Conservation Profile: Harry Hansen
The Hansen family has lived and farmed for generations in the Rondout Valley. In the 1970s and 1980s, they watched with concern as municipal and residential development projects changed the landscape around them. “There were all kinds of crazy things going on in that era. They were proposing to do a municipal landfill in the local area,” recalls Harry Hansen. “Our family has always liked the undeveloped, open farmland, and we were concerned that was being challenged. At the time, we had very few tools available to staunch this development.”
Thus the idea for a land conservancy was born. In 1987, Hansen and a group of neighbors co-founded Rondout-Esopus Land Consrvancy to help preserve the integrity of their landscape. Two years later, Hansen’s family put their 360-acre farm in easement.
“Conservation easements were a relatively new concept, especially in this area. There was no specific blueprint, so we wrote in options that people hadn’t even thought of before,” Hansen says. “Having used the land, as a former dairy farm, we had specific ideas about what we wanted to protect, and we knew that land was transitioning away from traditional farming.”
In their conservation easement, the Hansen family included provisions for five developments on eight potential sites, areas strategically chosen because they were not conducive to farming. In order not to limit future uses of the farm, the Hansens also included a provision that any number of agricultural buildings could be added. “We were interested in having the land remain productive, which means you need to maintain the ability for someone in future to modify it to whatever they're going doing,” Hansen says. “No one knows what future of agriculture is in the area.” He points to on-farm cideries, breweries, and distilleries, which were only legalized in the past few years. “Those businesses wouldn’t even have been considered when we did the easement. If we had specifically cited certain types of buildings or no buildings those businesses would be precluded,” he says.
Hansen says the conservation easement has not affected his experience of the land at all. “I served on the board of RELC for five years, so we knew what we were going into,” he says. “The big factor here is having an educated donor group.”
In the `90s, Hansen’s family campaigned for the formation of the Rest Plaus Historic District, which they succeeded in adding to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. While this designation is largely reserved for buildings, the Rest Plaus district was recognized for its open space, an unchanged landscape that has been continuous agricultural use for over 250 years. “The historic district was another conservation tool we found,” Hansen says. Several of the properties contiguous to his own are now protected both through conservation easements and the historic district ordinances.
The Hansen family farm remains in active agricultural use, with the majority leased for grazing and haying operations. “Most importantly, we have ensured that the property will stay the way it’s been for the last 200 years,” Hansen says with pride.