When we moved to this part of Bucks County about 30 years ago it looked a lot different. Dublin ran along Route 313 from Elephant Road to Route 113, just about the way it does today, but behind those buildings was open farmland.
There were no developments to speak of then, and a much smaller population. But it was obvious that changes were coming and some people had concerns that our area would turn into a crowded “suburb.”
The idea of land preservation began about that time or had even been discussed by folks who had been here longer than we newbies had. One of our neighbors called a meeting of the folks along our road to talk about the possibility that we may have problems coming with developers coming in to change the rural nature of our neighborhood.
In communities south of us, such as Buckingham, there were already organizations supporting land preservation.
At the time, an elderly farmer was selling off 10-acre lots along our road. This was seen as the beginning of a problem. The next step would be developers looking for larger tracts.
We sought help in preserving our land. This was a new idea and some were concerned that preserved land might be less desirable if you wanted to sell your property later. It was a gamble. We ended up working with Heritage Conservancy, based in Doylestown, because it was an older organization with more resources.
You’ve probably heard of landowners being paid large amounts per acre to preserve land. That is definitely true when you are speaking of large tracts that are in danger of going to developers with bottomless pockets.
But we had only 10 acres and in order to preserve it we were asked to pay the conservancy instead, and we did — it was worth it to us — we paid them $1,000 an acre (not a small amount in those days). The reasoning was that there are anticipated expenses involved in preservation. Heritage had to monitor our stewardship of our property to make sure we lived up to our agreement, and there was always the possibility that a developer would come in and challenge the preservation — and that involves defending it in court. Over the years the various conservancies have gained in resources and now are able to grant appropriate amounts to preserve these large tracts of land that might be taken from agriculture. And today I am happy to report that there are nearly 500 preserved acres circling around our modest beginning.
What does “preserving” mean? I can only tell you what we agreed to. We have a small pocket of land set aside for our house and its surrounding yard and driveway. The major portion of fields and tree lines is considered farmland, and can be used for any farm-related purposes — pasture, crops, etc. Any other buildings are limited to location and agricultural purposes.
A stretch of trees and a creek along one border have a “natural preservation” and we cannot disturb it (such as changing the natural flow of the creek, planting non-native plants, removing trees, clearing areas). We are allowed to bring out one cord of wood per year. Otherwise it must be left in its natural state. It is inspected yearly by the Conservancy to make sure we are not breaking any rules.
Summing it up, this small farm will always look the way it does today. The preservation agreement goes with the property and is binding on any new owner.
Was it a wise thing to do? We think so. It feels good to know that this small part of Bucks County will remain just about the way it looks today. As it turns out, preserved land like this is desirable on the market, particularly when it is situated in a larger bloc of preserved land — there will never be development on the other side of our creek because that 80 acres is also preserved.
We have loved living on our small farm these 30 plus years. We have had sheep, chickens, and even a horse over these years.
What an exciting time it has been for two kids from suburban childhoods. Our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren have enjoyed time here.
We came in a period when there were active farms all around us — real farms, not hobby farms like ours. We had farmer friends and were part of the Grange.
It has been a very special time in our lives and we feel so fortunate to have had this experience. And we have the satisfaction of knowing that this will not end with our stewardship.
Toni Kellers is a retired math teacher and a semi-retired farmer. She lives in Bedminster.