Friday, September 10, 2010
Carlisle Conservation Foundation: 50 years old and still going strong
This year the Carlisle Conservation Foundation (CCF) celebrates 50 years of land conservation. An all-volunteer organization, the CCF is dedicated to maintaining the rural character of Carlisle and to preserving its natural beauty and wildlife habitats.
According to CCF President Sally Swift, the main mission of the organization is to preserve open space. As a private, non-profit land trust, the CCF has played a key role in preserving many of the most recognizable properties in town. Whether helping the town to purchase properties such as the Greenough Land, Foss Farm, Bates Farm and Towle Field or aiding in the transfer of land to other agencies such as the O’Rourke property to Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge and the Erickson lot to Great Brook Farm State Park, for the past 50 years the foundation has taken seriously its commitment to land conservation. Beginning with its first land purchase, the 31-acre Spencer Brook Reservation, the foundation now protects almost 650 acres of land in Carlisle. Most recently, the CCF was instrumental in preserving much of the 133-acre Benfield Property.
The CCF uses a variety of approaches to preserve land in town. In addition to acting as an agent to facilitate the purchase of land by the town or by another agency, when finances do not permit the preservation of an entire parcel of land, the CCF has used limited development. In these cases, the foundation works with the landowner to identify a way to develop a portion of the land while preserving the remainder. Limited development was used to preserve the frontage and rural vistas of the Bates Farm and Clark Farm properties.
With the high cost of land limiting the ability of the town to purchase every parcel of conservation interest, conservation restrictions (CRs) have become an important way to preserve open space. A conservation restriction is a legal agreement made by the landowner not to change the use of a parcel of open space (see side bar). CRs have been used to preserve beautiful agricultural fields and open vistas that are enjoyed by most residents as they pass through town every day. Examples include: the 119-acre Valentine property on Acton and West Streets, the 46.4-acre and 54-acre Wilson properties off Westford Street, the 9.7-acre Clark parcel off Concord Street and 13.6 Shohet/Knight/Seawright properties on Bedford Road. CRs on less visible properties such as the 44-acre Sachs and 5.6-acre Stalker parcels allow connections between hiking trails and preservation of wildlife corridors.
Swift explained that the foundation is an active group that works closely with a variety of local and regional conservation organizations. Board members must understand the rules and regulations related to land purchase and conservation restrictions. Since land stewardship, or monitoring the state of the protected land, has become a major responsibility of the foundation, board members must also be aware of best practices in land management. The foundation is a member of both the National Land Trust Alliance and the Massachusetts Land Trust Coalition. Board members use the alliance accreditation program for training. “I am astounded at how professional our board is,” Swift added. The 18 board members meet monthly and significant work is done in small groups between monthly meetings. Swift said that two board members, Fontaine Richardson and Art Milliken, retired last year and that they will be greatly missed. Background about the foundation as well as a list of the current board members is available on the CCF website, www.ccf.unchi.org.
The foundation uses the town’s Open Space and Recreation Plan (available on the CCF web site) and citizen input to determine its priorities for land preservation. Feedback shows that Carlisle citizens value vistas, open space, a rural atmosphere, trail connections and protection of the ground water (drinking supply). A CCF subgroup meets twice per year to study the Open Space and Recreation Plan.
Swift states, “A main function of the CCF is to maintain connections with landowners. We’re so lucky in Carlisle – it’s a real partnership. There is a lot of shared information.” Swift added that in addition to preserving open space, the foundation also focuses on promoting alternative innovative approaches to land management (such as sheep grazing) and educating young people through the after school nature study program (sponsored by CCF through town recreation). Preserving, maintaining and educating have become the fundamentals of the CCF mission.
