s really where this becomes a good investment on the county’s end, right? Because what are we doing? We’re preserving that quality of life. That quality of life is bringing people into the county, that is hopefully increasing the tax base in, in ways that are good growth, right?
They’re not, you know, as it turns out, paving over the pristine farmland in Southern Greenville County, for example. And we are also then making that money go further than when it was given to us. Right.
Katy Smith: That is so great. Well, can you mention some of the other projects that you’ve funded so far?
Alex Reynolds: Oh yes, certainly. I obviously have talked about that paris Mountain Project. It was in the news.
We have a lot of great experience between our current chair, Carlton Owen and our previous past chair Doug Harper. They bring a lot of experience, so it’s, it’s been really fun for me just to get, to learn from them, uh, how this, how these processes work. But one of the projects that came in, uh, was actually, uh, from the Piedmont Historic Society down in Southern Greenville County.
They had an original Y W C A building that exists in downtown Piedmont that wanted to be preserved. And that is actually a great example of a smaller project that came in. We actually helped them apply to the state conservation bank as well. And so it was our funding plus the state funding, plus a few other things that some of our board members were able to help them with.
So, so it’s not like we’re just sitting back in a, in a, in waiting for stuff to come in. Like we’re actively out in the community talking with people. I’m in District 20, right? So there’s a project there that hopefully will eventually come to fruition to preserve some things around the Edwards Mill area for example. there’s a lot of those sorts of things that we’re working towards. If you wanna see some of these other projects, we have our website at gchhnrt.org. That’s gchnrt.org, andyou can go there and we’ve really tried to make it clear. These are public funds, so transparency is key, right?
We wanna make sure that we are being very clear about what we’re doing with this uh, money. And you can see all these projects including River Falls, which is another great one that I haven’t mentioned yet. But that was the expansion of Jones Gap State Park.
That was one of our first projects to close. So we’ve, we’ve got a lot of projects that I’m really proud of and it’s been really fun to, to be a part of getting this entity up and running.
We’re very excited about the support we’ve seen, especially as the trust has grown from really all members of Greenville County Council and that’s ultimately where our, our funding comes from. Right? We know that I, I am appointed by Steve Shaw, the district 20 county councilman. All of our representatives on the trust board are single member district. So basically that means that for every county council district, there is a person on the trust board. So we’re all one-to-one appointed there. So we all have good relationships with our county council members who represent us. And we’re really excited, especially as they’re moving into the 2023 budget cycle, we’re really excited for the trust to hopefully be, uh, renewed for its funding in the coming years.
Katy Smith: That’s great. I want to come back to you being on the trust board and that you are a younger person, you are younger than many of the guests that we have in. And I really appreciate you being willing to serve in this way and some of the new skill sets and perspective that you bring. Folks, I really do wanna direct your attention to the website of gchnrt.org that you can take a look and learn more, but that’s really Alex’s doing.
What have you found that you bring to the trust as a younger person and what you are benefiting from as a younger person on the trust. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Alex Reynolds: Yes, certainly. I, think I’ve tried to hone the skill of how to communicate these really complex things in a way that hopefully makes them more accessible. And I’m always trying to get better, but I think in my mind, that’s what this really comes down to.
Government and really all these processes, if someone doesn’t take time to make them accessible and make them understandable, then they just feel like these entities that are out there, what are they doing? Who knows? Are they publicly funded?
Where, you know, it’s just hard to even understand what these things are that you’re talking about. And so with the trust, I was, again, it was Councilman Shaw. I’m from, uh, district 20. So Councilman Shaw called me and was like, Hey, we’ve got this new trust board. I think you should, you know, think about applying to it.
It sounds like something you might be interested in. So I applied to it and, and get in and I realized like I am, you know, there’s a lot of other great valuable skillsets on our trust board, but I was kind of the person that had some real communications experience and how do we build websites?
How do we set up email lists? How do we go do some, you know, basic search engine optimization? And I mean, it’s all these little marketing things that like I have honed in other areas, but I think it’s valuable to bring it into this context. When we started working towards how do we roll out the communication strategy for this, I started looking around at some of the other conservation entities, uh, like ours around the state.
And I, it was just really hard for me to even understand how some of this stuff works. So I tried to approach it with, with some great team members involved as well in, in trying to say, okay, how can I make this so understandable that you can just look at it and it is very clear. And Carlton and Doug on our, our board, really were like, how, how do we make this so that we can have a dashboard, right? So that anybody can just look at it at any time and know exactly what we’ve done, where the money’s gone, what the return on that money’s been. Um, and so I, I think they’ve got a great vision of what that can be. And then I am pretty sharp, I think, with the tools to go then and implement it and, and make some great suggestions along the way.
Katy Smith: That’s great. I mean, I think clear communications and transparency helps residents whose tax dollars are going to it know how their tax dollars are being spent. It helps potential projects know how to find you. And people know some of the beautiful spots that have been preserved as, as a result of, of your hard work.
Well Alex, I’m grateful for your service. I know you’re a person like me who enjoys going to County Council and getting involved. And I would encourage those of you listening, if you’re curious about how to get involved, we do have so many great boards and commissions at the county and in each of our municipalities.
And we’ll put a link in our show notes about those boards and commissions and how to get involved cause we’d appreciate your service in that as well.
Alex Reynolds: If I might add, I’ll just say, I can’t echo that enough. These types of things feel like things that you’re just like, I’m not gonna have time for this. There has been very few things as personally rewarding for me as getting involved in, in this work and getting to just work alongside and learn from, and grow from.
If I’m, if I’m just even speaking very selfishly about it. Like I, I enjoy doing the good work that we’re doing. I’ve also learned so much along the way that I would not have learned in any other context. It’s just put me in situations and opportunities for me to personally learn and grow and I think benefit the community as we’re going.
And that’s really where it is a two-way street, right? We are helping others as we are also being shaped ourselves and I, and hopefully better ways. And I think that’s where community works the best.
Katy Smith: I love that. I love that. Well, thank you so much for your service. And thanks to all of you Greenville County residents who help make the Greenville County Historic and Natural Resources trust possible. And I hope you do take a look at the website and go visit some of the beautiful places that are preserved thanks to it.
Thanks for being with us, Alex.
Alex Reynolds: It’s my pleasure. Thank you so, so much for having me today, Katy.
Catherine Puckett: Simple Civics: Greenville County is a project of Greater Good Greenville. Greater Good Greenville was catalyzed by the merger of the Nonprofit Alliance and the Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy. You can learn more on our website at greatergoodgreenville.org. This is a production of the Greenville Podcast Company.
Image via Kruck20 on Canva.
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