WILTON — Taxpayers are being asked to pony up $80,000 toward the purchase of conservation easements on a large tract of historical farm land at the top of Abbott Hill Road.
For centuries, farmers have worked the fields at the top of Abbott Hill, growing produce, raising livestock and making hay while the sun shines. Much of the land was give to the Frye family in the mid-1700s by Gov. Benning Wentworth, and for centuries the family has held onto the land, allowing it to be used for agriculture and protecting it from development. In the 1940s, a portion of the land was sold by the Fryes for the creation of the High Mowing School, a private Waldorf boarding school that educates students from around the world.
Last year, when the Fryes decided they were willing to sell conservation easements to preserve their land as open space forever, several organizations came together to try to make the easements happen, including the Temple-Wilton Community Farm, the Wilton Conservation Commission and the board for High Mowing School.
Ian McSweeney of the Russell Foundation has been assisting the organizations and the Fryes in putting the easement plan together and looking for funding sources.
The total cost for purchasing the easements is $1,635,000, half of which would be covered by an $800,000 grant from the US Department of Agriculture’s Farm and Ranchland Protection Program. The federal funding was acquired for the purchase through the Yggdrasil Land Foundation, which has also agreed to offset some of the administrative costs of the easement process, McSweeney said.
The High Mowing School has agreed to donate $200,000 to the purchase along with the proceeds from the sale of a conservation easement on 54 acres of land the school owns on top of Abbott Hill. And lots of other individuals and organizations have stepped up to donate to the cause as well, but McSweeney said there is still another $300,000 left to be raised.
To help reduce that $300,000 gap in funding, the Wilton Conservation Commission asked the Board of Selectmen to place an article on the warrant for March Town Meeting to see whether voters will agree to contribute $80,000 toward the easement purchase. If voters agree to raise the $80,000, the town will be named as one of the holders of the easements and will retain access to the land.On Wednesday, March 5, McSweeney and representatives from the High Mowing School and the Wilton Conservation Commission will hold an information session at 7 p.m. at the Wilton Public and Gregg Free Library.The snowmobile corridor that runs from Massachusetts to the White Mountains and beyond cuts through the land on Abbott Hill and would be lost if the town doesn’t have a stake in the land. The town also risks losing access to trails and the frontage along the Souhegan River that cuts through the property.
“The river frontage is a shaded, shallow, protected area that is great for fishing,” McSweeney said.
But aside from having access to the land, voters can also be part of preserving an agricultural legacy for generations to come.
“This is the oldest active farm in the town of Wilton,” said McSweeney. “They can be preserving 8 percent of the total farmland in the town of Wilton for 4.5 percent of the cost of the conservation easements.”