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National land trust eyes Northfield forest, water co.

Recorder/Paul Franz
The Grandin Reservoir in East Northfield, which is the water source for the East Northfield Water Co.,  flows over the spillway.

Recorder/Paul Franz The Grandin Reservoir in East Northfield, which is the water source for the East Northfield Water Co., flows over the spillway.

NORTHFIELD — An expansive local forest, as well as the water company that serves at least 250 residents, could end up in the hands of a national land trust.

The Northfield Mount Hermon School announced Wednesday the tentative sale of a 1,650-acre forest and the East Northfield Water Co. to the Trust for Public Land. The two have entered into a preliminary sales agreement.

“This is an opportunity to permanently ensure that people have the ability to access and use this amazing landscape for recreation and enjoyment,” said Chris LaPointe, senior project manager with the Trust for Public Land. “It’s such an important landscape. The school has been a fantastic steward of the land, and this is an opportunity to make sure it stays protected.”

Though the trust would make the initial purchase, it would eventually transfer the forest to another owner or partnership of owners that intend to preserve the land for open space and recreation.

This is standard practice for the trust, as the group focuses on the immediate protection of properties and regularly transitions them to long-term owners. The group would also seek a buyer for the East Northfield Water Co.

The agreed upon purchase price is not yet being released, according to LaPointe and NMH officials.

The Northfield Forest is spread over three towns, with parts over the border in Winchester, N.H. and Warwick, and the bulk of the property in Northfield. It includes about 300 acres that make up the entire watershed of Grandin Reservoir, which supplies the East Northfield Water Co.

LaPointe said NMH bundled the water company with the forestland, and the trust did not have the option of buying the forest alone.

NMH spokeswoman Cheri Cross said the school seeks to transfer the forest and water company as part of its ongoing consolidation to its Gill campus. It would also allow the school to focus on education, rather than running the water company, said Cross.

The school continues to own several Northfield properties, including several houses and other parcels of land, said Cross.

Earlier this year, NMH sold the Northfield Golf Course to the Snow family, of Leyden, and last year, NMH sold its Green Pastures building to the C.S. Lewis College Foundation, sold a 22-acre lot to a Northfield resident, and sold the Moody Homestead to Hobby Lobby, the original buyer of the Northfield campus.

The prep school’s former Northfield campus itself is now in the hands of the National Christian Foundation, which continues Hobby Lobby’s search for a Christian nonprofit to which to give the school. Hobby Lobby also gave the Homestead to the NCF, so that it may stay with the campus.

The water company was built to serve the Northfield campus of NMH, as well as many residents of town. NMH closed its Northfield campus in 2005, though the school has continued to run the water company. The water company serves approximately 270 year-round residents, as well as about 63 seasonal customers.

With the sales agreement signed, the Trust for Public Land will work to partner with other organizations and raise money to buy the forest and water company. The trust is currently partnered with the Mount Grace Land Trust of Warwick for the project. The group will also work with the towns, state agencies, and other interested groups and individuals.

You can reach David Rainville at: drainville@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

(Editor's note: Some information in this story has changed from an earlier edition)

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