GOULDSBORO — The two draft horses that meander across the snow-covered field pulling a large wooden sleigh hark back to the days when the transportation needs of Gouldsboro residents were provided by four-legged horse power.
The land the horses traverse has been preserved in perpetuity by Darthia Farm owners William and Cynthia Thayer so the pastoral scene will not be erased by developers.
The Thayers are among a growing number of property owners who view their land as something to be conserved, not developed. Their 133-acre parcel includes a pasture, farm land and large stands of trees as well as a 1,000-foot beach on West Bay.
Last December, the Thayers gave the Frenchman Bay Conservancy a conservation easement on 33 acres of land situated between Route 186 and West Bay.
A building area has been designated in the middle of the property where three homes, barns and other farm buildings are located. The terms of the easement allow the construction of another residence and additional farm buildings in a designated area.
The open space area that adjoins the road and shore will be kept free from development and may be used for farming or as wildlife habitat. The woods near the shore are protected from clear-cutting.
In addition to the Thayers, the property is used to raise milk and beef cattle, Haflinger draft horses, sheep, pigs, turkeys and is home for assorted dogs. The property also is a haven for eagles, ospreys and moose that make an occasional trek from Forbes Pond. The Thayers have owned the farm since 1976.
As they sat in their kitchen enjoying the warmth of the wood stove, the Thayers reflected the need they felt to protect the character of their land. The couple, along with their son, Tom Saad, his wife, Sheila Unvala, and granddaughter, Leila, live and work at the farm.
From May to October, they sell vegetables, fruit, herbs, jams, chutneys, syrups, vinegar, cheese, yogurt, pesto, free-range meat and other products.
The organically grown blueberries they sell come from a neighbor, Harry Cunningham, a former apprentice who once worked at the farm in exchange for room and board.
The Thayer farm and Cunningham’s blueberry fields are certified by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.
Last year, the Thayers approached the Frenchman Bay Conservancy about preserving their land, and with the help of the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, a conservation easement was created.
“We are interested in protecting properties that have high conservation value and-or public value,” said Forrest Dillon, administrator of the FBC.
He explained that the property must meet criteria established by the FBC. In addition to the Thayer and Cunningham property, the FBC holds conservation easements on property in Franklin and Marlborough.
“This is in an area that has real rural character. It is beautiful, a lot of traditional farming goes on, and there is a lot of open space left here. At the same time, it also is an area that has a lot of development pressure and rising property cost,” Dillon said.
Although conservation easements often are touted as a way to reduce property taxes, Bill Thayer said he did not believe there would be a significant change in property taxes because the land already was taxed as farm land.
Gouldsboro Town Manager Sally Crowley described development in Gouldsboro as a “creeping” pressure. She said the Thayers’ conservation easement was a “win-win” situation.
“We still have tax revenues coming in, yet we have a way of protecting some of the natural resource which is our coastline,” she said.