Nashoba Publishing/Mary ArataThe founding fathers of the Harvard Conservation Trust were recognized as the 2012 Citizens of Note at Annual Town Meeting
Nashoba Publishing/Mary Arata The founding fathers of the Harvard Conservation Trust were recognized as the 2012 Citizens of Note at Annual Town Meeting Saturday at the Bromfield School. Original trustees Erhart Muller, left and Frank Coolidge, center, accepted the award on behalf of the several founding members of the organization. The Harvard Conservation Trust has played a direct hand in the conservation of hundreds of acres in town since its inception 40 years ago on June 16, 1973. Accompanying Muller and Coolidge was Muller's friend Worth Robbins, right.

HARVARD -- Founding members of the Harvard Conservation Trust were on hand at Saturday's annual Town Meeting to receive recognition as Harvard Citizens of Note, an annual honor bestowed on a citizen or group of citizens in town.

Harvard selectmen Chairwoman Lucy Wallace made the presentation to two of the trust's founding members -- Erhart Muller, and Frank Coolidge. Accompanying Muller to the front of Town Meeting was his longtime friend, Worth Robbins.

Moments before the presentation, another founder of the Harvard Conservation Trust, Larry Finnegan, was injured in a fall on stairs at the Bromfield School. Finnegan was whisked away by Harvard Ambulance for injuries sustained in the fall.

Wallace said she was sad that Finnegan missed the presentation "because he so deserved recognition by the town for all he has done since he and the other founding trustees started the HCT -- often quietly and in the background -- to shape the landscape we all treasure."

The text of Wallace's speech in honor of the founding members of the Harvard Conservation Trust follows:

Beginning in the early 1970s, a group of concerned citizens met to discuss the possibility of creating a local land trust to augment the town's conservation efforts. On June 16, 1973, with an initial anonymous donation of $50, the Harvard Conservation Trust was formed. Its purpose was to assist in and promote the preservation of the unique rural character and natural resources of Harvard. Its incorporating trustees were Erhart Muller, Larry Finnegan, Frank Coolidge, Edward Squibb and Albert Anderson.

One of the trust's first actions was the purchase of 3.59 acres on Pond Road in 1974, which were subsequently sold to the town for the town beach. Since then, through gifts or purchase, the trust has helped protect countless acres -- ranging from orchards and farmland to woodlands, wetlands and riparian corridors along Bowers Brook and Bare Hill Pond. Many of its purchases have been in collaboration with the town's Conservation Commission, with the trust acting to negotiate the initial purchase and holding the land until the Commission was funded and authorized by Town Meeting to acquire the land. The trust then often holds a conservation restriction on that land, further assuring its protection in perpetuity.

The tradition of gifting land to the trust was initiated by one of its founders, Erhart and Ruth Muller, with their donation of 31 acres of apple orchard, meadows and woodlands on Littleton County Road. This has been followed over the decades with gifts from generous landowners, most recently from the Estate of Elizabeth May in 2011 of 5 acres on West Bare Hill Road adjoining Ms. May's previous gift in 1994 of nearly 15 acres. As is often the case, these lands either form the core of future land acquisitions, which can lead to larger, landscape-sized holdings, or help connect previously protected lands to enlarge corridors for wildlife, protection of critical resources, and recreation. Being a private nonprofit entity, the trust has the ability to leverage its funds to protect critical acreage by selling a one- or two-frontage house lots to offset the cost of preserving the more critical backlands. This tool was first employed with the Muller gift on Littleton County Road and, most recently, in 2004 with the Dolan/Mason land on Slough Road.

After nearly 40 years of its existence, the trust now owns and manages 228 acres, which it either received as gifts from generous landowners or purchased. In addition, it holds conservation easements or restrictions on 407 acres, and has purchased and sold to the town or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service another 115 acres. Altogether, the trust has participated in the preservation of 751 acres, which help preserve the town's rural character and its important natural resources. And you can rest assured that there are more exciting projects in the works!

We are indeed fortunate for the vision and leadership of these early trustees and those that have followed. It is the Board of Selectmen's honor to name the Harvard Conservation Trust -- and particularly its founding trustees -- as the 2012 Citizens of Note.

Editor's note: Donations to the Harvard Conservation Trust may be made to The Harvard Conservation Trust, P.O. Box 31, Harvard, MA 01451. Learn more about the trust at HarvardConservationTrust.org.

Follow Mary Arata at twitter.com/maryearata.