Land from the Casey B. and Sally M. Barnes Farm which was donated to the York County Conservation Donation Easement Program.
Land from the Casey B. and Sally M. Barnes Farm which was donated to the York County Conservation Donation Easement Program. (Submitted photo)

All they wanted was to give York County something valued at more than $100,000, but there was no official procedure for that sort of thing.

So after months of negotiations and the launch of a donation program, a York Township couple on Wednesday became the first people to donate an agricultural conservation easement to the county.

County commissioners accepted the donation of about 35 acres from the Casey B. and Sally M. Barnes Farm, mostly hay and pasture, making that land the inaugural tract in a new program created because people like the Barneses didn't want money for their easements.

Commissioners in July approved the new donation program, addressing a gap that allowed the county to pay for easements but not to accept gifts.

Over the past 20 years, about $17 million in county taxpayer money has been spent to buy easements and preserve farmland through the York County Agricultural Land Preservation Board, with more than 38,000 acres saved from development.

But there hadn't been a procedure defined for people who wanted to donate land easements, saving taxpayers money while helping farm families who might not otherwise be eligible for an easement purchase, said preservation board director Patty McCandless said.

McCandless said her office has long considered a donation program, but there wasn't a

pressing reason for it until the Barneses and others offered to donate land.

McCandless said the value of the donation was $101,471, but Sally Barnes said the view is priceless.

"I was thrilled they were able to do it," she said. "We love where we live, and we just wanted to do our part to preserve it."

She said the farm along Aldinger Road where she and her husband breed thoroughbred horses is "an unspoiled, beautiful area."

Requirements: The couple was ineligible to have easements placed on the land under the traditional easement purchase programs, because farms must meet standards for size and agriculture-related criteria such as soil quality, McCandless said. The farms are then ranked and prioritized for easement purchase as funds are available.

There are no soil quality requirements for donation and fewer restrictions, she said.

So when the Barneses discovered their farm was smaller than the 50-acre requirement for selling easements, they decided to donate, Sally Barnes said.

Under the donation program, there must be at least 10 acres and they must be located inside an agricultural security zone. The land can be forested, or used for crops, pasture, or grazing, McCandless said.

For information about the program, call the York County Agricultural Land Preservation Board at 840-7400.

-- Reach Christina Kauffman at ckauffman@yorkdispatch.com.