HOLDEN, Maine ― Atop Copeland Hill Road in Holden sits 160 acres of farmland and forest. Surrounded by expansive views of the horizon, different families have worked the property’s fields for centuries, most recently six generations of the Hart family.
When the farm’s most recent farmer, C. Evans Hart, died in 2011, the land lost its final caretaker.
Midday Friday, covered in a sheet of light snow with golden stalks of underbrush breaking through winter’s crust, the land was pristine in its loneliness.
But come the new year, the Hart Farm will be saved.
The Holden Land Trust announced that they have signed a purchase and sale agreement with the Hart estate to buy the 160 acres, with the intention of preserving the land for future agricultural use, as well as public recreation use within the forested areas of the property. The closing date for the purchase is Jan. 6, 2017.
“By purchasing and preserving the Hart Farm, a unique piece of local heritage will be saved,” president of the Holden Land Trust, Kevin Cuddy, said at a press conference Friday. “Acquisition of this land will fill a major need in Holden because there is very little in the way of recreation property for public use and there are no longer any working farms.”
To fulfill the trust’s vision for the property, which includes the development of recreational trails and restoration of the land back to working farm status, a $500,000 capital campaign has been launched. To date, the trust has raised $227,350 towards this goal, which paired with financing offered to the trust by the managers of the Hart estate, will cover the $313,000 purchase cost.
Once the sale is final, the Holden Land Trust will be the sole owner of the land, though they envision the future of the property to be collaborative, both with the public and other organizations that share their mission of preservation.
The Holden Land Trust formed in 2004 with a mission of identifying and working to preserve agricultural lands, working forests, scenic areas, wildlife habitats and wetland access in the town of Holden.
Despite forming the land trust 12 years ago, the purchase of the Hart Farm will be the first property they have bought. Cuddy says the time it has taken for the trust to choose a project is in part because they haven’t found what they believed to be a perfect fit ― until now.
The neighboring properties, which include land owned by the Maine Audubon Society and the Curran Homestead, make acquiring the property “truly worthwhile to preserve,” Cuddy said.
“It’s a great idea,” Ron Sucy, president of the Curran Homestead board of directors said. “It’s really going to preserve this whole area.”
Cuddy said a meeting will be held this spring for the Holden Land Trust, the Curran Homestead and the Maine Audubon Society to discuss how the properties can work together and create a network of recreational trails for public use. The Maine Audubon Society has existing trails on their neighboring property and the Curran Homestead is in the concept phase of developing trails on newly acquired property that borders the Hart Farm.
Another partnership forged through the Hart Farm project is with the Maine Farmland Trust, which has purchased the easement for the property. An easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust that permanently alters the deed of a property barring subdivision and development from occurring on the property.
By having an easement on the property, it has been delineated that the land will remain as farm and forest land, Cuddy said.
“The trust board is very conscious of the development pressure in area which removes open land such as the Hart Farm wand replaces it with residential developments that take away forever the public opportunity to use and benefit the open space property,” Cuddy said.
Maine Farmland Trust will also work with the Holden Land Trust to find a farmer to farm the land in time. Part of the funds raised through the capital campaign will be used to raze the property’s existing buildings, which include a barn, shed and farmhouse that are beyond repair. Cuddy said he hopes these elements of the project happen within the next year.
C. Evans Hart’s daughter, Millie Hart Johnson, and her two brothers have been managing her father’s estate, and were torn on which type of buyer they wanted to sell to. She said while the property would have sold to a developer quickly, she is happy that the farm she grew up on will live on for future generations.
“I think it’s good that it’s not getting developed,” Hart Johnson said. “It’s a beautiful place, one of a kind.”