County OKs plan to preserve 175 acres of farmland near Ellamore

BUCKHANNON — The Upshur County Commission on Thursday approved a resolution protecting more than 170 acres of farmland in the county, the first transfer of its kind from a private property owner to the Upshur County Farmland Protection Board.

Lowell Peterson, chairman of the farmland protection board, presented the commission with a resolution authorizing the board’s purchase of a conservation easement on property owned by Michael and Linda Hicks. According to a copy of the resolution, the farmland protection board is purchasing a 174.5-acre permanent conservation easement on the Hicks’ land — which is located in Washington District — for $170,250.

“This is a board that has as its mission the protection of farmland in Upshur County,” Peterson explained. “We are seeking your endorsement of the very first farmland protection easement that has been proposed by our board.”

“Mike and Linda Hicks own the property,” Peterson told the commission. “It’s just a little south of Ellamore, overlooking the Middle Fork River. It’s 174 acres of farmland that has been farmed for several, several years, first by the Quick family, and now Mr. Hicks and his wife own it, and they want it to remain as farmland. We would request that the commission endorse … the resolution prepared.”

Commission president Sam Nolte said he would be happy to do so.

“This board was created to preserve farmland throughout the state, and that’s what you’re doing,” Nolte said. “Thank you, Mr. Hicks. If you get one, maybe more will follow.”

Commissioner Troy “Buddy” Brady made a motion to approve the resolution, which was seconded by Nolte before passing unanimously. Commissioner Terry Cutright was unable to attend Thursday’s meeting.

Peterson also asked the commission to approve the farmland protection board being audited under the umbrella of the county when the county is audited annually.

“For some reasons that I don’t know, and that I haven’t been able to determine, [the board] was separated [from the county] at some time in the past, and we feel that it just makes sense to have that audit done when the rest of the county is audited,” Peterson said.

Brady made a motion to approve the request, which was seconded by Nolte before passing.

In other commission news, Laura Ward, director of Country Roads Transit, delivered a report on the organization’s activities over the 2017-2018 fiscal year and asked the commission to consider allocating funds in its 2018-2019 fiscal year budget to support Country Roads Transit.

“It’s an investment in Upshur County residents, and we’re proud to say that ridership numbers remain very strong,” Ward said. “We provided 7,915 rides in Upshur County last year.”

Country Roads Transit provides two services. One is a route service that runs through town seven times a day, stopping at most shopping centers, the hospital, the courthouse, the post office and more. The other service is a demand-response — or dial-a-ride — service, Ward said.

“So someone can call in advance — at least a day in advance — to say, ‘I need to go to the doctor tomorrow at 2 p.m.’ and we arrange a time to pick them up, get them there and get them home,’” she said. “It’s important to have demand-response service because our route service doesn’t go to outlying areas of the county.”

Ward said Country Roads Transit partners with the Upshur County Senior Center and through that partnership, is able to obtain federal grant funding.

“It’s a 50/50 match program, so for every $1 you invest, we get $2 back for that, so we’re able to take that partnership with Upshur County Senior Center — the money they were already spending — and get federal matching dollars for that,” Ward said. “As a result, we were able to expand services. That’s why the route exists in Upshur County.”

Ward said transit services are so essential because they enable individuals to be independent who otherwise wouldn’t have that capability.

“All of us in this room today drove our personal cars to where we needed to go, and it’s really easy to take that for granted,” Ward said. “Recently, I had just been to the grocery store, and it’s just such a chore, right? And my husband calls — it’s snowing and we’re out of milk, and I think, ‘why didn’t someone tell me two days ago that we were out of milk?’”

“So I’m trudging through the parking lot back into the store, and I think to myself, ‘Don’t be trudging through the snow. A, you’re blessed to have a family to get milk for, and you’re also blessed to have been able to stop,’” Ward continued. “So, I want you to think a minute — what if you couldn’t stop? What if it wasn’t as easy as stopping on the way home to get a loaf of bread or a jug of milk or to get your kid to the doctor? Transit’s important. It changes lives. It gives people independence, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Ward asked the commission to continue its financial support of Country Roads Transit while crafting its 2018-2019 fiscal year budget.

The commission will meet at 9 a.m. Thursday, March 1; however, the regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday, March 8 has been canceled.


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