Yesterday we made our annual pilgrimage to Jones Family Farm to cut our Christmas tree, followed by hot apple cider, cookies, and some shopping at the gift shop, but we had a lot of people with us and I didn't really get to walk around the farm the way I wanted to. So today, after a couple of inches of snow, I headed back just to hike around and enjoy the farm without having to pick out a tree or worry about where the kids are.
As expected, the place was mobbed with hundreds of people from Shelton as well as New York City and New Jersey. Getting a place to park is like lining up before a rock concert. Fortunately, it is also very well organized and it took me all of two minutes to get a spot near the barnyard where they have their sales, gift shop, canteen, and fire pit.
I walked through a mob of smiley, rosy-faced families, and headed west up Candy Cane Hill, aka Israel Hill. Up and up, past pines, firs, and spruce I went, finally arriving at the North Pole, which is not a metaphor but an actual place on the hill, marked by signs. I climbed a bit further, then panned a series of photos which I stitched together at home (see above). Click here to see a larger version which you can magnify to see more closely. The left side of the photo is to the northeast and the right side is towards the southeast. Pumpkinseed Hill is the cleared area in the left background. The Candy Cane parking area is in the center right, and the cleared area in the right background is the Hudak and Stearn Farms off of Birdseye Road.
I went a bit further until a sign announced beautiful tall spruce trees to the right down the hill. These trees are actually on Shelton Family Farm, which is leased by the Jones family. In addition to Christmas trees there are wide open fields and a private pond called Lake Emerson just off Rt 110 (a well-known go-cart track is nearby). In the distance are the fields of Pumpkinseed Hill, also farmed by the Jones family. This end of the farm was very quiet with only a few families looking at the trees. I know which trees I'm looking at next year.
After the hike, I stopped in at the canteen with its heated restroom and hot apple cider, and hung out to people-watch. Frosty was walking around waving to the kids, and people were sitting around the fire pit trying to keep out of the smoke.
Jones Family Farm and Shelton Family Farm have both been preserved via the "purchase of development rights," which means that they are privately owned but can never be subdivided into a housing development. I've heard a few people grumble about using city funds to buy land "rights" rather than just buying the land outright, and how the land is not open to the public. However, I'm happy the farmers continue to own the property and run their farms. Though technically not open to the public, these lands are in fact enjoyed by the public in a way that would not be an option if the City were to own the property. I've been at the farm several times this year, picking strawberries, blueberries (twice), getting pumpkins, cutting a tree, and today I simply walked around enjoying the scenery. See my photos from the hike -- this place is a series of photo ops.
Preserving land by the purchase of development rights is the most cost effective method we have available. The price per acre is lower than if the land were purchased outright. Plus, there are no public maintenance costs associated with the land, because it is privately owned.