Friday, January 19, 2001
Benfield grants another seventy-one acres for conservation
A man twice honored by his fellow citizens as "the father of town conservation" has added a gift of nearly inestimable value to the contributions that have preceded it. A. E. "Ben" Benfield, on December 29, granted a quitclaim deed on 71 acres of undeveloped woodland to the Carlisle Conservation Foundation (CCF) to be devoted to "conservation purposes." Those purposes "may include hiking and other passive recreation," but only after expiration of the "life estate" which he reserved on the property during his lifetime.
The 71 acres bounded by Pope Road and West Street face 31 acres deeded to CCF in 1960 by the same donor. That parcel, now known as Spencer Brook Reservation, led directly to formation of CCF for the purpose of accepting the gift. In 1975 Benfield also put a conservation restriction on an additional 12.5 acres of interior forest land that is held by the Town of Carlisle. But gifts of land don't tell the whole story of Benfield's lifelong efforts to preserve a significant part of the town's natural beauty and varied resources. For example, in 1988 as Benfield received Carlisle's first Conservationist of the Year award, conservation commission chair Sally Zielinski recounted how Benfield had purchased 1000 shares of Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company stock in 1967 just to gain a stockholder voice in the eventually successful campaign to keep the pipeline from running through the town center.
It was also during his twelve year tenure as member and seven years as chair of the commission (1968-1980) that Carlisle made its first major purchase of conservation land by acquiring 112 acres of the field, woods and wetlands that comprise the varied landscape of the Towle property off Westford Street. That purchase was followed by acquisition of Foss Farm (57 acres) in 1971, the Greenough Land (242 acres) in 1973, the Davis Corridor (112 acres) from 1974-79 and Fox Hill (11 acres) in 1980.
At the ceremony in which Benfield received his award, fellow members of the commission recalled the prodigious amount of time and energy he devoted to walking the forest, meadows and swamps of Carlisle to gain a unique understanding of its resources. They remarked on his effectiveness and creativity in securing state and federal funding to reduce the impact of the purchases on local taxpayers and in convincing private landowners of the environmental importance and tax advantages to be obtained through individual conservation restrictions.
To quote the 1976 Town Report, "The primary thrust of the Benfield commission was the preservation of open space. After formulating a Conservation Plan for the decade 1970 to 1980, the commission proceeded to acquire a total of 457 acres at a cost to the town of $201, $300 or $470 per acre." With the acquisition of the Farnham Smith property (now Great Brook Farm Reservation), which was initiated under Benfield's leadership, "the total protected and semi-protected open space was 2100 acres in 1976 or 21% of the town." To get some idea of how the conservation commission's routine work under the Massachusetts Wetland Protection Act (WPA) has grown in the 25 years that have intervened the commission was recorded as having held 16 hearings under that act between 1972 and 1976; the total for the first half of the year 2000 alone was 30.
C.C.F. president Arthur Milliken's letter acknowledging receipt of Benfield's "generous gift" (see partial text on this page) puts the elder conservationist's latest contribution in its present perspective. In a telephone comment, conservation commission chair Carolyn Kiely described the donation as "providing a critical buffer for Carlisle against the development about to take place in Acton and a magnificent gift to us all." She added that in addition to constituting a big step toward completion of the wildlife corridor extending from the Concord River through the Spencer Brook watershed, "It helps the town to manage future growth with its attendant pressure on municipal services." Speaking for the board of selectmen, chair Michael Fitzgerald described the 1988 recipient of the town's Most Honored Citizen Award as "a much respected and admired member of our community to whom we now owe yet another debt of gratitude for presenting the community with this unprecedented gift." Finally, in a call from his new home in Monson, Massachusetts, Ben's son Michael told the Mosquito, "I am very glad that my father has done this. He has talked about it far a long time."
© 2001 The Carlisle Mosquito