LENOX — A scenic 83-acre portion of Undermountain Farm is to be preserved forever, thanks to a successful $115,000 fund drive by the Berkshire Natural Resources Council that began around Thanksgiving.
The $450,000 conservation restriction, including $335,000 previously raised by the council, awaits final approval by the state and the Lenox Selectboard, and involves no local taxpayer funding.
The virtually done deal follows several years of complex negotiations and revised proposals that had included town financing until an application for a $250,000 Community Preservation Act grant was withdrawn from a special town meeting warrant last September.
"We've met our target of $115,000 and exceeded it by $10,000," said Narain Schroeder, land conservation director for the resources council. He voiced gratitude to the 225 donors who put the agreement over the finish line as of Monday, noting that 100 of them were first-time contributors.
"All but the final touches and signatures are needed to preserve in perpetuity the 83 acres of Undermountain Farm under a state-approved conservation restriction," Schroeder said.
He expressed thanks to the Sprague family, long-time owners of the farm, for their "patience and flexibility" as the conservation restriction took its final shape.
While the deal on the 83 acres does not grant a general public right of access to the property, he said, there will be public access to two designated trails to be constructed by the council as part of the conservation restriction.
Under the agreement, the public would have the right to walk, cross-country ski or snowshoe along the designated trails — one of them adjoins Undermountain Road, the other would connect to the town-owned Parsons Marsh.
"I'm thrilled with what's happening," said Tjasa Sprague, the farm's co-owner, on Monday. "Now I'm trying to figure out what comes next, and what would be permitted by the town, to keep the farm afloat."
While she'll continue to operate Undermountain Stables, with stalls for up to 30 horses, Sprague is hoping to "enhance educational activities at the farm to make it self-sustaining. Anything we can teach young kids about animals and agriculture is valuable."
Although the family will continue to own the northern 83-acre parcel, along with the remaining 73 acres of the farm, the conservation restriction "runs with the deed," Schroeder pointed out, meaning that any future owner of the property two miles west of downtown Lenox will be bound by it. The parcel remains on the town's tax rolls as agriculturally restricted land as designated by state law.
The Spragues retain full ownership and control of just under 10 acres of frontage along Undermountain Road, including the stables and adjacent buildings. Any future landowner would be subject to town zoning laws and septic system requirements, Schroeder said.
A 63-acre southern parcel adjoining Parsons Marsh is also slated for a BNRC conservation restriction once an additional $170,000 in grants and donations is raised toward the land's $180,000 purchase price. The $10,000 in additional money gathered during the most recent fund drive will be reserved for that second phase of the deal. The council has an option to close on phase two by April 2017.
The "marsh parcel," described by some in town as a swamp, is actually "an open expanse of sparkling water," according to resource council President Tad Ames. "It's a pond, with ducks, otters and wildlife, a pretty great place. It's not a dismal place at all; it's really an enchanting spot, but no one will know that unless they get out to see it for themselves."
The resources council has described the overall two-phase conservation restriction plan as a bargain, since its total $630,000 price is about half of the land's appraised value of $1.2 million.
Key supporters of the agreement in its various incarnations, including the Lenox Land Trust, various town officials and other local environmental advocates, have enthused about the preservation of open space and an iconic landscape, combined with limited public use as part of a potential interconnected trail system that includes Kennedy Park and the Lenox Mountain ridgeline.