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Many balk at farming town land in Duxbury

By Robert Knox
Globe Correspondent / September 8, 2011

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Backed by top local officials, Duxbury’s Agricultural Commission wants to grow hay in Bay Farm Field, an 80-acre playground for birds, butterflies, small mammals like rabbits, and bigger ones like people and dogs.

Proponents of the plan say the different uses of agriculture and recreation can share the site. “I’m a big believer in multiple users all coexisting harmoniously on town-owned property,’’ selectmen chairman Shawn Dahlen said.

But residents near the field say it is close to perfect the way it is, and they have formed the Friends of Bay Farm to oppose the idea.

Their view is backed by naturalists such as National Audubon Society field guide author Brian Cassie, who says he is impressed with the site’s environmental value.

“For its size it’s the most beautiful meadow I’ve seen in Massachusetts. And I’ve been everywhere,’’ Cassie said. Citing the diversity of birds, butterflies, and native plants the field supports, he called the idea of turning it into a hay field “counterproductive.’’

Of the field’s 80 acres, 44 belong to Duxbury and the remainder to Kingston. Acquired by the towns for conservation and passive recreation, or walking, the site is also the southern terminus of the extensive Bay Circuit Trail, which circles Boston from the North Shore to the South.

Duxbury’s Aannual Town Meeting this spring defeated a proposal to turn over management of the property to the Agricultural Commission through a 10-year lease.

The commission says a hay field on the site’s level ground would produce a valuable crop for local farmers.

But Town Meeting voters were unconvinced that the Bay Farm Field proposal, which required a two-thirds vote, would benefit the town, defeating it by a vote of 182 opposed to 80 in favor.

Still, the commission has brought up the idea again at recent meetings, looking for what chairman Jeff Chandler called “a way to get past the controversy with the dog walkers’’ and others who frequent the recreation area.

Chandler said the commission originally turned its eyes on Bay Farm because it’s one of the largest tracts of open land in town. “It just didn’t seem utilized, basically, to the fullest extent,’’ he said. The proposal was initially buoyed by an enthusiastic response by the Board of Selectmen. “They thought it was a great idea,’’ Chandler said.

Selectmen still think a shared use remains a strong option.

“I don’t see any reason why something wonderful can’t be worked out,’’ Dahlen said. He said opposition comes from “a well-mobilized group of opponents . . . who want to keep it just the way it is.’’

Opponents have no hesitation saying that “keeping it the way it is’’ for conservation and nature walks is their view of Bay Farm Field’s future. “We were shocked to learn they are still considering this,’’ said Stephen Schroeder, a spokesman for the 100-member Friends group.

He said the Agricultural Commission has failed “to balance the interests’’ of those who use the field for nature walks.

Robert Knox can be reached at rc.knox2@gmail.com.