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37 acres of Ligonier Valley farm protected by easement

| Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012, 12:02 a.m.

The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy announced it has protected more than 37 acres of farmland through an agricultural easement at the headwaters of a notable Westmoreland County creek.

The Fairfield property sits at the headwaters of Tubmill Creek, which has been identified as a priority watershed because of the aquatic life in the stream. The creek flows northwest near the Westmoreland-Indiana County border for approximately 12.6 miles through rural forests and a small portion of agricultural land until it discharges into the Conemaugh River just west of Bolivar.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission classifies it as a Class A wild trout water for rainbow trout beginning at the headwaters to Tubmill Reservoir, a distance of about four miles.

The land, which has been continuously farmed by the same family since the early 19th century, falls within the Laurel Highlands, where the conservancy has protected more than 80,000 acres of land.

The conservancy noted that an agricultural easement is a voluntary agreement with landowners that keeps property in private hands. In the immediate case involving the 37-acre parcel, siblings William E. Wilt, Tim H. Wilt and Joan A. Ahlers permanently restrict its future uses.

The owners, who inherited the farmland, wish for it to permanently be an agricultural or natural area, said William Wilt.

“We don't want to see the land broken up; we want to keep it together,” Wilt said in a news release. “We're trying to hold on to a beautiful piece of land and keep it that way.”

The agricultural easement will limit subdivision and the building of additional structures. It also will restrict future commercial activities to farming, forestry or farming-related businesses only, thereby conserving agricultural soils and protecting a historically and culturally significant Ligonier Valley farm.

“This project will help protect the water quality in the Tubmill Creek watershed and conserve open space in the Ligonier Valley and the Laurel Highlands,” said Conservancy President and Chief Executive Officer Thomas Saunders. “This is part of WPC's ongoing effort to secure agricultural easements in the area.”

Colcom Foundation, the Katherine Mabis McKenna Foundation, the Richard King Mellon Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture provided financial support for the project that closed last month.

The conservancy is a private nonprofit conservation organization founded in 1932 that has helped to establish 10 state parks, conserved more than 233,000 acres of natural lands and protected or restored more than 1,500 miles of rivers and streams.

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