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Protecting the Land Because It's Right

Jason Hakkila’s grandmother always wanted him to have “a little chunk of land to build a house on,” ideally on the Phillipston land that has been in the family for three generations.

Jason took that wish to heart, building his own home, working mostly solo from 7am-noon and then midnight-2am each day sandwiched around his second shift job with the Hampshire County Sheriff’s Department. “My best friend’s a plumber and my neighbor’s an electrician, so that really helped, but most of the rest I did myself,” he explains.

Jason inherited the 177 acres the house sits on from his grandmother and he and his wife Angela are now raising two children on their land. In 2013, the Hakkilas, along with more than 30 of their neighbors, became partners in Mount Grace’s Quabbin to Wachusett Forest Legacy Project. This year they completed a bargain sale of a conservation restriction on the land to the Phillipston Conservation Commission. Jason and Angela then worked with Jay Rasku, Mount Grace Community Conservation Director, to apply for a Conservation Land Tax Credit—a Massachusetts program that makes it possible for landowners to permanently protect their land but not lose out on its value.

The Hakkila family moved to Phillipston when their original home was taken to create the Quabbin Reservoir in the 1930s. By choosing to protect their land with a conservation restriction, Jason and Angela have ensured that they can keep the land in the family for future generations. That’s a prospect that wouldn’t surprise either parent. “I grew up around this land, and after you grow up on it you want to protect it,” Jason says. “You’re down at the pond most days, or you’re in the woods, and you don’t want to leave.”

Those woods run west to Mount Grace’s Fox Valley Conservation Area. Sign of fisher and bobcat can be found in the rough terrain, predators that are probably hunting the plentiful squirrels and chipmunks which take advantage of miles of stonewalls remaining from the property’s days as pasture. Today, the Hakkilas grow food for their own kitchen on a half-acre and have started growing Christmas trees as well.

Asked to sum up his experience working with Mount Grace, Jason says, “The people who protect land don’t do it to get rich or famous. They do it because they think it’s right, and I like that.”—a description that applies equally to the dozens of families in Phillipston, Barre, Hubbardston, Petersham, Princeton, and Westminster who joined together to make the Quabbin to Wachusett project a reality.