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Mount Riga: New Yoakum Preserve has 250 acres

SALISBURY — The Salisbury Association Land Trust acquired roughly 250 acres of undeveloped forest from Alice Yoakum of Lakeville earlier this month, for $1 million.

John Landon of the trust said Monday, Nov. 23, that the land is on the southwestern slope of Mount Riga.

Tim Abbott of the Housatonic Valley Association (HVA) said in a phone interview Tuesday, Nov. 24, that the acreage is “roughly” 250 acres because different surveys have produced slightly different results.

In any event, the land’s boundaries are the Lakeville reservoir to the west, Mount Riga to the north and private land to the south.

Abbott said the land is ecologically significant. It contains two cold water brooks with dependent species; ledgy outcrop; and it adds to an already significant chunk of mostly undeveloped forest stretching from New York state up into Massachusetts.

Salisbury First Selectman Curtis Rand said the acquisition establishes “a gateway to the Berkshires.”

Landon said a 4.5 mile trail has been mostly established there already. The trail forms a loop, so hikers will be able to return to their cars on Reservoir Road. The trail is not quite ready for hikers yet; signs and blazes have not been completed, and some means of crossing a streambed needs to be added.  

There will be no hunting or motorized vehicles allowed, Landon added.

Abbott said he has been working on the acquisition with Yoakum and other interested parties for 10 years.

On two previous attempts, the project ran into problems with grant money (or lack thereof).

Landon said this time around, the state of Connecticut kicked in $650,000, which in turn made it possible to apply for (and get) another $250,000 from a federal program.

HVA provided another $50,000, and the balance came from the John T. and Jane A. Wiederhold Foundation.

Landon said there are ongoing costs as well — trail maintenance, legal bills, and surveying — that will require fundraising.

Abbott said the acquisition was a testament to the perseverance and patience of everyone involved, especially Yoakum.

“It’s a beautiful thing,” Rand said on Nov. 24 (by phone). “There’s so much value for conservation.”

Yoakum, reached by phone Nov. 24, said there was no truth to the story that she won the property in a poker game.

She did note that when she bought the land in the mid-1960s that it was relatively inexpensive, and that when her children were small they explored the area and found a small pond that they could never locate on a map.

She said she was grateful for the efforts of the land trust in finally putting the deal together.

“It’s nice to have it preserved for the animals and the birds.”

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