Ag trust group converts donated land near Spearfish to first conversation easement

The late evening news on KEVN Black Hills Fox Sunday
Published: Mar. 10, 2022 at 9:46 AM MST
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(KEVN) - Southwest of the town of Spearfish lies the Oak Hills Ranch, the home of Johanna Meier Della Vecchia, an operatic soprano who gave her voice to productions around the world - from the retired Black Hills Passion Play to the world-famous Metropolitan Opera.

“I had an international opera career, and so I did sing almost all over the world,” Della Vecchia says. “[I] traveled a great deal all of my life.”

The ranch has been run and operated by the singer and her late husband for over two decades, but thanks to a partnership between the famed landowners and South Dakota Agricultural Land Trust, their 760-acre property will become the group’s very first conservation easement.

Della Vecchia’s property contains a bounty of natural resources, from grazing animals to forest land, and it rests by the Spearfish Creek watershed.

“From an ecological standpoint, we couldn’t be more thrilled.” says Karl Jensen, S.D. Agricultural Land Trust treasurer. “It’ll still be grazing land - it’s a wildlife corridor - but the big thing is it protects the drinking water sources and these kinds of things.”

The easement is permanent, and Jensen says the conservation effort will protect the area for generations.

“[We] couldn’t be more thrilled. For one thing, I live about 15 miles east of here and have watched the ... urbanization grow around Spearfish - I went to high school in Spearfish,” Jensen adds. “This is as much of a hometown as any of us have and it’s really important to see at least some of it preserved.”

As for the traveled opera singer, it’s just one little thing she can do to preserve the beauty of the Black Hills and protect the land near the town she grew up in.

“This has always been my home. I consider it one of the great beauty spots of the world and anything I can do to help preserve that, I will do,” Della Vecchia says.

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