Aquidneck Land Trust reaches goal to protect Spruce Acres farm

By Matt Sheley | Staff writer, The Newport Daily News

MIDDLETOWN — Jun 8, 2017 Efforts to save the Spruce Acres tree farm on the Middletown-Portsmouth line from development appear to have been successful.

On Thursday afternoon, Aquidneck Land Trust Executive Director Chuck Allott told The Daily News the nonprofit conservation group had secured $2.3 million to protect the 23-acre parcel.

spruce-acres-milestone

Aquidneck Land Trust Executive Director Chuck Allott said Thursday the nonprofit conservation group has secured $2.3 million to protect the 23-acre Spruce Acres on East Main Road in Portsmouth.

A $300,000 grant from the van Beuren Charitable Foundation based in Newport put the fundraising effort over the top; that money came through Wednesday, Allott said. The land trust had until June 30 to come up with all the funding.

Allott said the closing, when the land changes hands and becomes land trust property, is expected in mid-July.

“For whatever reason, this project resonated with so many people,” Allott said. “Maybe it was because of the history of the property and the fact people bought Christmas trees there, maybe it’s because development is beginning to pop again or the trail aspect of the project. This was easily the project the most individuals contributed to in our history. Whether it was $10 here or $10 there or the Gewirz family, who pledged $300,000, the response has been amazing.”

Landowner John Deveau said he couldn’t be happier with the news, which was delivered by Allott late Wednesday.

“I’m thrilled,” Deveau said. “It’s been so many years and such a really long, difficult road to get the property to the land trust, which is who we wanted to have it for years.”

The sale comes at the right time, Deveau said. Even as his family was working with the land trust, he said, developers were calling and making inquiries.

“It’s been picking up the last couple years and within the last year, no doubt,” Deveau said. “We could have gotten much more if we went somewhere else, but do we really need another cookie-cutter housing development? It was the right decision to preserve the land and all those calls didn’t sway our decision one bit.”

The campaign to save the tree farm kicked off last summer, when the land trust announced the property was under serious development pressure and at risk of being turned into houses.

A sign on the property at 1286 East Main Road urged people and businesses to contribute to help the land trust save the site. And contribute they did, Allott said.

On Wednesday, land trust staff determined there were more than 425 individual donations to the effort, a new record.

The land trust, founded in 1990, has saved more than 2,500 acres across the island from development.

For now, Allott said he and the rest of the land trust are focused on making sure the closing goes smoothly.

From there, he said, a new environmentally sensitive parking lot must be installed and work done on the trails and signs before the public will be allowed on the property.

He wasn’t able to say Thursday when the property would be open to the public. A community celebration is in the works to thank everyone involved and invite people to the property; the date and details are still being finalized, Allott said.

The land trust plans to relocate its headquarters to the historic home on the property and hold educational programs in some of the outbuildings, all of which need upgrades.

Allott said the excitement around the successful fundraising campaign is palpable.

“We’re elated, absolutely elated,” Allott said. “This was a huge effort and all the credit should go to the staff. They’re the ones who made it happen and I don’t think anyone can thank them enough.”

Besides saving the site and making it available to the public, Allott said another one of the selling points was the planned use of “green” infrastructure with all the upcoming projects.

“This is an excellent opportunity for us to show how a parking lot should be built in the future using ‘green’ methods or how to handle rainwater, things like that,” Allott said. “It’s going to be a good thing today and for future generations.”