Fifteen percent of the land in Schenectady County is in an agricultural district, and the percentage continues to increase each year.
The Schenectady County Legislature received two applications this winter for three tax parcels to add to the district, a total of 264 more acres. Last Tuesday, the Legislature unanimously passed the resolution to expand the county’s agricultural district.
Schenectady County Director of Communications Joe McQueen said the agricultural district encourages continued use of farmland and production, and offers certain protections for property owners within the district so agricultural operations are the land’s primary use.
“The Agricultural District provides more safeguards than incentives,” McQueen said. “It seeks to protect the rights of farmers and preserve agricultural land. It designates land as farmland … not as land available for future development for other uses.”
An agricultural district provides many benefits, including preserving “groundwater recharge, open space and scenic viewsheds,” according to the state Department of Agriculture and Markets website.
Cal Welch, a Scotia resident, owns 229 acres in Glenville, which was officially incorporated into the district after the Legislature’s Tuesday meeting.
The majority of the land is forest with thousands of oak, maple and hickory trees. Welch said he has owned the first parcel of 97 acres for the past 35 years, and purchased other 132 acres in 2010.
“The state is changing the 480A forest tax exemption, where I get a break on real estate taxes,” Welch explained Friday. “The changing classifications could have made the property fall out of meeting the requirements to get the exemption … that might make me not able to afford it, and maybe have to subdivide it and not be able to save the trees.
“Being a part of the county’s agricultural district will help protect it,” he added, as the thousands of trees are on property zoned agricultural, but also rural residential.
Welch said the trees are mainly used for tapping maple syrup each winter, and harvesting some for lumber every few years.
Welch said a 34-acre portion of the forest was logged about three years ago, and probably won’t be for several more years.
“Trees don’t grow overnight,” Welch said with a smile. “It’s a long process. A forester comes and marks the trees … and goes out to solicit bids from loggers.
“It’s strictly a hobby,” he added. “It’s not something I do for profit.”
Welch’s family continuously supports and has helped him maintain the space over the past several decades.
Welch’s son, Chris, and Chris’ wife, Erica, said they both enjoy being involved in tapping maple syrup each season.
“Now, we tap anywhere between 500 to 600 trees,” Erica said, surrounded by hundreds of feet of tubing connected to the maple trees and leading to the barn where the syrup is processed.
The couple said the family often gives the fresh syrup as gifts to others, but doesn’t sell it at this time.
“We do it because we love it,” Chris said.
Cal Welch’s daughter, Caroline Welch, has also grown up watching the forest on the property thrive.
“Spaces like this show the diversity in Schenectady County. You have Proctors and downtown Schenectady right over there,” Caroline said, gesturing roughly five miles southeast of her family’s land. “The significant agricultural presence in the county offers a wide variety of experiences.”
“It’s why people live here,” Erica Welch said. “You can have the city, but also the countryside right around the corner. It’s the best of both worlds.”
Cal Welch said he was pleased his application to be included in the district was accepted.
“It’s good to know we have the coverage,” he said. “It makes us happy to be a part of the open space in the county.
“The county has 15 percent of its land in the district, but in reality, there’s a lot more.”
“Most people are surprised to learn that Schenectady County has so much agricultural land,” McQueen said. “The agricultural district helps to protect small family farms and it preserves open space. It is part of the county’s smart growth strategy to preserve open space.”
Cal Welch said he loves his forest, and he plans to maintain it.
“It’s fun to come out here and wander,” Welch said. “Nothing’s better than looking at the trees and being outdoors. It’s absolutely beautiful.”
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