At Silver Woods in Ocean View, Del., builder/developer Robert Thornton chose to weave boardwalked trails dotted with bird feeders through his 350-plus lots rather than cover up the wooded parcel with conventional attractions such as tennis courts. “We’re using the natural benefits of the land as an amenity,” he says. “It may cost me a few lots [to preserve trees and other organic elements], but it’s value gained, not money lost.”

It’s a trend that’s cascading across the country as a natural (and logical) by-product of green building. “Connecting with nature is important in today’s deadline-driven society,” says Ellen Goetz, a landscape architect in Naples, Fla., who has incorporated natural features as part of the amenities packages for several communities.

And it isn’t just nature and bike trails that attract today’s eco-conscious buyers. Bird-watching, kayaking, horseback riding, and fly fishing opportunities; restored wetlands; game crossings; and neighborhood gardens are cropping up on the list of hot-button features, while fitness centers and indoor facilities are being left until the last phase, downsized to preserve existing landscape, or not built at all. “Parks and other natural areas provide a calm place in the world,” says Goetz. “The more we can make these places more experiential and engaging, the more residents are going to enjoy living where they do.”