By Sheila McGrory-Klyza
Conservation projects often require creativity to succeed, but some projects require something more—the involvement of private individuals who step in under tight deadlines to make a project happen that otherwise would not.
Tony Award winning composer and lyricist Adam Guettel has owned property in Tinmouth since 1995 and resides there as much as possible. In 2001, the neighboring Raiche Farm—the largest dairy in the town—went on the market at its development value. The Vermont Land Trust, the Tinmouth Land Trust, and neighbors, including Adam, wanted to see the farm remain as a working farm. “My only memories of childhood are being in the woods and in farming communities,” says Adam. “I grew up wanting to protect that life.” When the Raiche Farm was threatened by development, Adam couldn’t stand by and watch.
VLT and the Tinmouth Land Trust reached out to Adam who stepped up and bought 104 acres of the farm, mostly non-tillable woodland, for more than fair market value. Another couple generously did the same. These conservation purchases allowed VLT to focus on the core farm consisting of productive agricultural soils and an historic farmstead. The core farm was conserved through a major grant from the Freeman Foundation, and was then sold at its agricultural value to the Carabeau family who are farming the Raiche Farm today. Gil Livingston, president of VLT, is grateful for Adam’s support. “We needed an angel with strong commitments to farming and Tinmouth to help us save the Raiche Farm, and Adam was that angel,” says Gil. Adam later donated a conservation easement on his land.
Adam has found that conserving the Raiche Farm has brought wide ranging rewards. “My love for being outside in a rural place compelled me to move here,” he says. “The love you bring can easily translate into a very full life in your community.” Supporting conservation in Tinmouth has helped him feel part of the community even though he is a relative newcomer. “It’s being part of a place rather than acting upon it,” he said.
In the land trust community, people that do what Adam did in Tinmouth are called ‘conservation buyers.’ A conservation buyer purchases real estate and works with a land trust to protect the land or resell it with the intention of conserving it. This strategy can be invaluable since in some situations, private buyers are less constrained and can move more quickly than nonprofit organizations that need to seek funding and board approval.
David and Helen Nagel recently made a similarly generous contribution to conservation. They purchased a 140-acre parcel in Hinesburg that contains 52 acres of rare valley clayplain forest and 29 acres of river and wetland protection area. The purchase was part of the LaPlatte Headwaters Conservation Initiative at Bissonette Farm, a comprehensive conservation project totaling approximately 600 acres that brought together VLT, the Hinesburg Land Trust, the Trust for Public Land, and the Bissonette family. Beyond purchasing the conserved parcel at fair market value, the Nagels played a crucial role by providing an interest-free loan that allowed the Trust for Public Land to enter into a contract to purchase the Bissonette’s entire 600 acres.
“The Nagels have a strong conservation ethic,” says Kate Wanner of TPL. “They allowed many restrictions to keep the ecological integrity of the property. And providing the upfront equity helped us think the project was possible to do. It provided us with the time and flexibility to put together the partnership.”
Ten years ago, the Nagels were living in Egypt when they first decided to buy property in Hinesburg. Helen’s father is a fourth-generation Vermonter and, although she has lived in many different places, Vermont has always been a constant for her. “Coming back to Vermont, I was swept away by its beauty and thought if there’s any way we can get involved in conserving this, we should,” she says. David grew up in Wisconsin in a family that was involved in conservation. “I saw areas in Wisconsin that started out wonderful but then filled in with subdivisions,” he says. “Then we saw this happening in Vermont.”
When they heard about the Bissonette Farm project, David used his experience in business to help strategize a plan for making it successful. “The project needed bridge financing,” says David. “It needed something to get it started and then let the other pieces fall into place.” He emphasizes the value of this kind of contribution. “It’s different from making a donation because it’s a chance to make the money go even further. The project becomes a reality, not just a concept. Other people come forward and the project starts to build its own momentum.”
Purchasing the 140 acres at fair market value enabled them to play a second role as an “anchor tenant.” As David explains, “The impetus was how to try to preserve this land from development, but also how to make sure the Bissonettes got fair value for their land. Because that’s an important part of it.”
Helen adds, “It’s not just about preserving a view or agricultural land. There are unexpected values, like trails or protecting habitat.” And like Adam Guettel, the Nagels’ contribution has made them feel more connected to the area. “We’ve gotten a chance to become acquainted with other people who are interested in conservation,” Helen says. “And we’ve become a part of the community even though we don’t live here full-time. It’s really been worth it.”
In today’s economic climate, philanthropic conservation buyer transactions are all the more important to long-term protection of land. “Conservation funding is not keeping pace with the demand in Vermont and, despite the current recession, land values in rural Vermont have not declined appreciably,” says Gil Livingston. “We must be increasingly creative in finding solutions that will help protect land that is important to Vermont’s culture, economy, and communities. Thoughtful, committed conservation buyers like Adam and the Nagels will play a key role in this portfolio of solutions.”