Burrillville Land Trust acquires 65 acre property in Pascoag

A cover crop grows on the land, which is now known as the Ernie and Norma O'Leary Conservation Area. Credit: Paul Roselli

BURRILLVILLE – The Burrillville Land Trust will now oversee the care, management and preservation of a 65-acre property in Pascoag, thanks, in part, to the generosity of a family steeped in farming in northwestern Rhode Island.

The land trust has closed on a lot previously owned by Ernie and Norma O’Leary, which abuts the Buck Hill Management Area. The $250,000 purchase was funded with help from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, The Nature Conservancy’s Ginty Fund, the Bafflin Foundation, the June Rockwell Levy Foundation and members of the trust.

According to a release on the purchase, the deed for the parcel, known for its prime agricultural soils, was officially transferred on Wednesday, May 17.

“For more than 40 years, Ernie and Norma O’Leary grew corn for the family’s dairy herd on the land,” noted the land trust, a volunteer-run non-profit. “After Mr. O’Leary passed away in 2021, Mrs. O’Leary worked tirelessly to fulfill her late husband’s wish of seeing this piece of the Rhode Island landscape preserved for all time.”

The O’Leary family will reportedly continue to grow corn on the property via a lease agreement with the organization. The land trust plans to develop a small community garden and a hiking trail on the lot, next to other conserved land, but the leased area will continue to be farmed and closed off for any and all public use.

“The land will continue to be farmed as Ernie wanted,” said Norma O’Leary. “I am very pleased with how this worked out and know that Ernie would have felt the same.”

More than half of the funding for the purchase originated from the DEM Open Space Grant Program, created through state voter-approved green economy bonds. DEM holds a conservation easement over the Burrillville property, permanently limiting its use and protecting its conservation value.

“Only a true love of the land would motivate generosity like Mrs. O’Leary’s, and DEM is very grateful for it,” said DEM Director Terry Gray.

“The O’Learys’ farm is another key piece in the natural corridor that runs down the Rhode Island-Connecticut border,” said Scott Comings, TNC Associate State Director. “By keeping the forest and farms connected, the area stays resilient to climate change and continues to sustain migratory birds and other wildlife in two states.”

Land Trust President Paul Roselli noted that agriculture and agricultural soils in Rhode Island are under threat.

“Rhode Islanders are losing much of their healthy, produce-producing soils to the bulldozer,” Roselli said. “We are extremely happy to save this property for agriculture in perpetuity.”

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