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Easement plan could complete conservation of Stickney Hill farmland

Lorrie and Peter Pierce moved to Stickney Hill Road in 1977 because they wanted an old house and open space.

“It was just paradise,” Lorrie Pierce said.

The couple always worried their neighborhood just south of Interstate 89 would be developed, losing its identity as an agricultural community. But about 18 acres of their paradise could soon be conserved. The Concord Conservation Commission is working with Five Rivers Conservation Trust to protect it with an easement that would prohibit development.

If the plan moves forward it would complete efforts to ensure the agricultural land off Stickney Hill Road will never be developed. Together, the fields span three properties and total 112 acres.

Maplewood Farm, next to the Pierces’ property, was officially protected last year, when the city and Five Rivers Conservation Trust finalized an easement with the Bunten family to conserve 78 acres of hayfields and forest. Hope Butterworth, who owns the land next to the Pierces, donated an easement on more than 15 acres of her property earlier this year.

Rob Knight, treasurer of the Five Rivers Conservation Trust, is facilitating efforts to conserve the farmland around Stickney Hill Road.

“When you look at the whole project (for all three properties) there’s been a lot of neighbors donating and the city of Concord did a bond (for Maplewood Farm) and the conservation commission came up with the money,” Knight said. “It’s a lot of people chipping in to preserve this neighborhood. And we sort of see this as the last step in preserving the Stickney Hill historic agricultural neighborhood.”

Conserving agricultural land in West Concord has been a priority for the city, said Senior Planner Becky Hebert. It was named as a goal in the city’s master plan, and Hebert said officials began working with the Buntens to preserve Maplewood Farm in 2010.

An easement for 18 acres of the Pierces’ land “really completes the project,” Hebert said. Their property is between Maplewood Farm and Butterworth’s property.

“There’s not a clear dividing line between each of the properties – they look like one continuous field,” Hebert said. “This property definitely contributes to the scenic quality and historic qualities out on Stickney Hill.”

The appraised value of an easement on the property is $182,000, Hebert said.

On Wednesday, the conservation commission will hold a public hearing and vote on the Pierces’ property. That approval will be the first step necessary before applying for grants, which Hebert said she hopes will cover the cost of the easement.

The city will partner with Five Rivers Conservation Trust to apply for grants, including the federal farm and ranchland protection program and the New Hampshire Land and Community Heritage Investment Program. The plan to protect the Pierces’ land will not go before the city council until the city knows the result of its grant applications, Hebert said.

The Pierces do not farm, but they now allow Bohanan Farm in Hopkinton to use their hayfields.

“The assessor actually called me and said it’s the best agricultural land he’s seen,” Lorrie Pierce said.

The Bohanans also farm the abutting Maplewood Farm, which operated as its own dairy farm until 1964. The Bunten family is now working to sell their land, but the easement requires that the fields continue to be used for farming.

The quiet neighborhood of farmhouses has changed over the years as neighbors come and go, Lorrie Pierce said. But it is still full of untouched farmland and historic farmhouses. That’s one reason, Knight said, that Five Rivers Conservation Trust is working to conserve it.

“It’s really quite unique to have a neighborhood like that because it looks just like it did 100 years ago,” Knight said.

The Pierces raised their children in the 19th century farmhouse and bred horses in the historic barn. They don’t have horses or children now, but they do keep a garden and work to maintain the old stone wall around their property.

“You really get to love the land,” Lorrie Pierce said. “We know every inch of it.”

There was always a fear of development, especially given the street’s location off I-89, the Pierces said as they sat on their porch yesterday afternoon. They attended public hearings and meetings about the Maplewood Farm easement and voiced interest in an easement of their own.

Peter Pierce said his land can connect the conserved properties on either side, protecting important farmland and wildlife habitats. They have seen bears, moose, deer and many smaller animals on their property.

The Pierces have turned away interested developers, because they love the open space. An easement also means they will eventually earn less by selling their home, but the Pierces do not mind.

“Money is great, but we just couldn’t build on this field,” Lorrie Pierce said.

Protecting the fields from development by future owners, she said, is a dream come true.

(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or
lmccrystal@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @lmccrystal.)

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