Thursday March 28, 2013

LEYDEN, MASS. -- A $1 million state grant -- along with the cooperation of multiple landowners and agencies -- will ensure that more than 800 acres of land is permanently preserved here.

The money will fund Leyden Working Farms and Forests Conservation Partnership, a collaborative effort that will conserve fields, forests and the town’s last working dairy farm.

The initiative also will ensure that the public can use portions of the land for generations to come.

"Public access is a requirement of the grant," said Emily Boss of Franklin Land Trust. "This is helping to make the land permanently accessible to the public."

The town of Leyden, which sits just over the Vermont state line and borders Guilford, is a key player in the conservation effort. Boss said Leyden has made maintaining open land a priority.

"It really wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for the town," she said.

The conservation partnership is administered by the Franklin Land Trust and Mount Grace Land Trust in collaboration with 11 landowners, the town, the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"There are a lot of different groups working together that are doing different things," Boss said.

Preserving the 200-plus acre Bree-Z-Knoll Farm was a key part of the effort. Leyden Selectman William Glabach’s family owned the farm in the 1930s, and he has seen big changes in agriculture.


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"In the ‘50s and ‘60s, you could raise a family and live a good life on a few dozen cows," Glabach said in an announcement of the land deal. "Now, you have to keep expanding just to keep your head above water. The Selectboard has talked about protecting land in town for some time. We really want to maintain our agricultural character and keep some open space for farms and for hunting."

Leigh Youngblood, executive director of the Mount Grace trust, said the initiative is preserving more than scenery. The town’s "rural character," Youngblood said, can help attract businesses such as the Spirit Fire Meditative Retreat Center and Angel’s Rest Retreat, both of which are participants in the conservation project.

"The success of the Leyden partnership is the result of neighbors and neighboring land trusts responding to an opportunity to work together to protect an iconic local farm and the surrounding landscape they love," Youngblood said.

The land will be protected in two ways: The farm will operate under an "agricultural preservation restriction," Boss said, while the remainder of the land will receive a conservation restriction.

"Both say, this land can’t be developed for commercial or residential purposes," Boss said, adding that the agricultural restriction makes an exception for farming activities.

The initiative also preserves more than two miles of "frontage on the scenic roads of Franklin County," officials said, as well as hundreds of acres in the watershed that provides Greenfield’s drinking water.

The Massachusetts Landscape Partnership Program -- which assists projects that affect a minimum of 500 contiguous acres -- funds 50 percent of a conservation project’s costs.

A 50 percent local match is required. In this case, officials said that’s happening through landowners offering easements on their properties at 50 percent of appraised value.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.