WEST PARIS — Another large parcel of land in West Paris has been saved from development under a conservation easement between the family of the late Maurice G. Benson and the Western Foothills Land Trust.
Late last month, Marcia Benson of Saugus, Mass., donated a conservation easement protecting 182 acres of managed forest lands in West Paris and Woodstock in memory of her father.
This is the third conservation easement the Trust holds in West Paris and the first in Woodstock, Lee Dassler of the Western Hills Foothills said.
“I know he would love this,” Marcia said in a telephone interview.
Benson described her father, who died in 1991, as a well-known local businessman who also was a benefactor to the children of the small community. His name is attached to the playground at the Agnes Gray Elementary School on Main Street.
“He owned heavy equipment so when they needed a racetrack for the soap box derby at the ballpark, he always donated his time and equipment,” she said of one of his many contributions to the town.
Although he owned Benson's Coal and Oil until the age of 65, his heart was always in the woods. He “dabbled” in the wood business hauling wood to places such as Oxford Paper Co. and buying and selling thousands of acres of land, she said. As a young man he drove a team of horses to twitch out logs and was talented searching out woodlots to buy. At one time he had 15 people working in the woods for him, she said.
But his most precious time, she said, was when Maurice walked in the woods. He loved the beauty of nature and the serenity of walking through a forest, she said.
“He loved the woods. I remember walking through the woods one day and he asked me did I enjoy walking through the woods. I said no I didn't. I always regretted saying that to him,” Marcia said.
Although she left the Oxford Hills in her 20s to live in populated cities, she knew those same woods were a source of inspiration for her father.
The land, which has frontage along Churchill Hill and Curtis Hill roads, is north of Main Street in West Paris, Dassler said. The forested parcel, which originally included the large extended farmhouse on Main Street, was bought by Maurice G. Benson in the 1940s.
The family farmhouse where Marcia Benson grew up near town and 12 acres have been retained by the family.
Dassler said that ownership of the parcel will not change but the conservation easement allows continued current use of the land as a working forest by prohibiting its future subdivision and development.
Under the terms of the easement, the forest will continue to be managed when appropriate and areas can be opened for agriculture if practicable, Dassler said. The land is currently posted for hunting and trapping. Unauthorized motorized vehicles are not allowed on the land. The easement permits the creation of a walking trail by the Land Trust which would be beneficial to the community.
Dassler said the Trust would welcome working with students from the Agnes Gray Elementary School on the design of that trail, something that Marcia Benson said she also hopes will occur.
Dassler said the Maine Natural Area Program was pleased to hear about the easement as the protected parcel is adjacent to Berry’s Ledge, which has unusually alkaline soils for Maine, making it prime land for its wild plant species.
“The protected land will provide a forested buffer for the Berry’s Ledge in perpetuity,” she said in a statement announcing the donation.
The division between Woodstock and West Paris runs through the parcel. The northern portion of the land is off the Curtis Hill Road and lies in Woodstock.
In addition to thanking Marcia Benson for her “foresight and generosity,” Dassler said the Trust also noted the contribution of Kirk Siegel of Hanley Associates for his assistance.