At age 86, Alfred Bassler can still climb nimbly into the snug cockpit of his Kolb Firestar ultralight, a single-passenger plane that resembles a three-wheeled go cart suspended from a fixed wing.
The plane's lightweight construction and simple rudder controls make it "easy to take for a spin" at 200 feet, Bassler said. Instead of strolling around his Clarksville neighborhood, he takes to the skies and surveys it from above.
But his decades-old ritual of walking out the front door of his home and hopping inside his ultralight, or his Piper Cub J-4, will soon fall by the wayside.
Hayland Farm, a 504-acre spread that had been home to the county's only airport since 1974, is being developed. When Alfred and Patsy Bassler move from their 94-acre parcel in a couple of weeks, they will take with them the last traces of a family's agricultural legacy and a way of life that's becoming increasingly rare in Howard County.
The land located off Sheppard Lane, and around the bend from River Hill, is in the midst of becoming Walnut Creek, a development of 159 luxury homes with price tags starting at just under a million dollars. Builders are Camberley Homes, Craftmark Homes and Trinity Homes.
The Basslers have been watching the transformation from grain and livestock farm to pricey residential community through the 10-foot-wide picture window of their second-floor living room. That window has functioned over the years like an oversized, widescreen TV through which the hustle and bustle of Haysfield Airport was on constant display.
"We were flight bums sometimes, sitting around and watching the planes take off and land," he recalled of earlier days with fellow pilots. "We loved flying that much."
But their treasured view of the 50 airplanes parked on the grass airstrip in its heyday became a distant memory last January when Haysfield closed. For another week or so the Basslers have front-row seats to watching suburbia encroach even further on their once-rural enclave.
Former County Executive Ed Cochran, who served from 1974 to 1978, learned to fly at Haysfield shortly after leaving office.
"The airport was a great resource to have, and it's a shame to see it inundated by development," said the longtime Clarksville resident.
He flew his Cessna airplanes to such locales as the Bahamas and the West Coast after getting his pilot's license, but sold them five years ago.
"Awful" is how Alfred describes his feelings about the closing of the grass airstrip as well as the forthcoming demolition of the couple's home and four other houses where Bassler family members live. A quarter-mile, tree-lined drive was closed in November and a pond where they fished is no longer stocked with crappies, blue gills and bass.
"There's no place on earth that I'm going to like as much as living here," he said.
Hayland Farm was also home to grain fields, livestock, a tree nursery, a forest recycling business and a horse-boarding facility at various times over the years.
The Basslers will rent an in-law apartment from their son, Jeff, 54, who already has moved with his wife and two children to their new property in Woodbine. Their other son, David, 57, lives in Oregon with his wife to be near their three kids.
"People think we're rich, but we're land-poor for now," Alfred said, gazing out toward the bulldozers at work.
Lots are being released to the developers a couple dozen at a time, he explained.
"We will be rich — after I'm dead!" he said with a laugh, adding that money was never their motivation.
In 2007 the eight-member board of directors of the Bassler family corporation, which owns Hayland Farm, voted 5 to 3 to finally sell it to developers after going a couple years without achieving a majority. Alfred and Patsy voted against the sale.
Patsy, 79, isn't happy about leaving either, but says having six years to adjust to the idea has helped.