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Land Trust, Family Celebrate Easement

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CANTON - For the past 35 years, Richard D. Kepes and his wife, Joan S., have enjoyed the wooded trails, wildlife and large pond on their 182-acre property about a mile south of the village.
Now they don't have to worry about the future of the rural landscape that's been home since 1977 when they purchased a two-story farmhouse at 5893 County Route 27.
In December, the couple completed and signed a conservation easement that restricts future owners from developing sections of their land.
Protected areas include waterfront property they own along the Grasse River directly across from Taylor Park, a popular public beach and picnic area off Miner Street Road.
The easement guarantees that future generations will continue to see pristine forestland along the waterfront when they visit Taylor Park, It also protects the property's wetlands and vernal pools and establishes regulations for any future logging.
"We love it so much the way it is. We don't want to see it developed into something like Walmart," said Mrs. Kepes, 79. "We like the open spaces, the trails and the pond. We see geese, turkeys and all kinds of animals."
Preparing the easement was a lengthy process that took more than two years to complete. Mr. and Mrs. Kepes were assisted by the St. Lawrence Land Trust, a non-profit group dedicated to the voluntary conservation of privately-owned space in the St. Lawrence region and Northern Adirondacks.
Since forming in 2003, the organization has helped facilitate three conservation easements with the Kepes' property being the largest so far. Agricultural crops, including soybeans, are grown on a portion of the property.
Thomas A. Langen, St. Lawrence Land Trust President, said conservation easements play a larger role than just preserving aesthetics.
In this case, the easement will help protect trees along the Grasse River which is the natural travel corridor for wildlife. Preserving vegetation also protects water quality.
"It's also well known that protecting forests along streams and rivers protects against things like flooding," Mr. Langen said.
Erika B. Barthelmess, past president of the St. Lawrence Land Trust, said the lengthy document that was prepared for the Kepes' easement will serve as a model for other north country landowners interested in protecting their land from future development.
"We work with each individual landowner," Ms. Barthlemess said. "Most of our work so far has focused on the Grasse River watershed. but we have done work in other parts of the county."
The St. Lawrence Land Trust applies for federal and state grant funding to help cover legal fees and other costs related to setting up a conservation easement.
The easement for the Kepes' property was funded with an $8,500 grant from the state Environmental Protection Agency.
The land trust board meets monthly and collaborates with Grasse River Heritage organization.
During a reception Sunday, the Kepes family and members of the St. Lawrence Land Trust celebrated completion of the easement.
"Part of what we do is try to educate landowners about the options they have," Mr. Langen said.

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