The land trust in the smallest town in the smallest state has just been awarded one of the most prestigious national awards for its work. Members of the Little Compton Agricultural Conservancy Trust (LCACT) were presented with the National Award for Excellence in Land Conservation at the National Land Conservation Conference in Pittsburgh PA on Friday, September 19, in recognition of the Trust’s success and innovation in preserving the active working landscapes of Little Compton.
“We’re honored to be recognized for work that is truly our passion,” noted George Mason, chairman of the LCACT. “Preserving the farmland, stone walls, critical habitats and scenic views that define Little Compton is a time-limited opportunity and a privilege for those of us involved in the work. The Land Trust Alliance’s recognition of our efforts includes the citizens, land owners, and funding partners who make our work possible.”
The LCACT has protected to date, either directly or with its partners, a grand total of 1,650.4 acres of land (about 11% of Little Compton). This represents an increase of 25% in Trust holdings in just over a year’s time. The accomplishment is particularly noteworthy because Rhode Island has the nation’s highest average farmland values, and Little Compton has the highest land costs state-wide.
Key parcels such as the historic 1680’s Treaty Rock Farm, the Sakonnet Vineyards, and the 1820’s Almy Farm with its ¾ mile historic stonewall were all saved in partnership with both state and federal resources and private donations. These lands represent historic working farms, coastal shrublands and forested wetlands. The LCACT has also protected critical buffer land for the Watson Reservoir, which provides drinking water for the city of Newport.
Because protection of farmland is a key component of the LCACT’s mission, the Trust has crafted unique “Ag Specific” easements requiring continued farming on agricultural parcels, thus minimizing the risk that “gentlemen’s estates” might supplant working farms. In lieu of paying large cash rents for the protected land they work, Little Compton farmers are required to donate fixed dollar amounts of in-season crops to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. It is the Trust’s hope that some of these donations will be accepted into the town’s school lunch program.
Rand Wentworth, president of the Land Trust Alliance, said in bestowing the award that “The Little Compton Agricultural Conservancy Trust has accomplished so much, so creatively and so collaboratively, that its program serves as a model for other all-volunteer land trusts around the country. Despite the effects on Little Compton of high coastal land costs, suburban sprawl, and being discovered by high net-worth vacation home buyers, the LCACT’s efforts have succeeded through creative partnership with governmental and private land preservation organizations as well as private donors in their community.”
He added, “Together, the members of the LCACT are preserving the quality of life and unique rural character of their community – now and forever.”