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Conservation, Acre by Acre

The Frisbies of Woodstock have taken restoring their property to a new level by working with The Land Conservancy of McHenry County.

In 1993, Hugh and Marlene Frisbie purchased farmland outside of Woodstock where they built their home, raised their children, Catherine and Brandon, opened a plant nursery, and began restoring the farm fields to native prairie, wetland and woodland habitat.

Their move to rural Woodstock was a homecoming for Hugh. “I grew up in Woodstock and my family has been in the county since 1839 when my great-great-grandmother Sarah Colby moved to McHenry County at age 6,” he explained. “Sarah married Robert Sherburne after he moved to the county in the mid-1850s. That branch of my family lived in the Greenwood/Ringwood/McHenry area of the county for more than a century.”

The Frisbies’ land restoration – which started out as a way to improve habitat for hunting and wildlife viewing – turned into a multiyear endeavor to restore the natural communities that were once found on the land. “We planted oaks where oak woodlands once grew and farm drains were removed to allow wetland areas to flood again,” Hugh said. “Now, tallgrass prairie species like Indian grass and big bluestem blow in the breeze across dozens of acres that were once part of the vast prairie that covered the central portion of the United States.”

True Leaders in Conservation

The more restoration the Frisbies completed on their own land, the deeper their interest in conservation grew. “Restoring the land wasn’t enough — we were moved to help nurture the local conservation community as well,” Marlene said.

Marlene joined the board of the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County where she served for several years. Hugh joined the board of the McHenry County Conservation Foundation where he served for six years, including two as chair.

Although their service on those boards concluded several years ago, their involvement in area conservation efforts continues. Marlene recently concluded a two-year term as chair of the City of Woodstock’s Environmental Commission and Hugh serves on the board of Openlands, a regional land conservation organization based in Chicago.

The Frisbies’ conservation ethic extends beyond the land to include energy conservation, too. A few years ago, they installed a geothermal heating and cooling system that relies on a heat pump and network of underground, liquid-filled pipes that tap into the constant temperature underground to cool air in summer and heat it in winter.

“The payback on the system is about 10 years through dramatically reduced utility costs, especially when solar panels supply about one-third of their household electricity,” Hugh said.

When Honda released the 70-mile-per-gallon Insight gas-electric hybrid car, the couple was  among the first in the area to purchase one, dramatically reducing their need for gasoline. Last year, they were one of the first families in the area to purchase Nissan’s all-electric LEAF. Later this year, they will be acquiring their second all-electric car.

Last year, they placed 56 acres of their 61-acre property into a permanent conservation easement with The Land Conservancy of McHenry County.

The easement allows the Frisbies to continue using the property as they have for nearly 20 years and prevents anyone in the future from developing the property for any use other than conservation. They still live there, swim in the pond, hunt deer and ducks, and raise chickens, and plan on raising goats someday. “We hope maybe Catherine and Brandon will choose to live here one day after the house becomes too much for us to keep up,” Marlene said.

Regardless of what the future holds, the Frisbie family will always have roots in the community through its decision to preserve the land.

“We can rest easy knowing that all of the work we have put into restoring and nurturing a sanctuary for people and nature will be preserved even after we no longer own the land,” Marlene added.

More About Conservation Easements

A conservation easement is a way one can protect the conservation values of one’s land while continuing to own it. It is a permanent legal agreement between a landowner and a nonprofit conservation group or a government agency that defines future uses of the land to ensure that the owner’s conservation goals for the property are upheld forever.

A conservation easement can guarantee that the trees on the land will never be cut down, for example, or that the property will remain farmland.

Landowners with a conservation easement live on and use the property as they always have — whether that means managing it for habitat, farming the land, or maintaining the scenic, open character of the land. The easement ensures that the land must be maintained in a natural, scenic and/or open character by all future landowners. Find more information about procuring an easement in McHenry County at

1,920 Protected Acres and Counting

The Land Conservancy (TLC) was incorporated in 1991 as a not-for-profit corporation for the purpose of working with private landowners in McHenry County who wished to leave a permanent legacy of undeveloped natural and agricultural land through the donation of permanent conservation easements.

The first easement donated to TLC was the Clark Sisters’ Wildflower Preserve on 4 acres at the northwest corner of Route 120 and Thompson Road in Greenwood.

Since those early days, the organization has accepted the donation of 67 conservation easements that together preserve more than 1,700 acres of land throughout McHenry County. The majority of TLC’s preserved land is on the tax rolls, as it is still owned by local families.

TLC also owns 220 acres of land that it acquired through donation or purchase.

The land preserved by TLC would otherwise have remained unprotected, as it was not slated for acquisition by any public agency.

TLC is funded by donations from members, grants and fundraisers like the Art of the Land benefit held each September.

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