‘The right thing to do’: Family farm on track to becoming habitat reserve

December 11, 2019

Les Neitzel’s roots in the Necanicum Valley run deep. His family has lived and farmed there for three generations. North Coast Land Conservancy is now in the process of acquiring a life estate on the land Les grew up on, the land where he plans to live out his life, thanks to a gift that Les considers to be not so much a property transaction as the transfer of a sacred trust.

Nearly a century ago Les’s grandparents immigrated from Sweden, bought a patch of land downstream from the confluence of Klootchy Creek and the Necanicum River, and took up farming, selling eggs and vegetables to local grocery stores. After World War II, Les’s mom and dad bought the 24 acres to the south, and an uncle and aunt bought the property to the north, giving Les and his sisters and cousins free range over nearly a half-mile of wild riverfront.

That is, until he was 10 years old. His grandparents’ property got sold to a developer, who scraped off and sold the topsoil and created a trailer court in place of the forest, pasture, and truck garden that had flourished there. Les still feels the loss. “It just ruined the place,” he says. But not his parents’ land, where his mother, Ernestine, continued to live until her death in 2018 and where Les lives now. Even after moving to town as an adult, Les continued to help care for his parents’ land, parlaying lessons learned from his old high school biology teacher Neal Maine into projects to enhance wildlife habitat.

“My motivation is at least as much spiritual as practical,” explains Les. “When we do harm to living, breathing land, we also harm ourselves and each other. This little parcel of land isn’t pristine wilderness; it’s not better than any similar parcel of land. But I have the legal and moral authority and responsibility to protect it somehow, to keep it from getting ruined.” He knew that North Coast Land Conservancy—for which he’s volunteered for years, whose staff members have become his friends—was the entity that could help him do that.

“It just feels like the right thing to do.”

At Les’s request, the property will become known as Frog Creek Habitat Reserve. It lies within NCLC’s Necanicum Wildlife Corridor conservation initiative.

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