CLIFTON PARK — The town has approved a grant contract with New York state in what will be the final steps of a multiyear process to permanently preserve over 70 acres of farmland in town.
Specifically, the town will preserve Maple Hill Farm, a 73-acre beef farm on Ashdown Road, which also has a large-scale maple syrup operation.
The farm is owned by Kurt and Julie Swartz. The town is seeking to acquire a conservation easement over the farm, a project that will cost a total of $544,900, according to town estimates.
Such legal agreements, typically between land owners and a government agency or land trust, strictly limit what the land can be used for, though landowners retain use of the land and still have the right to sell it. Any future owners, however, would also be bound by the permanent conservation easement.
Whoever owns the easement is responsible for making sure that the landowners continue to use the property for the specific purpose laid out in the agreement, such as farming.
In return for selling development rights to conservation groups, landowners receive an immediate infusion of cash.
New York state’s Farmland Protection Program provides grants to help land trusts purchase development rights from farmers.
In 2018, the town applied for a state funding via the Farmland Protection Implementation Grant program. The town was notified that the Maple Hill Farm project had been selected for funding last winter.
Specifically, the town was slated to receive $408,750 from the farmland protection program. Saratoga County will contribute $14,000 to the project, plus an estimated $6,250 of in-kind contributions toward that easement. Clifton Park will allocate $77,100 in cash to the project as well, to come out of its Western Clifton Park Open Space Incentive Zoning Fund.
Saratoga PLAN also helped the town develop the application for the award.
Swartz has said in the past that the conservation project is the most surefire way to keep the land shielded from other potential development after she and her husband retire.
"It’s not just for us," she said. "It’s a gift on our part to the community to preserve this open space. It will never be anything other than open space," she said.
Clifton Park Town Supervisor Phil Barrett said that the protection of farmland has been a large part of the town's open space plan, which was created in 2003 and was dedicated to identifying key areas of town ripe for permanent conservation.
"We've been able to permanently preserve more than 1,600 acres of property, with many new parks and nature preserves, so it's an important project for us," he said.
Barrett noted that the farm had been identified by the state as well as the town as a key area to preserve.
"So it's considered a very important property," he said.
The town also submitted a similar application to the state to preserve Bowman Orchards, a popular and much-loved farm directly in town, but the Bowman project ultimately was not awarded funding by the state for the upcoming year. But Barrett said the town would continue to try to get funding for that project as well.
"One [application] was chosen, so hopefully we'll have another partner to work with next year and we'll be successful again," he said.