By James Dungeon
[Editor’s note: The following interview was culled from conversations between the reporter and Jessica Hernreich, executive director of the Ecosa Institute. Find out more about the Ecosa Institute and its “Forever Dells” campaign at Ecosa.Org/donate and GoFundMe.Com/forever-dells.]
What is the Ecosa Institute and what do you do?
Ecosa is an ecological design school here in Prescott. Our mission is protect and preserve the natural environment and, thus, the human environment, through education in design. We take 15 students from different backgrounds from all over the world and take them through our 15-week full immersion program that crosses multiple disciplines including graphic design, product design, architectures, landscape, and more. … We’ve been in Prescott since 2000. Our founder, Tony Brown, has been a longtime resident of Prescott and an English transplant. As an architect, he’s worked all over the country and found his way to the Southwest via Arcosanti and Paolo Soleri.
Recently, you’ve been promoting your “Forever Dells” campaign. What is that?
Ecosa currently owns beautiful and ecologically diverse lands in the Dells, which, if you don’t know, are north of Willow Lake. We want to establish a conservation easement from those 47 acres. Our mission is to preserve the natural environment and thus the human environment through education in design, and we believe that putting that land up as a conservation easement is very much not just talking our talk but walking our talk.
It’s a crowdfunding effort, correct?
It’s part a crowdfunding, part a regular fundraising campaign to raise the $60,000 it would take to get “forever protection” for permanent stewardship and legal defense as a conservation easement via CALT, the Central Arizona Land Trust.
What is a conservation easement, anyway?
That’s important to understand, especially because a lot of people ask why, if we already own the land, how it isn’t preserved. We’d love to say that it is, but people change in any organization and priorities could change. Because we own the land, this would be our way of making sure it’s preserved in perpetuity. A conservation easement is granting the land to a qualified land trust in a legally binding, permanent way. It prevents subdivision and additional development of the land, though it remains in private ownership. The land trust makes an annual visit to make sure the terms of the easement are respected. A conservation easement is really the only way to protect this acreage in perpetuity. It allows for the protection of the resources. In all cases, the land is kept in private ownership and remains on the tax roll. It’s important to note that Ecosa won’t really get a tax benefit from this because we don’t meet the threshold for that. We’re doing this for conservation.
Does Ecosa already have any such easements?
We don’t; this would be our first one. We were gifted the land from a donor with the intention of Ecosa having a home base, a sort of campus or landmark, but we don’t feel like we’re large enough to take on a capital campaign like that right now. You really have to crawl before you can walk. The most important thing right now, phase one, is to protect that land in perpetuity. This is the Granite Dells we’re talking about. To share a quote from our GoFundMe page, at GoFundMe.Com/forever-dells, “The Granite Dells will always be a sacred home for me. It is so unique and magnificent and deserves to be protected from further development.” Many people move to Prescott because of the natural environment here, and the Dells are a significant part of that. That said, we’re a design school and we are in no way against development. We’re architects at the end of the day, but we really advocate for smart growth and including space and land for preservation of resources. We want things to be balanced. With this land, yes, we recognize the need for growth, but we know we need to preserve this part of the natural environment.
What can you tell us about the first time you, personally, saw the Dells?
The first time I saw The Dells was back in college. I’m a Prescott College alumni. I took a rock climbing class and we went out to The Dells. It was the first place I had ever climbed that actually made me feel successful at it. I remember getting to the top of a rock and looking around and seeing how this granite is just coming up out of the earth vertically and looking at the landscape around it, more or less flat, and looking north to see the Bradshaws and the Butte in the distance. It was so strikingly different than anything I had ever seen before and, in that moment, I fell in love with it.
So, Geology 101, what’s it doing there?
That vertical granite uplift, that strata is indicative of a lot of areas in the Southwest that used to be at the bottom of the ocean. That just blows my mind. I went on to study hydrology and get my master’s in hydrologic engineering and climate science. I’m continually blown away by the power of water to shape our world.
So how can people get involved?
We encourage people to make large donations directly through the Ecosa Institute, via Ecosa.Org/donate, or write us a check payable to Ecosa with “Forever Dells” in the memo. We’ve also got sponsorships and a lot of support from local businesses. There’s, of course, our GoFundMe page. [Editor’s Note: As of the time of this interview, Ecosa had raised $7,528 of its $30,000 goal via GoFundMe, representing 55 people in four months.] In addition, Ecosa has raised funds and sponsorships directly. All together Ecosa has raised approximately $15,000. The reason we chose GoFundMe was because even though they take a certain percentage of the money, it’s an open-ended campaign and we receive the money no matter what mark me make. … It’ll probably take us through the winter and hopefully we can place the property under a conservation easement by next spring. We’ve done all the background work for putting the property under a conservation easement. That involves a series of biological and geological studies so there’s a baseline, a benchmark to measure from. We’ve done all of that out of house and right now we just need the money to seal the deal. Best-case scenario, someone would walk in tomorrow with a $45,000 check and we could hand over the easement.
Just for the record, considering the confusion given the names, “Forever Dells” has nothing to do with Save the Dells?
Correct. Ecosa’s “Forever Dells” campaign is not related to the Save the Dells Movement. That being said, we share some of the same overarching goals — that is, conserving The Granite Dells for future generations and from too much development. What we can do, right now, is permanently protect these 47 acres. … I’d like to stress that we’re not in competition with each other. What Save the Dells is doing, and doing very well, is raising awareness about what’s happening locally with proposed development. They’re running an amazing awareness and educational campaign. What we’re doing, though, is running this campaign to permanently protect these 47 acres.
Find out more about the Ecosa Institute and its “Forever Dells” campaign at Ecosa.Org/donate and GoFundMe.Com/forever-dells.
James Dungeon is a figment of his own imagination. And he likes cats. Contact him at JamesDungeonCats@Gmail.Com.