Group seeks to conserve Middlebury farm

MIDDLEBURY — Local officials here have begun preliminary talks with Middlebury College about permanently conserving the 108-acre Sabourin property, a tract of agricultural and wooded land located along Route 7 South across from Denecker Chevrolet and adjacent to the Battell Woods. The Sabourin land hosts a portion of the Trail Around Middlebury.
Those favoring conservation of the property also point to its potential for hosting other recreational activities, such as a dog park. Representatives of Middlebury Area Last Trust (MALT) and the town’s Parks & Recreation Department have had at least one informal conversation with Middlebury College officials about the institution possibly selling the property or being open to some long-term property easements.
“MALT has had an interest in this property because of the Trail Around Middlebury,” Carl Robinson, that organization’s executive director, said on Monday. “We believe that keeping that (green space) corridor open and undeveloped would be good for the town.”
The property in question was part and parcel of the old Sabourin Farm. The college purchased the property and still rents a good portion of it to a farmer to grow crops. That agricultural function would continue if the town were to acquire the Sabourin land, according to Robinson. In fact, that rental arrangement would likely be part of a financing package to cover the land purchase, should the college want to sell it, Robinson noted. Middlebury also has a conservation fund and could apply for grants, while MALT could solicit donations.
Middlebury College has been a great partner in allowing some of its land to be included in the town’s network of trails, according to Robinson. Thanks to a jointly approved licensing agreement, approximately six of the Trail Around Middlebury’s total 24 miles are located on college property. Robinson said a half-mile of the TAM currently runs through the Sabourin property.
But MALT officials are concerned about how the Trail Around Middlebury might be affected should the college decide to market the Sabourin lands someday. Sale to a private party could force MALT to alter the route of the trail, Robinson noted. In addition to bordering the Battell Woods, the land is located near Buttolph Acres, Means Woods and Chipman Hill.
Middlebury Parks & Recreation Director Terri Arnold and Greg Boglioli, president of the parks and recreation committee, recently wrote a letter to the selectboard advocating for conservation of the Sabourin property. That letter suggests such a transaction would:
•  Ensure another permanent section of the Trail Around Middlebury.
•  Extend the green space corridor connecting the Battell Woods and Murdock Nature Preserve.
•  Add recreational, educational and community opportunities, including additional trails and a location for a potential new recreation resource such as an “adventure park” or “bicycle park” in the future.
“The Parks & Recreation Department understands that Middlebury College owns this piece of land and (Robinson) will be returning to the college at some point to start negotiations on how the property would be held in perpetuity,” Arnold and Boglioli wrote in their March 23 letter to the selectboard. “The Parks & Recreation Committee is excited and anxious to realize new recreational opportunities while conserving an important piece of Middlebury’s open space in addition to more entrances and experiences of the Battell Woods.”
The Middlebury Planning Commission has also weighed in on the issue.
“The Planning Commission supports the efforts by the Middlebury Area Land Trust and the Parks and Recreation Department to preserve this parcel which so clearly defines the village edge,” reads the panel’s March 23 letter to the selectboard, which includes supporting references to the town plan. “Any future development of the property, including a proposal for an adventure park, should take into consideration the town plan recommendations … as it relates to access, siting and overall aesthetics.”
Robinson is slated to get some feedback from the selectboard at its April 28 meeting.
David Donahue, special assistant to Middlebury College President Ron Liebowitz, acknowledged recent interest in the Sabourin parcel and the potential for talks.
“At this point, we’ve had no formal proposal,” Donahue wrote in an emailed response. “We have had various groups approach us about this piece of land during the past year with a variety of ideas of what might be possible. When I was approached, I suggested they consult with the town planner as part of any process to develop a proposal. We are not looking to sell the land but we would consider serious proposals.”
Advocates for a local dog park will be among those monitoring a potential deal involving the Sabourin property. Jane Steele counts herself among that group, which hopes to site a fenced-in area for dogs to frolic sans leash. Steele said the college is already very accommodating in the way it provides plastic bags for dog waste at entry points to some of its fields. A fenced-in area would be a bonus, she said.
“This would allow an opportunity for all dogs to be off-leash, to run and play with no threat from cars,” said Steele, whose two-year-old dog Peanut would be a frequent dog park user.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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