In July 2013, the Spring Hollow easements were transferred from the Natural Land Institute in Rockford to The Land Conservancy of McHenry County for long-term stewardship. When established in 1977, this was the first conservation easement to preserve private property in Illinois.
When Betty Babcock passed away late last year, she left a legacy that will endure for generations to come through the stewardship and permanent preservation of this Bull Valley property.
Betty and her husband, Richard (Dick) Babcock, who passed away in 1993, inherited the land in 1949 from Dick’s parents, William and Gertrude, who purchased it in 1930. Dick (photo on right) and Betty raised six children at the place they affectionately named Spring Hollow – for its many natural springs and rolling topography. Their daughter Becky Walkington still lives on the property. “The outdoors life became a part of Dick because his father William searched for a woodsy setting after moving to Chicago from Seattle. Will purchased 65 acres in Bull Valley on Fleming Road for $50 an acre in 1930. That area was known to old-timers as “Woodstock’s picnic grounds” where natives enjoyed the wildflowers in the wooded area. Dick’s parents helped the children appreciate the joys of a rustic homesite. Will Babcock died in 1934.”
“Dick and Betty purchased the land in 1949 following his mother’s death a year earlier. They sold off enough of the parcel to buy it, keeping 40 acres. Betty’s gush of memories indicates the treasures of this land: “A rug of blue scilla arrives near the pond in early spring. This changes to a carpet of white trillium as the seasons progress.”
(The Woodstock Independent, September 22, 1993, Don Peasley.)
Richard Babcock was a lawyer, author and educator, and an internationally recognized authority on zoning and land-use regulations. He consulted on land-use and environmental law in law schools around the country. He used his skills as an attorney to author and was one of the main forces in promoting the Real Property Conservation Rights Act, which was approved by the Illinois state legislature on September 12, 1977. That law is what made it possible for private landowners to place permanent conservation restrictions (called conservation easements) on their land.
The Babcocks were the first Illinois family to enter into placing a permanent conservation easement on Spring Hollow in December 1977, making use of the law which Dick Babcock helped create. At the time, the Babcocks worked with the Natural Land Institute (NLI) in Rockford – the nearest qualified organization that could hold a permanent conservation easement.
In an article in Natural Land Institute’s newsletter in 1997, Betty reminisced, Nothing looks as it did when we came. There were only a few widely scattered homes and the dirt roads were almost impassable in the spring, adding I’m delighted with the easement. I am interested in protecting as much open space as possible in northern Illinois. It is such a special area.
Betty’s daughter Becky and her family continue to care for the land, clearing invasive species which include a few of the ornamental cultivars planted long ago by her parents and grandparents. The display of native spring wildflowers is breathtaking. Aside from all the work it takes to keep the woodlands and wetlands healthy, Becky does not take the beauty and tranquility of Spring Hollow for granted. We would always want to share the privilege of being connected to this very special piece of woodland.
Conservation easements on private land in Illinois preserve over 100,000 acres of land – land that remains in private ownership but will remain natural, open or farm land forever through the stewardship of local land trusts like NLI – and TLC. And it all started in McHenry County with Dick & Betty Babcock and Spring Hollow.