During the past 47 years, the Trust has helped acquire or protect more than 850 acres of land in Harvard. Through the years, decision-making around which land to protect has depended upon the makeup of the Trustees and the opportunities that arose. The Trust’s land preservation efforts are sometimes in the form of permanently protecting private land by placing a Conservation Restriction on a portion of the land, ensuring that land will never be developed, and will always retain its conservation values. Other times, the Trust has stepped in for land that the town wanted to preserve and acted as the lender, of sorts since the process of securing funding from the Town Meeting form of government takes much longer than the opportunity presented when land comes on the open market. The Trust has also been generously gifted land by residents, sometimes as part of their estate planning. But the Trust also pro-actively pursues land for protection, and that has been the strategy more often used in recent years as the cost of land has dramatically increased. Given limited financial resources, we need to be selective about which land purchases to pursue.
The Trust’s Land Protection Committee has worked deliberately to codify a process for determining the conservation value of land that is under consideration for protection. A two-dimensional matrix uses a point-value system for various attributes that results in an overall score of the value of a particular parcel. Qualities, such as ecological significance, public recreational opportunity, scenic value, project cost, acreage, agricultural value, are all assigned a weighted score that results in a score grade that helps drive decisions about what is worthy of the huge administrative, legal, and fundraising efforts that are required to complete a preservation project.
One characteristic that greatly drives the score is the adjacency, or connectivity to other conservation areas. Our goal is to provide trail connections for public recreation, and larger contiguous permanently protected areas for wildlife habitat and groundwater protection. Harvard has many modest sized conservation areas whose conservation values can be increased by “linkage” to other conservation areas. We have several projects underway to accomplish exactly that goal. We are anxiously working to bring these projects to a close and expand on our mission to compound the value of each protected parcel through these expansions or connections. These connections will provide greater opportunities for expanding our trail network and avoid the fragmentation of habitat that development creates. You can help by contributing to HCT to enable us to cover the expenses associated with the purchases and target more opportunities in the near future.