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Editorial: Keeping one tract on right track

Riverfront land in the Valley tends to come with rich, dark soil and a deep backstory. That’s certainly the case with the 57 acres off Hockanum Road in Hadley that will be protected from development through a deal made possible with a $600,000 state grant orchestrated by the town, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission and the Kestrel Land Trust.

The land lies across Route 47 from the Barstow family’s Longview Farm. These acres made news this week. They did in 1840, too, when parts of the current parcel were bought up by enterprising folks after the big river at their backs changed course at the Oxbow. And that was 93 years after members of the Thayer family purchased land here at the southern tip of Hadley, not far from an area that took its local name, Thermopylae, from a Greek coastal passage made famous in a battle in 480 B.C.

Remarkably, members of the Thayer family have remained owners of the land. That clan has seen this tract through 265 years of farming use — and wasn’t ready to see that streak end.

The land now carries an agricultural preservation restriction that was first obtained by Kestrel with help from the Trustees of Reservations and will be turned over to the state’s Department of Agricultural Resources.

As Rick Thayer said, “It means a lot to us to know that this prime farmland will stay in agriculture forever.”

It is a big win for preservationists to secure another significant parcel along the Connecticut River. Along with agriculture, the deal helps preserve a parallel goal of keeping Route 47 one of the loveliest travel routes through our region.

Actually, it isn’t just Route 47 this land sits beside, it’s a stretch of the Connecticut River Scenic Byway, another name for that same road. The state’s funding for the project comes through the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, which works to protect property that borders the byway. Not only is it recognized by the state, the route as it travels through both Hadley and South Hadley, is part of the National Scenic Byway system.

It isn’t only old houses that lend character to our landscapes. It is open space and agricultural production itself, for farming isn’t a state of mind, it’s an occupation.

Today, the land produces corn and hay. It has for years, you see, and will next year and the next. Thanks to this intrepid team of preservationists and the Thayer family, that’s to be the story of this Hockanum Road address for the future as far as it can be imagined.

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