With the launch of The Negaunee Opportunity Fund, Openlands secures $3 million for strategic land acquisition

Openlands recently announced the creation of The Negaunee Opportunity Fund with a $3 million gift from The Negaunee Foundation.

The fund will support Openlands’ land acquisition transactions across the region, including ongoing acquisitions at Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge, where 7,500 of the refuge’s 11,200 acres remain unprotected.

“The real estate market in our region waits for no one. Openlands must move quickly on strategic, high-quality parcels priced for development or risk losing forever what they have to offer in the way of beauty and ecological benefit,” said Michael Davidson, president and CEO of Openlands.

“The Negaunee Opportunity Fund equips Openlands with essential revolving capital to be nimble and opportunistic in our pursuit of the most important landscapes in the region to protect. This capital will leverage additional public and private investment to get these often complex acquisitions across the finish line,” Davidson said. “When we transfer the land to partners, that investment goes back into the fund to protect more land when the next opportunity arises, growing our capacity to increase the pace and scale of conservation for our region.”

As one of the first conservation organizations to focus on a metropolitan region, Openlands utilizes diverse models of land protection to restore and reconnect the once ubiquitous landscapes and waterways of greater northeastern Illinois.

In practice, the organization achieves its conservation goals through building strategic partnerships, offering technical assistance, engaging agencies and elected officials, and empowering local advocates to protect their most beloved natural assets.

Openlands is unconventional among land trusts in that it does not own land in perpetuity but buys and transfers it to a partner — often a public agency — to protect it for public benefit.

Openlands became an accredited land trust in 2013 and recently celebrated reaccreditation after again meeting the highest industry standards for creating, connecting, and expanding natural open space.

Since 1963, the organization has protected over 71,000 acres of land for the benefit of the region’s people and globally unique biodiversity.

Cherished open spaces saved due to Openlands’ efforts include the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, Goose Lake Prairie State Park, Openlands Lakeshore Preserve, Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge, and Chicago’s North Park Village and Global Garden Refugee Training Farm, among others.

The Negaunee Foundation gift comes after the successful acquisition of a key parcel in the Hackmatack Refuge, the 985-acre Tamarack Farm property, protected in partnership with The Conservation Fund and Illinois Audubon. The refuge includes parts of northern McHenry County and southern Walworth County in Wisconsin.

“This generous gift from The Negaunee Foundation will have a lasting impact on our region through our shared vision for thriving natural landscapes — open and enjoyed by all,” said JoAnn Seagren, Openlands board chair. “With diminishing private funds available specifically for land acquisition, The Negaunee Foundation has established itself as a philanthropic leader and champion for nature. We look forward to protecting and sharing more landscapes with people across the region through the fund and hope it inspires others to contribute to this vital work.”

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