A Massachusetts Town Where Open Land is Not an Endangered Species

`I'M the 10th generation on the land,'' says Warren Flint Jr. about his family's farm in Lincoln, Mass. ``My children are the 11th. It has been continually farmed since the late 1640s.'' But the time came when relatives of Mr. Flint wanted to sell their portion of two 17-acre family fields. Subdivided for development, the land would quickly sprout expensive houses instead of hay and corn. But this is Lincoln, a suburban Boston town that puts a high value on open space. It has one of the oldest land conservation programs in the United States.

The Lincoln Land Conservation Trust, a nonprofit, tax-exempt private organization, was created in 1956 by a group of concerned citizens who got together to buy a piece of land close to the pond that supplies town water. Since then the trust has purchased or been given 750 acres of wetlands, forests, and fields. In the early years, the trust was often given donations of land by people who wanted their land handled by an entity separate from the town, in case the political climate in favor of conservation changed. As land prices rose, purchasing large tracts for conservation purposes became too expensive for an organization with limited funds. So in the '60s, the nonprofit Rural Land Foundation was formed. An offshoot of the trust, it acquires large pieces of land and develops a portion of them to generate enough funds to pay for protecting the environmentally sensitive areas.

Lincoln has more land in active use than it did 15 years ago, says Buzz Constable, chairman pro tem of the Lincoln Land Trust. In this town of 14 square miles, there are 30 miles of trails, many cutting across private land. The trust maintains many of the trails and publishes a map of the network.

The Flint fields were saved through this unusual public/private partnership. Here's what happened: The relatives sold their land outright to the town. ``The town purchased this historic land by floating a bond,'' says Mr. Constable. ``Over the next several years the bond will be paid off in part through funds which have been collected by donations made to the Land Trust.'' The town will lease the land for agricultural use. Flint's father (Warren Sr.) wanted to keep farming his part of the land. So he sold the development rights to the town at less than half the appraised value as subdivision land, putting the property under a permanent conservation restriction. That restriction is jointly held by the town, the Land Trust, and the state Department of Food and Agriculture.

So the Flint family will continue to farm one field, the other will provide a livelihood for a local farmer, and the town saved 34 acres of fast-disappearing agricultural land. ``This land, which has been farmed for over 300 years, will always look the same,'' says Constable.``It will be in agriculture virtually forever. It was the right result for this particular piece of land.''

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