Growing Greener Spaces

Edmonton & Area Land Trust adds the JBJ McDonald Conservation Land to its portfolio

Nature enthusiast Joanne McDonald has explored countless wild places in the Edmonton area, but she has a new favourite: a 130-acre parcel of pristine forest, wetlands and grasslands bordering Lily Lake Natural Area, west of Edmonton. The property provides habitat for more than 80 species of birds, as well as larger animals including wolves, black bears, cougars, moose and deer.

McDonald visited the site for the first time this spring. “The sun was shining and there was a classic, blue Alberta sky,” she says. “It was magical.”

Also magical? The story behind how this secluded spot became a protected natural area that bears her name, the JBJ McDonald Conservation Land. It began in 2020, when McDonald decided she was ready to retire after a career in community relations and stakeholder engagement at Capital Power. She met with a financial advisor to iron out details in her financial plan, including charitable giving in retirement.

There are so many non-profits worth supporting, but McDonald hoped to help causes with long-term, wide-ranging benefits to the community. She felt the Edmonton & Area Land Trust (EALT), which secures land for nature conservation and the public to enjoy at no cost, fit the bill. EALT was created in 2007 through a partnership with Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF) and five other organizations, and now stewards 15 properties in the Edmonton area, including the JBJ McDonald Conservation Land.

McDonald’s financial advisor explained that she could donate the considerable stock options she’d acquired during her years of work. McDonald thought about exercising the options and donating the cash proceeds, but that meant a hefty income tax bill. Donating the stock options directly significantly reduced the tax bill and allowed her to make an even bigger gift.

In early 2021, McDonald approached EALT’s executive director, Sheila Campbell, about the donation and her desire to seed the purchase of a new property for conservation. Because EALT hadn’t received stock options before, ECF staff members were instrumental in taking care of the technical details. By fall 2021, the donation was complete. On EALT’s behalf, ECF directed 80 per cent into an endowment fund for the purchase of new land (the JBJ McDonald Capital Fund) and the remaining 20 per cent into a fund for its long-term maintenance (the JBJ McDonald Conservation Land Stewardship Endowment Fund).

Then EALT started fundraising. Campbell estimated it would take between one and three years, given rising property costs. In December, EALT launched a holiday giving campaign and donors responded with $6,000 in contributions. Around this time, EALT also received $26,500 in donations from three ECF donor-advised endowment funds (the Don & Joan Stanley Fund, the Slavik Family Fund and the Kouri Family Fund), which Campbell directed to the capital fund. Then, an anonymous donor came through with a $15,000 donation for land securement. This was all in addition to EALT’s own capital fund, which donors had been contributing to over the years and totalled almost $50,000.

“All of those things together meant that in the new year, we had enough money to be seriously looking for properties,” says Campbell. “This is really exciting for a land trust.”

Looking to purchase land was a first for EALT, which had secured its other properties via landowner donations.

Just as the funding had come together at record speed, the right property appeared faster than anyone had expected. In February, Campbell was perusing online real estate listings and found one that bordered the Lily Lake Natural Area and was just 800 metres east of the Lu Carbyn Nature Sanctuary (LCNS), another EALT property. “From a land management perspective and from a habitat perspective, it made a lot of sense,” she says.

When they contacted the property’s realtor, they hit a snag: The owner had secured a buyer and the paperwork was in motion. EALT’s good luck returned when the conservation-minded realtor offered to ask the buyer to reconsider in the interests of nature conservation. To everyone’s delight, he did. “A lot of stars needed to align in those six months to make it all happen,” says Campbell. “Everyone really came together, inspired by Joanne’s desire to do something good with her stock options.”

EALT took possession of the new property in April, and since then, EALT’s conservation team and volunteers have been readying the property for the public to enjoy, doing everything from establishing trails to putting up signage. This work is being supported by a community grant from ECF, which seems fitting. “They’ve been a tremendous partner from the beginning,” says Campbell.

This article comes from the Fall 2022 edition of Legacy in Action. Read the full issue.