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Jeanne Sager | Democrat

Alice Froelich

Saving the Farmland For Posterity

By Jeanne Sager
KENOZA LAKE — June 29, 2007 — At first, Alice Froehlich just wanted to recreate her childhood for her five daughters.
Now she’s looking to do the same for generations to come.
With the help of the Delaware Highlands Conservancy, a non-profit land trust based in Hawley, Pa., the Kenoza Lake farmer has locked up an agricultural easement on her 23 acres overlooking Swiss Hill.
Her farmland will always be farmland.
Even if the cows never come back.
Even if Froehlich’s daughters opt to sell their inheritance after she dies.
“Whoever buys it has to be informed that it cannot be developed,” Froehlich explained.
The house can be replaced – with another single family dwelling.
The barn can be replaced – on its original footprint.
But no more permanent structures can be erected on the Froehlich farm.
The forest can’t be clear-cut, and the pond can’t be filled in.
“An easement is forever,” says Helle Henrikson, land protection coordinator for the 13-year-old conservancy. “It is a legally binding document that is in place for perpetuity.”
The papers signed just months ago by Alice Froehlich created the conservancy’s third agricultural easement within the Upper Delaware River Valley region of Sullivan and Delaware counties in New York, Wayne and Pike counties in Pennsylvania.
It’s the first in Sullivan County, differing slightly from the protection of development rights program being utilized to secure the future of the Myers Century Farm in Jeffersonville.
A chief difference is the current state of the Froehlich farm – the pristine 23 acres are no part of a working farm.
The beef cows are gone, and the large garden is no longer.
Only haying continues during the summer months on the Froehlich land.
Alice and Bill never set out to be farmers.
Raised near Buffalo, they were living in the ultimate section of Long Island suburbia, Levittown, finishing their education when they decided to move to Sullivan County.
Bill, who had completed his schooling as an occupational therapist, had gone to art school in Buffalo with then Lake Huntington resident Peter Loewer.
At the time, Bill puts his talents to use as an illustrator for textbooks.
Loewer told him he should come to Sullivan County.
Alice, who by then had finished her bachelor’s degree in nursing, agreed.
“We came with Woodstock,” she recalled with a laugh. “In 1969. We came in June, they came in August.
“We found this place and bought it; much to the chagrin of our children,” she explained, continuing her low chuckle.
Lisa, then 15; Peggy, 12; Sharon, 10; Amy, 8; and Mary, 6, didn’t want to move to the middle of nowhere.
But they had no choice.
Bill and Alice both took jobs at the Roscoe Nursing Home – him as an occupational therapist, her as a registered nurse.
“Computers were starting to come in, and the skill for fine design in textbook illustrations was being phased out,” Alice explained.
Farming just sort of happened.
The house needed a lot of work.
“It wasn’t insulated,” she recalled. “It wasn’t properly wired or properly plumbed.
“It was scary,” added Amy, now Amy Erlwein, mother of two and a farmer herself outside Jeffersonville.
The girls were taught to help till the land and weed a garden.
“Within a year or two, we brought in the beef cows,” Alice recalled.
They settled into country life, carving out a niche in a town akin to Little Valley, where Alice was raised.
“I always wished I could share my childhood with my kids, and this came fairly close,” she said with a smile.
Amy remembers climbing trees and racing across the fields.
“If I got mad at my mom – which teenagers always do – I’d go up in the woods and we’d stomp around,” she explained.
The girls’ “pout tree” is still there, an oddly shaped oak with a great portion of the trunk running parallel to the ground, perfect for curling up for a good sulk.
“I grew to love the small town feel of things,” Erlwein admitted. “When you go downtown and everyone knows you, and if you got in trouble, everyone knew who to call.
“That’s a good, secure feeling,” she said. “We didn’t have that in Levittown.”
“I still have pictures of her and her sister, Sharon, running in the fields with their hair flying,” Alice said wistfully. “I look at that and know, we made the right choice.”
She’s confident about this choice too.
Neighbor Tom Kapner brought the easement idea to the Froehlich’s door several years ago.
He was talking to folks on Swiss Hill Road about going in together to secure the natural beauty of the hilltop for an eternity.
Alice and Bill talked it over together, then they talked to their daughters.
“We usually consulted with the kids before we made any big decision,” she explained. “Other than buying this house!”
Their daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren were unanimous – do it.
Then Bill fell ill around Christmas 2005.
The process was put off.
“A couple of days before he died, we were supposed to sign the papers,” Alice recalled. “But he wasn’t feeling like it, so we delayed.”
He passed away in September, but Alice kept the conservancy in mind.
“As soon as I cleared things up legally, I signed,” she said.
Their land – hers and Bill’s – is safe.
According to Henrikson, the easement has been filed in the Sullivan County Clerk’s office along with the deed to the Froehlich property.
The conservancy will act as the enforcement agency, checking yearly to ensure that the rules of the easement are followed to the letter.
For now at least, Alice will see to it that nothing changes.
Retired from Community General Hospital in 1994, she still lives in the house on the hill with daughter Mary.
Her eight grandchildren use her backyard to practice their golf swing or throw together football games.
Her 2-year-old great-grandson delights in racing around and around the old farmhouse as fast as his little legs can carry him, then running back to the pond to watch as the rocks “plop” in the water.
“My roots have grown here,” Alice explained. “I wouldn’t trade my front porch for anything in the world.
“Except maybe one of my kids,” she added with a grin.
Turning serious, she looked out at the hilltop.
“We’re losing land at too great a rate,” Froehlich explained. “I don’t know what the answer is… where people are going to live.
“I don’t think people realize arable land, good farmland, is finite,” Amy added. “If you develop it all, where are you going to grow your food?”
“But when you see forests just clear cut and the rains come and wash the soil away,” her mother said, shaking her head. “I’d like to see good natural land left.”

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