Agreement Would Preserve 360-Acre Farm in Groton, MA
Groton, Massachusetts, 1/26/2006: The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national nonprofit conservation organization, and Groton town officials announced today that TPL has reached an agreement to purchase 360 acres of land off Farmers Row and Shirley Road in Groton from the Marion Danielson Strachan Family Trust and the Marion D. Campbell Trust. The agreement gives TPL one year to raise the $19.4 million purchase price from a variety of public and private sources. Recent appraisals indicate a fair market value of almost $23 million for the combined properties. TPL expects to work with the Town, state agencies, the Groton Conservation Trust, and Groton School to raise the purchase price over the next twelve months. If successful, the Town of Groton will own this singular landscape with a major portion permanently protected as conservation land.
The property, known locally as Surrenden Farm, is a key parcel for conservation because of its extensive frontage on the Nashua River and its proximity to other large blocks of conserved land, including the Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge, Nissitissit River Wildlife Management Area, and the Groton Town Forest. The Town Forest is directly across the river from Hunt Club Meadows. The landscape has unobstructed western views of Mt. Wachusett and the hills of southern New Hampshire, and its colonial-era stone walls delineate fields that have been in active agriculture for generations.
Included in TPL’s agreement is the right to acquire the 164-acre portion of Surrenden Farm that has been the subject of a protracted subdivision permitting process for more than three years. The portion of the farm closest to Farmers Row is fully permitted for a 130 unit residential development. Construction on the development was scheduled to begin this spring.
Fran Dillon, Chairman of the Groton Board of Selectmen, said, “This is an important opportunity for the Town’s consideration. Because of its location and size, the direction that this property takes will have a large impact on the growth and visual character of the Town. TPL has proposed a funding structure that would have the Town contribute roughly one quarter of the property’s value, with the commitment to find the rest of the money from other sources. The Selectmen would support bringing the project before Town Meeting in April and would encourage all efforts to reduce the cost to the Town.”
Badge Blackett, Senior Project Manager for the Trust for Public Land, said, “Knowing the natural resource value of the land, as well as the large contribution its scenic values make to the character of the Town, we jumped at the opportunity to work on its conservation. From a regional perspective, conserving the property would be a major benefit to the broad-based effort that has gone into restoring and protecting the quality of the Nashua River Watershed. Although this is one of the largest municipal projects TPL has taken on, we are optimistic that we will be able to secure the funding needed to permanently protect the site.”
In 2005, TPL worked with the neighboring towns of Westford and Pepperell on significant conservation projects. The 265-acre Pepperell Springs Project and the $13.5 million, 286-acre East Boston Camps property in Westford were both protected with TPL’s help, and represented the culmination of multi-year collaborative efforts with the two towns and local land trusts.
According to Blackett, TPL’s agreement provides until March 1, 2006 to assess the viability of possible public and private funding sources. If a funding plan can be put together by March 1st that is supported by the Board of Selectmen, other Town committees and TPL’s Board of Directors, TPL will make a $4.9 million non-refundable deposit to hold the property through the end of the year while the $19.4 million purchase price is raised. Prospective sources of funds include the town’s Community Preservation Fund, state and federal grants, private contributions and the sale of the five houses currently located on the property. In a lead commitment, the Board of Trustees of Groton School have pledged $5 million to the project if Town Meeting supports the acquisition in April. Blackett noted that the sale of a small number of house lots on the property is also on the table as a possible means of filling a funding gap.
Rick Commons, Headmaster of Groton School, said, “The Trustees of Groton School recognize this as an important collaboration between the Town and the School. If the Town wants to protect this land, they can count on the School as a solid partner. Our commitment reflects our strong belief in this project as important not only to the School, but to the Groton community as a whole. We feel a responsibility to take a leadership role.”
Ed McNierney, President of the Groton Conservation Trust, said, “These properties contain a rich diversity of river frontage, contiguous forest, and open fields. As we’ve seen in the past, the Town of Groton cares deeply about these landscapes; this project is worthy of our best efforts to protect it for further generations. TPL is a key partner in making this complex project possible, and we’re grateful for their participation and assistance.”
Rick Hughson, Chair of Groton’s Community Preservation Committee, said, “There’s a lot of work to do between now and Town Meeting, and this is a very expensive proposition no matter how good a deal it is, but many of us on the CPC feel that providing a funding source to capitalize on this type of opportunity is precisely why Groton residents voted to enact the Community Preservation Act. The Town has the potential to use its CPA dollars to leverage about 75% of the property’s value from other non-Town sources.”
Bill Conley, the manager of the property for more than 50 years, said, “Having been closely involved in the acquisition and management of the Marion D. Campbell Trust and related properties since 1950, it should be said that assembling a 1200-acre agricultural operation from 1947 through 1976 required a special person with a love of the land and the resources to achieve that goal. Mrs. Campbell filled that need with an historic Angus cattle breeding program, extensive orchards and acres of managed forests. She was largely responsible for the vistas along Lowell Road and the view of Gibbet Hill from the town center for 50 years. Motorists entering Groton from the south on Farmers Row were treated to acres of pasture and blooming apple trees. Never one to seek public acclaim, Mrs. Campbell was a true steward of the land. This project will, in many ways, preserve her legacy and I know, in her unassuming manner, she would be very pleased.”
The Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, and natural areas. Last year, TPL led the successful efforts to conserve the 265-acre, $3.2 million Belmont Springs property in Pepperell, and the 285-acre, $13.5 million East Boston Camps property in Westford. Since its founding in 1972, TPL has helped to protect more than two million acres nationwide, including nearly 11,000 acres in Massachusetts. TPL depends on the support and generosity of individuals, foundations, and businesses to achieve its land for people mission. For more information, visit www.tpl.org.
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