‘Landscape Partnership’ protects nearly 1,000 Leyden acres
In this file photo, Warren Facey stands at his Bree-Z Knoll farm in Leyden. Facey's land is part of a larger preservation deal that will protect 960 acres of contagious land.
Warren Facey of Bree-Z-Knoll Farm and Leigh Youngblood of Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust at O’Neil home in Leyden. - Submitted photo
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The view from Bree-Z-Knoll Farm. Submitted photo by Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust.
In this file photo, Warren Facey Jr. of Bree-Z-Knoll Farm in Leyden poses with some of his cows.
Recorder file/Paul Franz
LEYDEN — About 960 acres of this tiny, bucolic town nestled between Greenfield and Vermont are being protected from development as a result of a conservation program that brings together two state agencies, three land preservation groups, a dozen property owners as well as the town itself.
The deal also protects Leyden’s last surviving dairy farm, part of the Our Family Farms milk cooperative, in the process.
Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust and Franklin Land Trust announced Thursday their 1½ -year long effort to place conservation restrictions on the mostly abutting lands clustered around the town center under the state’s Landscape Partnership Program.
With help of a state grant worth $1,079,300 and land owners offering to give up over $700,000 of their land’s value, the Leyden land deal helps place about 234 acres of Bree-Z-Knoll Farm under the state’s Agricultural Preservation Restriction program, and also permanently conserves acres of woodland, fields, streams and rolling hills of this picturesque town.
“All of the land is within Greenfield’s water supply,” said Leigh Youngblood, executive director of Mount Grace, with streams and rivers that supply more than half of Greenfield’s drinking water.
Mount Grace had tried for years to find a way to protect the farm started by Warren Facey and now farmed largely by his son, Randy. “The great thing about this program is that instead of just protecting an isolated rural farm, this protects almost 1,000 acres.”
That represents nearly 9 percent of the town.
The Landscape Partnership Program requires a partnership of land trust with a town or state agency, as well as at least 500 contiguous acres not fragmented by heavily trafficked roads. It provides 50 percent of the funding to pay for conservation restrictions, said Youngblood, who invited Leyden residents to meet with tax consultants and take advantage of state conservation tax credits that allowed them to increase the value of their contributions.
Mount Grace also brought in Franklin Land Trust, which had worked with some of the landowners in the past, as well as the New England Forestry Foundation to each hold some of the 13 properties’ conservation restrictions.
“The Leyden Project is a significant example of landscape-scale conservation, but as importantly, it helps achieve the personal goals of many landowners who live their lives very close to the land,” said Youngblood.
She said that as a child, Facey had seen his grandfather’s Greenfield farm sold off and developed for house lots and has been intrigued by the idea of land conservation ever since.
“By spring Warren’s lifelong dream for his family farm will be realized,” she said.
Facey, who was honored with this year’s “Local Hero” award by Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture and was nominated by the Franklin County Farm Bureau for a service award, recalled that when he first moved to Leyden in 1966, there were about 16 dairy farms. Now he and his son milk about 150 cows.
But they have been unable to take advantage of the state’s APR program, which has targeted prime river bottomland soil that’s on less of a slope than Facey has.
“I’m hoping this is going to be a great thing, and that it’s going to give us money to work with,” he said, pointing out the program pays farmers for their farm’s development rights. Another 20 acres of the farm’s woodlot will also be conserved.
Most of the parcels protected under agricultural and Fish and Game restrictions will have at least some portion available for public access, said Youngblood.
Included in the protected lands — one parcel of which is in neighboring Colrain — is a black ash swamp, two ponds, a floating bog, cold-water streams, “monks caves,” rocky outcroppings, ravines, broad views and many old maple trees. It provides habitat for the Jefferson’s salamander, a species designated as of “Special Concern,” and wild populations of Eastern brook trout, a “Species in Greatest Need of Conservation.”
With much of the land open to development under Approval Not Required zoning, 2½ miles of frontage along scenic roads will be permanently protected in this town, where most homeowners are approaching or past retirement age and the character of the town has been slowly changing, Mount Grace said in its grant application.
Leyden’s sweeping vistas and rural character are still intact, and Selectman William Glabach — who grew up in town and drives a school bus along its back roads every day, says, “That’s one of the benefits of having a large block of contiguous land saved for wildlife and the picturesque quality of the town.”
He said most residents in town have expressed support for preserving the town’s rural character.
Paul and Karen O’Neil, who protected 147 acres, said the state grant made a big difference for them in participating.
“This is something we would have done even if no one else had,” O’Neil said. “But it’s great to be able to help Warren and the farm and to be a part of protecting so much land. We’re not well enough off that we can afford to just donate all the land, so the Landscape Partnership Program allows people in the middle of the pack economically to participate in protecting land.”
Emily Boss of Franklin Land Trust said, “The town’s been really supportive,” even agreeing to investigate a protective Natural Resource Zoning provision to help the grant application get approval. “And the neighbors getting involved was key” to protecting this much of the landscape. “Leyden is a little gem.”
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