Group completes purchase of Undermountain Farm for public trails

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LENOX >> The deal is finally done.

Undermountain Farm, a scenic landmark just west of downtown, is permanently protected from development on 83 acres of the 156-acre property, including about 3,000 feet of roadway along the farm fields.

Closing two and a half years of proposals, revisions and discussions, at one time involving town funding that aroused some local opposition, the Berkshire Natural Resources Council completed its $450,000 purchase of the conservation restriction last Thursday from the Sprague Family Trust, owner of the property since 1974.

The farm's Undermountain Stables will continue operating on a 10-acre Sprague-owned parcel not covered by the restriction.

The final agreement involved no taxpayer funding, with the purchase price fully covered by donations to the BNRC and the organization's fundraising efforts.

Since the deal includes two town-owned easements for trails that eventually will be built for non-motorized public access, the Lenox Select Board formally approved the agreement 5-0 on March 23.

"The BNRC has done a terrific job in securing this land," said Selectman Channing Gibson. "We owe a debt of gratitude to the Spragues, even with some difficulties along the way trying to figure out how to do this exactly, they have stuck with their ideal of maintaining this property as a very important conserved piece of land."

Gibson said that even without town money, the family maintained the concept of a trail system as proposed by the Select Board, "and I think that's very generous of them."

BNRC Director of Land Conservation Narain Schroeder thanked the Select Board and the Lenox residents "who have been very supportive and helped make it a better project from start to end. Without everybody's support, it wouldn't have happened."

The conservation agreement has now been signed by Massachusetts Secretary of Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton, Schroeder said in an interview on Monday.

Development of the public access trails will begin after the BNRC raises funds for construction, he said.

The BNRC, a private charitable land conservation organization, was founded in 1967 and now owns over 10,000 acres in the county, all open to the public for non-motorized recreation along 50 miles of trails at sites ranging from North Adams to Sandisfield. The council also holds permanent conservation restrictions on over 11,000 acres.

The BNRC is also seeking to acquire and protect the adjacent 63-acre northern part of Parsons Marsh and southernmost fields along Undermountain Road that are part of the Sprague's farm. But Schroeder said that rather than conducting a major fund drive, the organization will apply for grants "although we appreciate any help we can get."

The resource council's option to buy outright the 63-acre property from the Sprague family expires a year from now. The parcel could serve as public access to the marsh, since the southern portion is already owned by the town as a sanctuary.

The Spragues will continue to own the protected 83 acres, but the conservation restriction "runs with the land," meaning any future owner would be bound by its terms. The family also retains 10 acres of buildings, including barns and the stables, along Undermountain Road which are not part of the conservation restriction.

Noting that "the Spragues and BNRC have been working toward this day since the fall of 2013," Schroeder noted that "the deal protects fields along Undermountain Road that are enjoyed by countless walkers, bikers and Tanglewood ticket holders." The agreement also conserves "a sweeping view across Parsons Marsh to Rattlesnake Mountain, Monument Mountain and Mount Everett on the southern horizon."

"This scene is a coming together of the pastoral, wild and cultural history that is quintessential to the Berkshires," Schroeder said.

The Sprague Family Trust manages the farm for riding and boarding horses. "Under the Spragues' care, the farm has retained its beauty and character, and now, thanks to the Spragues and all the individual donors that helped make this a reality, that character is a permanent feature of Lenox," Schroeder said.

"It has been a long road, but Tjasa Sprague's enthusiasm for preserving Undermountain Farm never faltered," he said. "It's fitting that we record the conservation restriction on her birthday."

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.


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