WINDHAM – Clayton Haskell is all set to start farming a parcel of the former Clark Farm in Windham, at the corner of Swett Road and Route 202, except for one thing – off-road vehicles and the awful mess they’re making on the land.

After Windham voters declined a referendum saving the property in 2010, Haskell purchased the 217 acres of the former farm in December for $210,000 from the Maine Farmland Trust, which holds the agricultural easement on the property. However, since there are many covenants on the deed, Haskell is limited in what he can do with the property. He can’t subdivide. He can build farm-related buildings, but only one single-family home.

Because the nonprofit Trust for Public Land originally purchased the property once the local referendum failed, a major stipulation is continued public access. (The Trust for Public Land later sold the property to Maine Farmland Trust, which then sought and found a farmer, Haskell, to purchase and operate a farm.) But that public access is limited to walkers, hikers – not to Jeeps or ATVs with knobby tires that dig into the soil.

The 59-year-old Haskell, who has been farming a total of 130 acres in Windham, including his own 30-acre farm near the Windham rotary, is excited about broadening his operation. He hopes to grow vegetables on the property for a farm stand he’s planning to build on the newly acquired acreage, most likely near the intersection of Route 202 and Swett Road.

He also plans to grow hay and graze his prize-winning Pinzgauer cattle, an internationally known breed. He hopes to expand the herd and possibly sell meat as well from the farm stand. He already has a contract with Saint Joseph’s College, which purchases one cow every other week.

But before his dreams can take shape for the land, he has to improve the fields, which have gone neglected for years despite annual cuttings. Some wetlands have formed, and the ruts created by four-wheelers are taking a toll by allowing further pooling to occur. Erosion is also a concern, especially with Black Brook nearby.

Walking the land last week near the Central Maine Power transmission line that runs through the property, Haskell said he was frustrated by the damage that the ATVs and larger vehicles are causing.

“The off-road vehicles that have been traveling over the property without permission have left ruts on some of the drainage swales so water cannot drain out. So it’s causing problems,” Haskell said.

Haskell said the fields have been cut through the years, but they haven’t been maintained “to keep the water flowing. So consequently, the water seeks the next lowest level, which is sometimes out in the middle of the field and it makes another pocket. It makes it unusable,” he said.

The problem is getting to the point that Haskell is considering purchasing wildlife cameras that can capture the trespassers in the act. If they are caught, the potential fine is $5,000.

Evidence of recent trespassing is rampant. Deep ruts cover wide areas of the farm running across open field from Swett Road to Pope Road. The damage is serious, said a representative from Maine Farmland Trust, which has a continuing interest in the property.

“It does have excellent farmland soils, either prime soils or soils of statewide importance, and we do have an interest in not seeing that resource destroyed by people driving on it and tearing it up,” said Stacy Gambrel, lands project coordinator for the trust.

Gambrel said spring is a delicate period for farmland, “and the reason you’re not seeing farmers out on their land yet is because the ground is too soft. Farmers wait until the ground is more solid. The ground gets compacted and if there’s a huge rainstorm after that happens, soil erodes, running off into streams, so it really is an environmental problem.”

Compacted ground also causes soil clumping, which discourages seeds from taking root, she added.

Aiming to make a living off the land, Haskell says the former owner, Larry Clark, had trouble battling off-roaders, but now that the land is being professionally farmed for income, the so-called mudders need to be respectful.

“They’ve been going through the fields for years. They think it’s OK, but when someone owns it and they keep going across, that takes away from the livelihood of whoever owns it,” Haskell said. “It’s a money issue. I’ve got to try to make money off of this ground to pay for it.”

Clayton Haskell removes a board presumably used by one off-roader whose vehicle got stuck in recent warm weather while trespassing at the former Clark Farm off Swett Road. Haskell recently purchased 217 acres from the Maine Farmland Trust and is attempting to establish the land as a working farm. But off-roaders, he said, are tearing up the land causing erosion and pooling.  

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