Located on Mast Road (Route 155A) in Durham just outside Lee’s border, Amber Acres Farm is an established and beloved gateway into town, with exceptional active farmland, shoreline on the Oyster River, and scenic features. In 2012, Amber Acres Farm, like much of the land along Mast Road, faced real development pressures. The demand for student housing, particularly on the University of New Hampshire’s west side, along with its superbly flat landscape and desirable location, put the future of Amber Acres Farm in question at best and in danger at worst.
Caring About the Farm’s Future
When the owners of Amber Acres knew it was time to sell, they hoped for and pursued conservation alternatives to a conventional development sale. Working with the Southeast Land Trust, the owners agreed to sell a conservation easement at just 75% of the appraised value – a remarkable contribution of $382,500. Further, the owners made it clear they were open to agreements that would allow and encourage agricultural use of the Farm forever. Toward that end, following completion of the easement sale, the owners plan to donate the conserved property to the Land Trust, who will then make it available for continued agricultural production.
The success of Amber Acres was made possible through a diversity of funding sources. The US Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provided a leading grant of $765,000 from the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program. The Town of Durham Conservation Commission provided $250,000. State funding from the New Hampshire Land and Community Heritage Investment Program and the Conservation License Plate (Moose Plate) were matched with contributions from more than 75 individuals and foundations. Thank you to all who helped conserve this productive, scenic landscape!
The conservation and community values of Amber Acres were many, and include:
Water Supply Quality: Amber Acres Farm has close to one mile of shoreline on the Oyster River, which serves a population of 16,000 and provides about 54% (.576 million gallons/day) of the water used daily by Durham and UNH. Its provisions require a natural, no-disturbance buffer of at least 75 feet, designed to maintain the river’s water quality.
Farming: With two-thirds of the property at work as open fields, the land is well suited for agriculture. Currently, 25 of the Farm’s 39 acres are hayed by a local farmer and 68% of the Farm’s land contains productive farm soils. Once conserved, the intention is to ensure Amber Acres Farm’s continued and perpetual use for local food production.
Natural Resources and Conservation Values: With almost all of the property designated by the NH Wildlife Action Plan (2010) as “highest ranked habitat” in the state, Amber Acres Farm is an important property to conserve. Its open fields and river-front shrublands provide habitats that are becoming scarce across New Hampshire. Rare species such as the Blanding’s turtle, Bobolink song bird, and American brook lamprey are likely Amber Acres visitors.
Conservation Connections: Once conserved, Amber Acres Farm will join several protected properties to become part of a landscape-scale conservation area encompassing 2,200 acres in Durham and Lee. In addition, the Town of Durham, working in conjunction with the Trust for Public Land, is in the process of acquiring the abutting 176-acre Sprucewood Forest, also rich in natural resource values, including water and several habitat types. Perhaps the property’s strengths are best summed up by John Parry, chair of the Durham Conservation Commission: “The Commission had strong and unanimous agreement on this being a high priority project. Not many properties address all of the conservation values that are priorities in Durham’s Guidelines for Acquiring Conservation/Open Space. Amber Acres has the distinction of doing just that.”