“…let us set out in the hope that our descendants may say it has been not less well with them than it was with us and with our fathers. It is a goodly land; and may they in their day feel blest in its possession, no less than do we in ours.”
– Charles Francis Adams in his 1904 Anniversary Address in Lincoln
Out of this belief was born the mission of both the Lincoln Land Conservation Trust (LLCT) and the Rural Land Foundation (RLF): to preserve the rural character of Lincoln. Since the mid-20th century, the two organizations have played important roles in helping Lincoln face development head on to protect the town’s legacy of open space, agriculture and recreation.
A Post-World War II boom leads to the Town’s first steps in conservation and development
The Lincoln area, like the rest of post-World War II America in the 1950s, was experiencing rapid growth. With the development of the Route 128 corridor, many area-farming communities were developing open land to address booming housing and commercial needs.
Understanding early on that development could not be stopped, but could be done better, Lincoln residents sought to find that middle ground between outright freezing of the land and uncontrolled development. Among the first steps taken by Lincoln and its residents:
- the adoption of stricter residential zoning requirements, increasing residential zoning requirements from just under an acre to 1.89 acres;
- the founding of the Lincoln Land Conservation Trust (LLCT) in 1957. The LLCT, formed to preserve the rural character of Lincoln through land management, trail maintenance, and education and outreach, was the first single town-based private land trust in the Commonwealth;
- the formation of the Lincoln Conservation Commission in 1958. Lincoln was one of the first twelve towns in Massachusetts to do so; and
- the founding of the Rural Land Foundation (RLF) in 1965. The RLF was created to focus on real estate development – not in the traditional sense of buy and sell, but in strategic land conservation, management, and development.
These three actions were important early steps, setting the tone for how land development would take place, ensuring that town residents would play an active role in how the town would continue to grow and evolve.
Pioneering the use of conservation restrictions
In 1962, the LLCT recorded ten conservation restrictions on properties along Fairhaven Bay on the Sudbury River – well before the Massachusetts legislation formally recognized such restrictions as a public benefit. In its first seven years of existence, the LLCT also acquired 51 acres of deeded conservation land.
Generating value thru creative land-use planning
It wasn’t long before the RLF would find its first project. In 1966, the 109-acre Wheeler Farm came on the market, generating a flurry of proposals from area developers. Eight RLF trustees joined with 30 Lincoln residents, who each guaranteed up to $10,000 of a $285,000 loan to the RLF. With this backing, the RLF implemented a limited development plan that created 10 residential housing lots – with no further development or subdivision opportunities – and had the LLCT manage the remaining 50-plus acres for conservation.
That initial foray into conservation was quickly followed by multiple projects throughout the 1960s and 1970s, and in the organization’s first 20 years, the RLF invested nearly $1 million of capital into multiple projects, including the Codman Estate, Lincoln Woods, and Lincoln Station, whose proceeds are invested back into the organization’s conservation work.
Forging forward in the 21st century
As the Rural Land Foundation and the Lincoln Land Conservation Trust turned the page on the 20th century and looked forward, the two organizations realized that they needed full-time staff to help meet the growing needs of the community.
In 2000, the RLF created its first-paid staff position, hiring an executive director; and in 2011, the LLCT hired a stewardship coordinator, responsible for the care and management of LLCT lands and trails. In addition, in 2011, the boards of the RLF and the LLCT decided to merge, enabling each arm to deepen its area of expertise – with the RLF focused on acquisitions and the LLCT on land management, stewardship, education and outreach.
Together, the staff and trustees of RLF have:
- led more than 25 land acquisitions, helping to permanently preserve more than 40 percent of Lincoln’s open space, protecting important watershed areas and creating valuable recreational areas;
- raised more than $35 million for conservation protection through public and private fundraising and limited development ventures;
- established nearly 75 conservation restrictions (CRs), enabling the protection of hundreds of acres of private lands;
- served on the Town of Lincoln’s Open Space & Recreation Planning committee;
- helped the Town develop low- to moderate-income housing, ensuring that affordable housing is available to those in need; and
- maintained commercial development at the Mall at Lincoln Station (which it developed in the 1980s), sustaining a vibrant town center that meets residents’ key needs.
During this same growth period, LLCT has:
- helped secure and maintain more than 80 miles of interconnected trails throughout Lincoln;
- monitored more than 100 conservation restrictions annually to ensure long term protection of the land;
- managed more than 500 acres of protected fields, forests and wetlands;
- sponsored more than 300 educational programs, connecting the community to Lincoln’s natural resources and conservation legacy; and
- collaborated with numerous Town and regional organizations on sustainable watershed protection, invasive species management, and many other conservation and environmental projects.
Most recently, LLCT and RLF helped to secure the development of the 16-acre Wang property located at 100 Bedford Road. This 2 million-dollar-plus, multi-use project included four acres to serve as the new home for Birches School, a nature-based micro-school, three acres for a new athletic field for the Town, and nine acres to be placed into conservation, with land management provided by the LLCT and the Town.
Today, LLCT and RLF continue to play the role of strategist, helping the Town of Lincoln shape its future by continuing to embrace smart development and, through acquisition, to secure conservation opportunities that would otherwise be lost. The combined dedication of staff, trustees, members and volunteers ensures that the work we do continues to preserve the rural character that has made Lincoln a haven of open space for generations and will continue to do so for years to come.