Northern Massachusetts land project finished


LEYDEN, MASS. -- To get an idea of the scope of a massive land-preservation effort in this town on the Vermont border, one needs only to look at a long list of partners for that project.

The list includes town officials; multiple state agencies; two land trusts; a forestry foundation; 11 landowners; investors and others -- not to mention the influence of a state grant totaling more than $1 million as well as money from several other foundations and funds.

Now that the project is finished, those involved can reflect on the cooperation that made it possible.

"These are all organizations that broadly share the goals of protecting land and sustaining the rural economy," said David Kotker, development manager at Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust. "We start from a similar place, and we have complimentary abilities so that we can all work together and get something done."

The project has a name: Leyden Working Farms and Forests Conservation Partnership. And it now has encompassed 782 acres in Leyden, which borders Guilford.

Kotker pointed out that another 180 acres has been preserved in neighboring Colrain, Mass.

In Leyden, the final step was placing an agricultural preservation restriction on the 221-acre Bree-Z-Knoll Farm, a family operation that is the town's last working dairy farm. The restriction, like other conservation easements placed on land involved in this effort, ensures that the property will remain protected from development in perpetuity.

That agricultural preservation restriction was announced recently. And it was accompanied by the enthusiasm of Bree-Z-Knoll's Warren Facey, who declared that his property "will be a farm forever."

"It won't just be growing houses, like a lot of the land out here," Facey said in an announcement issued by the Mount Grace trust, Franklin Land Trust and New England Forestry Foundation.

Each was a key player in the effort, though Kotker gave credit to Facey for getting the ball rolling.

"Warren has been hoping to protect that land for years," he said.

The preserved land also includes Sweet Morning Farm and property owned by Angels' Rest Retreat Center and Spirit Fire Retreat Center. Sarah Wells, a land conservation specialist at Mount Grace, remarked that "from the first neighborhood meeting, it was clear that the people who showed up really cared about their town and each other."

Collectively, the involved property owners have donated more than $700,000 in value for conservation-restriction purposes. They also banded together to take advantage of a relatively new funding source through the Massachusetts Landscape Partnership Grant Program, which funds preservation projects of 500 or more acres.

It is "the Patrick administration's flagship program for the permanent conservation of important natural resources on a landscape scale," said Maeve Vallely Bartlett, Massachusetts secretary of energy and environmental affairs.

A $1.16 million Landscape Partnership grant for this project was announced last year. With Bree-Z-Knoll now officially conserved and the project finished, "it's very satisfying," Kotker said.

Officials pointed to several benefits of land conservation including:

-- Preservation of habitat, scenery and water supplies.

The Leyden effort "conserves a great variety of habitat including rich forests, wetland systems, small ponds, vernal pools and streams," administrators said. It also protects 2.5 miles of frontage on scenic Franklin County roads as well as land that lies within the watershed of Greenfield's water supply.

-- Environmental resilience.

"Scientific research shows that conserving large landscapes is a key tool in helping ecosystems adapt to climate change and protecting the vitality of our natural resources," Bartlett said in a statement released with the land trusts' announcement.

-- Economic sustainability and growth.

The project helps preserve 28 jobs in Leyden by conserving the dairy farm and the two retreats, administrators said. The Bree-Z-Knoll announcement also noted that the Facey family "plans to acquire more protected farmland soon with the proceeds from the (agricultural preservation restriction), reducing the current farm expense of leasing crop land."

-- Preservation of public access.

"Together, the protected land will provide opportunities for farming, hiking, hunting, snowmobile trail use and access to the Leyden State Forest for generations to come," said Richard Hubbard, Franklin Land Trust executive director.

Mike Faher can be reached at or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.


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