At their Aug. 2 meeting, Tudor and Cashel Township council had a virtual visit from Land’escapes Ben Samann, who was there to answer any questions council had about his land holdings, over 65, 000 acres, some of which is in Tudor and Cashel Township.
Samann bought 65,530 acres in Hastings County back in 2021 under the business name Land’escapes. He said that he and his team had been inspired by carbon capture projects across Canada, like the NCC Darkwoods Conservation Area in British Columbia when coming up with the concept for Land’escapes. More details are available at www.landescapes.org.
Land’escapes is a unique private conservation project, offering its members The Park, a private nature reserve and members only park that focuses on conservation and low impact recreation, with no motorized vehicles allowed. It boasts over 26,000 acres in south-central Ontario. Land’escapes also has a Stewardship program and a number of conservation initiatives.
Samann made a partial donation of 12,250 acres to the Nature Conservancy of Canada recently, and intends to partially donate another 8,250 acres to the NCC or other special interest groups going forward. These lands will be administered by the NCC and will be open to the general public for low impact recreational use.
Nancy Carrol, the clerk and treasurer, said that over the past few meetings, council had asked for information regarding Land’escapes and the future plans for the property that Samann owns within Tudor and Cashel.
“I invited Mr. Samann to come as a delegate and give [council] the opportunity to speak with him first-hand,” she says.
That delegation came to pass at their Aug. 2 meeting. Mayor Libby Clarke introduced Samann and thanked him for coming. She then asked council if they had any questions for him.
Councillor Roy Reeds had a question about access to the Land’escapes property, specifically for the Old Hastings Snow Riders snowmobile club. He’d been approached by for them to get access to a small corner of Samann’s property. Samann replied that he wasn’t inherently opposed to that, but his issue is that in the past others have taken advantage of that access.
“It doesn’t take long for at least a few of those people from a club, whether it’s snowmobile, ATV or whatever, to continue using that trail throughout the summer or they go off trail and assume its permission to use other trails that cross off it. So, I’m happy to talk to the snowmobile club. I’m open to any discussion but it’s not really what we’re looking to do on a regular basis I suppose,” he says.
Reeds said after the Aug. 2 meeting that he’d spoken with the snowmobile club’s president, Mike Wilton, and explained the conversation that had taken place at council. Wilton told Reeds he would reach out to the club member who had initially approached Reeds for more information and then get in touch with Samann.
Councillor Bob Bridger had a question about whether Land’escapes had adequate insurance to cover its members’ activities while on the acreage, so that it wouldn’t mean costs to the township or very little cost. Samann replied that they had about $30 million in coverage, but he felt they were engaging in much lower risk endeavors than previous uses, like ATVing and snowmobiling. He also mentioned that all his staff are wilderness first aid certified.
“So broadly speaking, we’re mitigating, but if there’s a major incident somewhere on the property, the volunteer fire department may get called. That’s also true of any other number of land owners with 1,000, or 200 or 100 acres. Again, who knows what they’re up to on their property so it’s just a potential risk but we’re doing our best to mitigate,” he says.
Clarke had a question about emergency vehicle access to the Land’escapes acreage if needed, and will emergency services have the access code to the gates. Samann responded that the problem was that others, like the hunt camps, had put up their own locks on the gates.
“I have absolutely no issue with emergency vehicles and if they need to use bolt cutters or tear down the gate and drag it halfway across the township that’s alright. We’ll happily replace it if they need to get in in case of an emergency. That will never be a problem,” he says.
Samann also mentioned that not all potential access roads into his property had gates. Some of them had fences that would be easily moved aside.
Bridger had a question about Land’escapes using due diligence for people with deeded access so they’re not precluded from entering and exiting to and from their property if said access crosses over his acreage.
Samann replied that they’d clearly put-up gates in the wrong places and that this had been rectified once they’d gotten complaints.
“In regard to the Snow Road for example, [referring to a delegation earlier in the meeting from J.A. McNaught about procuring access to his property through Snow Road, which had been gated off by Land’escapes as the road falls on their private property] the Hastings County Geographic Information System does not show that it’s a public road, but that it’s normal private land. I’m happy to have that discussion at another time once we’ve done more work on our end to research what our options are. But broadly speaking of insurance of trespassers driving ATVs across all kinds of trails at unsafe speeds, so we put a priority on blocking off to the best of our knowledge and ability some of these trails. And for the most part, as far as I know, the people who have legal access across the property have been given [that access],” he says.
Reeds had a question about members to Land’escapes having to sign liability waivers, to which Samann replied that yes, they did, from hunt camps, to recreational users to foresters.
“Anybody like that, they’re signing pretty crazy liability waivers. So, everybody is responsible for their own actions. So broadly speaking, we have a lot of rules in place, and a lot of enforcement in place,” he says.
Responding to a question from Reeds, Samann described the setup of the Land’escapes acreage, including The Park and the large parcel that was in Tudor and Cashel. He said they weren’t quite sure yet what they were going to do with it, but that there was a lot of tree harvesting going on through Haliburton Forest, due to the felled trees from the May 21 derecho.
Samann said they would also be heavily into conservation.
“We don’t know exactly what that’s going to look like. We’ve been talking to the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks about reintroducing some species at risk. We have a lot of hunt camps in there, so we’re looking at doing some recreational licencing agreements to have hunting without the hunting. And the other thing that is quite exciting, I have a property in Haliburton and there’s a cross country ski club that has licenced it. So, we’re looking into whether there’s an interest here to have a cross country ski club accessible to the public or a bike club or a bird watchers club for them to go and do something. So definitely some opportunities for the broader public to be able to get into the outdoors as well,” he says.
Reeds also asked Samann if he’d had any provincial or federal grant funding assistance to acquire his acreage. Samann responded that he had not, and that it was purchased with family money.
“Just for a funny little side story, my grandfather [Julius Samann] invented the Little Trees air fresheners and lived in Bancroft for many years. So that’s based in the U.S. now [now called Car- Freshner Corporation, based in Watertown, New York] but that’s how that came about,” he says.
With no other questions from council, Clarke thanked Samann for his time and his comments.
Carrol told The Bancroft Times on Aug. 4 that she thought that Samann was very candid with his delegation to council on Aug. 2.
“It seemed to me that he was able to answer their questions with meaningful responses.”
Michael Riley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Bancroft Times