Established in 1987, FLT has changed significantly over the years: we’ve grown from a tiny, one-person office to a thriving, fully-staffed organization. We’ve developed many new strategies to conserve land, but working with farmers is just as important today as it was in the beginning.
For over 30 years FLT has worked to conserve the farms, fields, forests and other natural resources significant to the environmental quality, economy and rural character of western Massachusetts. We look forward to serving our community for many more years to come.
During the mid 1980’s landscape architect Harry Dodson and building inspector Steve Judge realized that the farmland and beautiful scenery that defines our region was in jeopardy. Under economic pressure, farmers were selling their land at an alarming rate. The development of this farmland threatened to transform the landscape while at the same time damage the local agricultural economy and long tradition of small family farms. In response to this growing threat, Dodson and Judge formed the Franklin Land Trust, an all-volunteer organization.
The Trust for Public Land helped Harry and Steve get FLT off the ground with technical and financial assistance. A newly created Board of Directors incorporated FLT in 1987, and shortly after, hired their first Executive Director, Mark Zenick. FLT was just one of many land trusts starting up throughout the region. Most of these, however, sought mainly to conserve open space, whereas the Franklin Land Trust was primarily focused on saving farmland. FLT worked to save core farmland by purchasing properties and then selling the development rights to the state APR Program. The protected farms were then sold to young farmers, allowing FLT to recover part or all of its investment.
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By 1991, the Franklin Land Trust had completed eleven projects, conserving over a thousand acres of local farm and forestland in five different towns. The largest of these was Albert’s Farm, a 214-acre potato farm in Hawley. Mark Zenick describes those years as “busy, and often frenetic.” Hundreds of hours were spent speaking with individual landowners, investigating conservation strategies, connecting with state and national conservation organizations, and familiarizing the public with FLT’s services.
By 1993, the Franklin Land Trust had conserved 2,380 acres in eleven different towns in Franklin County through twenty-six projects. The largest of these was 350 acres in Buckland, a project involving a farmer and a private buyer. This project made it possible for the largest dairy farm in western Massachusetts to continue in agricultural use, saved from development. By the end of the 1990’s, FLT had protected 5,530 acres in fourteen towns through 62 conservation projects.
As the Franklin Land Trust became more successful and its work more widely known, it also grew as an organization. In early 2004, Rich Hubbard joined FLT as Assistant Executive Director. Rich formerly held a number of positions at the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources and worked closely with Mark Zenick on many APR projects. Rich and Mark worked together for five months, and when Mark decided to relocate to England, Rich came on as Executive Director. Soon, FLT also added the positions of Land Steward and Director of Land Conservation. With FLT’s organizational growth came recognition of its many successes: in 2004, FLT was singled out for a Kodak National Greenways Award from the Eastman Kodak Company, the Conservation Fund and the National Geographic Society. Shortly after, FLT moved its office from Ashfield to a more central and visible location in Shelburne Falls.
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In 2007, FLT took a major organizational leap toward increasing its land protection capacity. A private foundation provided funds that allowed FLT to hire a consultant to lead the organization through a strategic planning process and the development of a comprehensive three-year Strategic Plan. Undergoing an intensive planning effort at the same time as celebrating FLT’s 20th Anniversary was a challenging yet enlightening and energizing experience. As a result of the process, FLT received a three-year challenge grant from the same foundation that enabled FLT to hire its first full-time Development Director and a full-time Land Protection Specialist.
2007 was also a record year for FLT’s land conservation work. Despite taking time from our regular land protection activities to work on strategic planning, FLT’s land staff was able to meet the challenge presented by the large number of landowners dealing with generational transfer concerns, as well as those who wanted to take advantage of special tax incentives from the federal government. By December 31, 28 projects were completed, resulting in the conservation of 2,640 acres of land.
In 2008 FLT made another organizational leap, merging with the Deerfield Land Trust, and thereby strengthening efforts to protect the rural, historic and agricultural character of the Connecticut River watershed. FLT continues to collaborate with several other land trusts in the area, and routinely works with state agencies, towns and other non-profits to increase conservation efforts, pool resources and foster a community ethic of land conservation in the region.
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During the following three years the pace of our land protection activity continued to accelerate, and FLT surpassed the 20,000 acre benchmark. In 2011, FLT faced a significant challenge, however, when the office we rented was flooded during Tropical Storm Irene. As soon as the National Guard allowed us access, FLT staff scrambled to rescue files, computers and office furniture from the building, and managed to save most of our belongings from extensive damage.
We were lucky to find temporary space in the Palmeri Building on the Mohawk Trail (Route 2) in Shelburne Falls, but the FLT Board and Staff determined it was time to find the organization a permanent home. In 2012 FLT initiated a capital campaign, and began raising funds to purchase and renovate FLT’s first permanent home on Mechanic Street in Shelburne Falls. We also celebrated our 25th anniversary with another milestone: 25,000 acres of conserved land.
In 2013 FLT was honored by CISA (Community involved in sustaining Agriculture) with a Local Hero Award. CISA recognized the critical role FLT and other area land trusts play in the ongoing viability of small family farms, the availability of affordable farmland and abundance of local food products.
In 2014, FLT purchased, renovated and moved into their permanent home at 5 Mechanic Street in Shelburne Falls.
Now in our 30th year, FLT has conserved more than 30,000 acres of productive, scenic, and ecologically sensitive land in our community, including 14,000 acres of farmland. FLT is still known for its ability to reach out to local landowners on a personal level and work with each individual’s unique situation. Our goals remain the same: preserve and protect the open space and rural character of Franklin County. We’re indebted to the vision, energy and skills of those in the community—past and present—who dedicate their time to conserving this special part of the world we call home.