Franklin Land Trust gets home of its own

  • Richard Hubbard in the new Franklin Land Trust Headquarters in the old Blasberg Garage on Mechanic St in Shelburne Falls.  Recorder/Paul Franz

    Richard Hubbard in the new Franklin Land Trust Headquarters in the old Blasberg Garage on Mechanic St in Shelburne Falls. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »

  • Richard Hubbard in the new Franklin Land Trust Headquarters in the old Blasberg Garage on Mechanic St in Shelburne Falls. Recorder/Paul Franz

    Richard Hubbard in the new Franklin Land Trust Headquarters in the old Blasberg Garage on Mechanic St in Shelburne Falls. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »

  • Richard Hubbard in the new Franklin Land Trust Headquarters in the old Blasberg Garage on Mechanic St in Shelburne Falls.  Recorder/Paul Franz
  • Richard Hubbard in the new Franklin Land Trust Headquarters in the old Blasberg Garage on Mechanic St in Shelburne Falls. Recorder/Paul Franz

SHELBURNE FALLS — The Franklin Land Trust began preserving farmland and forest while working out of a renovated garage that had been converted into an Ashfield office building. Three moves, 27 years and 27,000 acres later, the Franklin Land Trust has a home of its own — in what was once the 1940s J.M. Blassberg garage in Shelburne Falls.

On March 6, the Franklin Land Trust will celebrate the purchase of its new headquarters with an open house, ribbon-cutting ceremony and dedication from 4 to 7 p.m., at 5 Mechanic St. The public is welcome to attend. The event was originally planned for Feb. 13, but postponed because of a predicted snowstorm.

“We had just turned 25 years old and were moving from one rental unit to another, when the idea of having a permanent home just made sense,” said Richard Hubbard, executive director of the organization.

“It also reflects permanence. We’re very committed to being in this area forever. And owning this building speaks to that.”

The building had been vacant for several years, although the back section had been remodeled by its former owner, Michael Cohen, founder of LightLife Foods, for use as a private office before he moved from town. Hubbard said that Cohen had cleaned up any industrial waste, and renovated the back section of the building. But the front section of the building “was raw garage” when the land trust acquired it.

“Michael Cohen offered us the building at a reasonable price, and we launched a capital campaign to pay for it,” said Hubbard. The renovation took about a year, and the purchase price and remodeling cost about $500,000. Hubbard said the capital campaign is still going on, because part of the $1 million goal is also to start an endowment fund.

For several years, the land trust had been renting a State Street office, which flooded during Tropical Storm Irene. The group then moved into unused space in the Palmeri Electric Co. building on the Mohawk Trail, in Shelburne Center.

But they needed more space.

“We had very tight quarters,” Hubbard said. “At one point, we had five employees working in a 15-square-foot area.”

The old, sliding garage doors on the new building have been replaced with new panelling and windows. Also, the lower-level garage floor was raised. It now has carpeting, radiant heated floors, and a new entrance. There is also new lighting and a fire protection sprinkler system.

The front lobby area currently is displaying the MassWildlife Junior Duck Stamp art exhibit, which will soon go on national tour. Hubbard said he hopes to display other landscape and wildlife artworks in the lobby. Also, the new building has a conference room, which local community groups are invited to use.

Another important factor in buying this building, he said, is that there is high-speed broadband Internet in the village, “which is critical to our work,” he said.

The trust’s record

What does the Franklin Land Trust have to show for its 27 years of landscape preservation? Hubbard cites protection of the Ashfield Town Common, the 200-acre Totman Farm on Bardwells Ferry Road and the 450-acre Poland Brook Corridor, both in Conway; the 166-acre Flagg Mountain, which had been proposed for a 25-lot mountaintop housing development before it was bought by the land trust.

“A lot of us have chosen to live here in western Massachusetts because it’s beautiful, but people take for granted that it looks the way it does.

“We’ve worked on conserving the view from Mount Sugarloaf, the French King Gorge, the Meadows in Deerfield, the Mohawk Trail,” Hubbard said.

“Our challenge is, you don’t see our successes. You see our failures. If a conserved landscape doesn’t change, you don’t see our success. If it was a farm yesterday, and it’s a farm today and tomorrow, people just take it for granted. You don’t appreciate our work until something happens to an iconic property.

“Then people realize how tenuous the beauty around us is.”

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at: dbroncaccio@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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