Bridgewater A promise to protectand preserve
BRIDGEWATER — Bud and Maureen Wright moved to Bridgewater in 1972, looking for some open land for their horses.
Shortly after, Bud Wright became one of the original members of the Bridgewater Land Trust, so that they could work to preserve these open spaces. He made another step in his conservation goal with the recent sale of the development rights of Comanche Hill Farm to the state Department of Agriculture — ensuring the 34 acres can never be developed.
“It was always a dream of both of us to protect farming because we hated the idea of developers coming in and plopping houses in the middle of beautiful land,” Wright said. “In our own small way, we were able to protect 85 acres in Bridgewater. We’re pretty proud of that.”
The 34 acres, the vast majority of which is considered prime or important farmland, is protected through the Farmland Preservation Program, which keeps the land for agricultural uses. Though the state has the development rights, the owner still owns the land and continues to pay local property taxes.
More than 45,000 acres at hundreds of farms have been protected under the state program. The long-term goal is to protect 130,000 acres.
The Bridgewater sale, which gave Wright $13,000 per acre, is the first application Weantinoge Heritage Land Trust has filed with the Farmland Preservation Program.
The Wrights came to Weantinoge in 2015 when they learned the trust was beginning to get northwestern farmers in the program. The deal closed this summer.
Seven other farms have been enrolled in the program in the past two years in several Litchfield County towns, including New Milford.
“Protecting farmland has become an increasing important part of what we do,” said Catherine Rawson, Weantinoge’s executive director. Aside from this program, the trust has preserved 29 working farms and 3,000 acres of agriculture soil in its 52-year history.
The trust began partnering with the DOA a few years ago to protect land after requests from young farmers for suggestions of places to start farming and lifetime farmers who wanted more access to farmland, Rawson said. About 15 percent of the state’s farmland was lost between 1985 and 2010, with development as the biggest threat.
Paul Elconin, Weantinoge’s director of land conservation, said Litchfield County is underrepresented in the Farmland Preservation Program, accounting for about 25 to 30 percent of the acreage. He said a lot of the protections are in the eastern part of the state where there are more active farms and cheaper land.
“This farm is part of Bud and Maureen’s outstanding legacy of land protection and looking out for Bridgewater,” Elconin said.
Wright bought the property from Emma Randall in 1990 for $400,000. He’s been growing hay on it ever since.
“We promised her we would never develop it,” Wright said.
DOA Commissioner Steven Reviczky said the program is important for the state’s future and quality of life. He added that the department only has three employees who work on the program statewide and so these partnerships with municipalities and land trusts are needed.
“We can’t do the work alone,” he said. “Being able to partner with Weantinoge is important to protect these irreplaceable farms across Connecticut.”
He added that the farmers deciding to protect their land are also essential because, though they are compensated, they could make more money from some of the developers’ offers.
Wright said he encourages other farmers and landowners to protect their properties. He said Weantinoge made enrolling in the program easy and the state paid him a lot of money to protect it, while still leaving the land in his ownership.
He said he knows others interested in protecting their land but who are hesitant to sell the development rights to the state because of the taxes on that amount. He urged state legislators to create a law that would prevent that money from being taxed and encourage more people to preserve their land.
“I think that would be the next step forward to preserve land,” Wright said. “They’re running out of farmland in Connecticut. You can’t move fast enough.”