Trails a recent focus
In recent years, reflecting the values of the townspeople, the CCF has tried to identify and protect parcels that would provide links between existing trails or conservation lands. The CCF works closely with the Carlisle Trails Committee to secure easements to create trail connections such as the connection to the Poole Swamp parcel from Woodridge Road and recent easements on the Valentine Land and Hanover Hill. The foundation has also worked with the Trails Committee to create and to maintain trails on CCF-owned land, recently in the Spencer Brook area, around the Benfield Land and on other CCF properties along Carlisle’s west corridor. Working in partnership with the Trails Committee and other groups, the foundation is developing a long-range plan to connect the west corridor of Carlisle to the Estabrook Woods, to 400-acres of nearby conservation land in Acton and to the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail.
Significant work has been done on the new trails on CCF-owned lands in the west corridor. The “Twin Peaks Trail” on the Benfield Hill land and “Marion’s Trail” on the Ben’s Woods land now connect to the established “Spencer Brook Trail” across the street in the Spencer Brook Reservation. (See map on page 11 of trail guide). To extend these trails, the CCF and Trails Committee have planned a trail that would run from the Benfield Conservation Land to a wildlife viewing platform overlooking Spencer Brook. The plans also include a future extension of the trail on the other side of Spencer Brook, from the Bisbee Land through the Hartwell Road trail easement, connecting to the wildlife viewing platform. The Trails Committee has filed a Notice of Intent to build the observation platform using a helical pier system. The CCF-funded platform will be on the Benfield side of the brook providing a breath-taking view of the entire brook and wetlands.
Swift said that the foundation is acknowledging this milestone anniversary in several ways. In recognition of its 50-year history of preserving land, which coincides this year with the 25-year anniversary of the Carlisle Trails Committee, the CCF has funded the printing of the 2010 anniversary edition of Trails in Carlisle. This new guide features new and updated color maps, trail and parcel descriptions and other information in a mylar-covered, spiral-bound format. The guide was introduced at Old Home Day and is now available for purchase at Ferns and at Town Hall.
The foundation also plans an afternoon of celebration at the Spencer Brook Reservation on Sunday, September 26. Plans include nature walks, family games, scavenger hunts, nature exhibits, entertainment and refreshments. According to Swift, the celebration will feature the dedication of a granite bench to honor the original founders of CCF and to recognize 50 years of conservation work.
As the group notes on its website, it was the vision of those forward thinkers of 50 years ago that helped create the Carlisle we all enjoy today. Today, as the foundation makes decisions and plans for the future, Swift says the board members try to maintain that vision, asking, “What do you want this town to look like in 30 years?” ∆
CCF president Sally Swift provided the following general summary of the federal tax benefits for donating a conservation restriction. According to Swift, “tax laws change from year to year and recently the benefits have been renewed on an annual basis; hopefully they will be made more permanent.” For further information or to make a land donation, contact Swift or any member of the Carlisle Conservation Foundation.
A gift of a conservation easement is considered a charitable donation that can be deducted from a landowner’s federal income taxes if the easement meets certain IRS requirements. Most states also consider an easement donation to be a charitable contribution that can be deducted from state income taxes.
To qualify for an income tax deduction, the easement must be permanent; must be donated to a qualified conservation organization; and must serve certain conservation purposes. These purposes may include the preservation of wildlife habitat, open space or scenic vistas to the protection of wetlands, water quality or farmland, historic sites or areas for public education or recreation. Generally, the easement must result in some benefit to the public. However, an easement does not have to cover all of the property, preclude all use or development or allow public access to meet the IRS requirements.
According to Boston Attorney Stephen Small, “you will probably not qualify for a deduction if there is nothing special or unusual about the land that you are protecting except that it does not currently have more houses on it.” Instead, the land in question must contribute to the general environmental well-being of the area.
How the gift is valued
In order to qualify for the federal deduction, the value of the easement must be determined by a qualified appraisal. In the most basic terms, the value of the easement is the difference between the land value with the easement and its value without the easement. If a tract of land is valued at $100,000 without restrictions and $25,000 with the easement in place, then the value of the easement is $75,000. ∆
Table 1 CCF-Owned Properties
Table 2 Properties with CR’s held by CCF
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