MADISON — The oldest land trust in the state of Maine has signed an option to purchase land on the historic Weston Homestead Farm in Madison for recreational use, which organizers say one day will connect a trail system all the way to Oakland.

Somerset Woods Trustees, with offices on Court Street in Skowhegan, is raising money to buy 275 acres of forest land from the Weston Homestead Farm Corp. with about a mile of frontage on the Kennebec River.

So far, $200,000 has been raised toward the purchase price of $450,000, trustees President Jack Gibson said.

“We view it primarily as recreation property that connects with trails that start in downtown Madison and come up through — snowmobile trails, hiking,” Gibson said. “We hope to continue to see that it is maintained in a manner for wildlife but pretty much for the general public to use. That’s our mission. Free of charge.”

The land, which rises gradually to a high ridge overlooking the Kennebec River about 1.5 miles from downtown Madison, would be preserved for multiple trail use and as a canoe and kayak stop on the Kennebec from Solon and North Anson to the north.

The Weston family has owned the land, a peninsula along a looping section of the Kennebec, since Joseph Weston first moved there from Massachusetts in 1771. Construction began in 1790 on the house that stands to this day. Over the years, the family added on, at one point moving a one-room schoolhouse and tacking it on to the dining room in the mid-1800s.

Gibson and trustees Vice President Ernest Hilton said the house was occupied full time until sometime in the 1980s.

Members of the Somerset Woods Trustees, including Jack Gibson, left, and Ernie Hilton, discuss plans Thursday for the acquisition and use of extensive property from the historic Weston Homestead Farm in Madison.

The Weston Homestead Farm Corp. owns the parcel from the original 300 acres the family farmed. About 50 acres of agricultural land were sold to a local farmer, Lowell Piper, to grow corn. That parcel has a conservation easement on it from the Maine Farmland Trust.

The house and about 2 acres were sold to a couple from New Hampshire.

“They love the place and are engaged in fixing it up and restoring it, which is wonderful,” Gibson said.

The parcel is called Weston Woods and Water and joins more than 30 other pieces of land owned by the trustees and offered for public use and perpetual preservation. Holdings in Somerset County are in Canaan, Cornville, Madison, Embden, Skowhegan, Solon, Norridgewock and Starks.

The Weston Woods and Water parcel also has a small amount of frontage on Route 43 to the east and at the end of Weston Avenue, which runs from downtown Madison and dead-ends at the farm. The land is typical Maine woods, with hard and soft wood trees, and is home to typical Maine wildlife, they said.

“The area upriver, which is on the river side of this peninsula, is noted as a species focus area for the state of Maine by the Audubon Society and (Inland Fisheries & Wildlife),” Hilton said. “Botanically, it’s a species area for unusual varieties.”

Hilton said that the public access aspect of the land is important to the trustees and to the Weston family, who established the first paper mill in Madison.

“Public access is very important because the Weston Homestead Farm Corp., the family, allowed a lot of public access to this land for hunting, fishing, a little bit of camping and snowmobiles,” he said. “The snowmobile club in particular is very concerned about maintaining public access, because if this is shut off, they have no other way to get to Madison.”

Land along the Kennebec River near the historic Weston Homestead Farm in Madison includes woods and walking trails that will become available for the public to use after being acquired by the Somerset Woods Trustees.

Hilton said the railroad tracks once used by Madison Paper Industries are going to officially be abandoned soon, making the railhead a trail link to communities from Solon to Oakland.

“Pan Am has stopped using it, but they haven’t actually gone through the official process with the federal railway authority of abandoning it,” he said. “The state department of parks and lands is looking to acquire that rail bed, so it will be a multi-use trail. This would tie into that.”

Resident John Noyes also donated 25 to 30 acres of land, 250-feet deep, along the river that connects the package.

Gibson said that so far the trustees have acquired about $85,000 from members of the 12-person board of directors. They have also received another $100,000 in separate increments in grants from nonprofit organizations.

Other grants, including matched contributions to be raised locally, are being sought to complete the $450,000 amount on the price tag for the Weston Woods and Water parcel.

The nonprofit Somerset Woods Trustees was formed in 1927. Louise Helen Coburn (1856-1949), of Skowhegan — botanist, historian, poet, author, philanthropist and visionary — initiated the Somerset Woods Trustees and was its first president. Its mission is to protect land that has significant natural or cultural resources and manage it in a sustainable way for public benefit, according to the group’s website.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

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Twitter:@Doug_Harlow