Six property owners are taking steps to keep one of Vermont\'s better-preserved historic towns pristine.

Three Peacham families will close on final paperwork today donating a combined 113 acres of conservation easements to the Vermont Land Trust.

The Vermont Land Trust is a Montpelier-based private nonprofit land conservation program with the stated mission of conserving land for the future of Vermont.

The trust is best known for its work with the Champion land deal. It holds conservation easements on the Essex timber, a portion of former Champion lands, said Tracy Zschau, regional director for the trust\'s Northeast Kingdom office.

This latest conservation effort in the NEK is the culmination of a four-year project. Land easements from so-called \"Peacham initiative\" participants will be added to the 2,105 acres already protected in town, and 6,764 protected through conservation easements in Caledonia county.

Harry and Betsey Barnes are donating easements on 73 acres, Lynne and Barry Lawson, around 24 acres and Sidney and Anne Wanzer, around 16 acres.

Because this is seen as a charitable donation, they will be most likely eligible to get an income tax deduction for the sum of the easement\'s value, but will still pay property tax.

Harry Barnes hopes the easement on his 73 acres will go toward keeping the land open and available for agricultural use.

\"We are not farmers ourselves, but we lease our land to the Kemptons (a dairy farm family),\" Barnes said.

After owning property in town for seven years, he is motivated to conserve it by a concern for the environment.

Barnes joined an earlier Peacham group in urging others to conserve their land, and said he figured he and his wife should walk their talk and protect their own land.

While he spends much of his time out of the area, Barnes said he has been trying to keep up responsible land practices with the help of Betsey.

\"I think (Peacham) is a great community, and it has the potential to be even greater in terms of what the community can establish for everybody,\" Barnes said, explaining that if the land in town is kept open, residents and visitors will continue to be able to hay, farm, walk in the woods, and the like.

The Lawsons had also been active in trying to convince others to put their land in land trust, Barry Lawson said Thursday.

Lawson, a planning commission member, said he looked to a recent opinion survey asking how townspeople envision growth.

Results showed that people want development concentrated in the village, and that they really don\'t want to see subdivisions, such as occurs in suburban areas.

\"We have a lot of open land that other towns don\'t have,\" Lawson said.

Some people feel their land will drop in value if it is locked in the land trust, he said, but added that the money generated by selling the easement might make it possible for somebody to farm longer than anticipated.

\"We are not pushing people to do that, but with the Peacham land trust project, they can talk to Tracy to see if they can accomplish their goals relative to their incomes,\" Lawson said.

He opens his land for agricultural and recreational use for the public. The land is hayed by Glendon Marceau, and is used by the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers for snowmobile trails as well.

While the land trust is one way to conserve land, Lawson asserts the best way is to use it for agriculture, but added that with milk prices going up and the high price of farming, it is no longer the most viable way.

Sidney Wanzer said protecting the environment is his main concern.

\"We like the idea that Peacham is a beautiful, rural area, and it would be nice to preserve the character for the future,\" Wanzer said.

He and his wife live in Concord, Mass., most of the time, but built a home in Peacham 10 years ago, where they spend summers and vacation time.

Donating a conservation easement protects the land permanently, yet keeps it in private ownership, states information provided by the Vermont Land Trust. To date, 385,000 acres in Vermont have been conserved with VLT.


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