Richmond’s Ice House Hill Farm to be conserved, permanently protected by Berkshire Natural Resources Council
A sprawling cattle farm in Richmond, Massachusetts known for its scenic vistas and rich wildlife population has been added to the over 50 conservation reserves of the Berkshire Natural Resources Council. The BNRC works to maintain the natural splendor of Berkshire County while preserving local farms and keeping the outdoors free to all. On Tuesday, it announced that it had reached an agreement with the owners of Ice House Hill Farm to add it into the Massachusetts Conservation Restriction program. WAMC spoke with BNRC Land Conservation Associate Adam Galambos about how the property was acquired and what it means for the region.
GALAMBOS: Ice House Hill Farm is approximately 130 acres in Richmond. It's located at the corner of Swamp road and East Road, and it's widely known and cherished for its natural scenic beauty with spectacular vistas overlooking the Taconics.
WAMC: Now, it's also the home to a herd of cattle- Is that right?
It is. It's a home to a herd of Hereford cattle. And the family that is operating at the farm has been raising them for quite some time. They also cut hay and have an active agricultural impact on the region.
Now walk us through this- How did the BNRC acquire the property and what was the communication like with the owners?
BNRC as well as Richmond Land Trust and others have been interested in conserving this spectacular spot for quite some time. Now, the reason that conservation, land conservation in general is important is because it protects specific conservation values of the land. And at Ice House Hill Farm there's quite substantial conservation values to protect. I've already mentioned the scenic vistas, that's one of them, but the other is the agricultural soils that make a farm as viable as this one does. In addition, it's critical habitat for wildlife. It's adjacent to an existing Wildlife Management Area. And I've been to the farm quite a few times, and I've seen a black bear, I've seen upland game species like woodcock, I've seen red fox, among all types of songbirds and warblers. So there's lots of things to protect. And a conservation restriction is a voluntary legal agreement that permanently protects the land by limiting or prohibiting certain activities that can materially impair these conservation values of the land. Now, the owners gifted a conservation restriction to the Berkshire Natural Resources Council, which was carefully crafted to ensure that the land remains agriculturally active, both now and for generations to come. And when BNRC accepts this real interest in land, we're obligated to monitor and enforce the terms of the restriction in perpetuity. So what that all means is that the owners and operators of the farm can continue to raise cattle, cut hay, contribute to the agricultural importance of the region, but it limits and removes the development value of the land by conveying that interest to the Berkshire Natural Resources Council. Now, like I said earlier, this was a gifted conservation restriction, and a very generous donation.
When the BNRC gets a new piece of land, like in this case, the Ice House Hill Farm, what exactly is that analysis process like? How do you get together all of the important pieces of information and data to have a sense of exactly what you're preserving and how to preserve it?
Great question, Josh. The process that we take in order to evaluate and rank specific land is a lengthy process. The Massachusetts state GIS, or Geographic Information Systems office, has a lot of published data that we can reference. Department of Environmental Protection as well as the Department of Fish and Wildlife also have specific data that we can reference in order to quantify these conservation values that we are seeking to protect.