Thomas Armstrong Jr.'s family has been farming land along Inwood Avenue for 150 years, and although development has reached all sides of their property, they plan to keep the land open for years to come.
Now, they’ll make their pledge official, after the Washington County Board gave the OK Tuesday to purchase a conservation easement keeping 40 acres of the land west of Inwood Avenue near 15th Street in a natural condition, complete with native grasses, trees and wetlands.
The county is paying $500,000 in Land and Water Legacy Bond money for the easement, and in return, the Armstrongs will allow a public trail to be constructed from Inwood Avenue to the wetland on the property in the future, said principal planner Jane Harper.
Under the easement agreement, the 40 protected acres can’t be farmed, however Armstrong said the family has placed voluntary (unpaid) conservation easements which do allow farming on much of the rest of their land.
The family hopes to keep the legacy of the farm going, he said, even if selling to a developer might be more lucrative.
“I don’t look at it as property that I own for the monetary value,” he said. “Our attitude is that we got this from our previous owners in the family and we’re going to pass it on to the next owners of the family.”
When the issue of purchasing the easement came before the Washington County Board in April, commissioners said they wanted the public to have access to the land, bordering Oakdale in Lake Elmo, if the county was paying for it.
Armstrong said he was happy to include the public trail as a stipulation of the easement agreement.
“It’s going to be a showcase piece in our view,” Armstrong said of the land, which belongs to his father. “We don’t have a problem showing it off to people as long as they behave themselves on the property.”
As part of the agreement Armstrong, who owns land along Inwood Avenue south of his father’s property, and his dad will both donate the fee title to the 75-foot strip of land on the eastern edge of their property for a future expansion of the road to four lanes.
Washington County Commissioner Dennis Hegberg said he is happy with the agreement the county reached with the Armstrongs.
“The board had a lot of discussion of this piece,” he said. “I want to thank the landowner for tolerating our continuous negotiation.”
The Armstrongs applied to be considered for Land and Water Legacy dollars in 2007, and the land was one of eight projects approved by the County Board in December of 2007, according to a staff report on the easement.
In 2006, Washington County voters passed a referendum to devote $20 million to protect open land.
Washington County Commissioner Lisa Weik said the Armstrong property is a good fit for the program because it is adjacent to the Lake Elmo Park Reserve.
“It’s been clearly demonstrated that this really completes an open space corridor,” Weik said. “I think this is an outstanding use of the Land and Water Legacy dollars.”