Ending months of speculation and more than a decade of bitter warring over development plans - both in and out of court - the 215-acre, ecologically rare Herring Creek Farm in Edgartown was sold this week for a record $64 Million.

The new owners of the storied Great Plains farm include The Nature Conservancy, the FARM Institute and three private buyers.

“When you drive out to Katama and you come around that bend, well it just does something to you to look at the great sweep of farmland, and it is nice to know that it is going to stay that way,” said Stuart Johnson, a trustee for the Herring Creek Farm Trust and the leading spokesman for farm owners Neil and Monte Wallace.

Formerly a working farm whose mainstay was beef cattle, Herring Creek Farm fronts the Atlantic Ocean, the Edgartown Great Pond and Crackatuxet Cove. The farm embraces a globally rare environment that was named one of the last 40 Great Places on Earth in an international conservation initiative several years ago.

The Wallaces bought the farm from the late Benjamin Cohan in 1969.

Recorded Tuesday afternoon, the sale marks the most expensive - and also likely the most complicated - real estate transaction in the history of the Vineyard.

The Nature Conservancy is an international land conservation organization. The FARM Institute is a new educational nonprofit group aimed at preserving the agricultural heritage of the Vineyard. The private buyers are Denise Lahey and her husband, Roger Bamford. California residents whose business affiliation is with the computer company Oracle, and MV Regency Group, a real estate holding company owned by late night television comedian David Letterman.

The Nature Conservancy will retain ownership of some 102 acres at the farm, including the magnificent east field, where a massive sandplain grassland restoration program is planned. The conservancy will also hold an array of conservation restrictions on the rest of the farm property. The FARM Institute will retain ownership of most of the farm buildings and will lease 40 acres in the central field for an experimental agricultural project.

Ms. Lahey, Mr. Bamford and Mr. Letterman plan to live in private homes on the farm during the summer season.

Six new houses will eventually be built around the Edgartown Great Pond, bringing the total number of houses on the farm property to 11.

An approved 33-lot development plan for the farm has been jettisoned, every lawsuit filed against parties on the Vineyard by the Wallaces in the last 10 years has been dropped, and the Wallaces have closed their final chapter on the Island with a conservation gift reportedly valued at some $30 million.

“The Wallaces are warriors, there is no question that they are real warriors, but today I feel a great sense of pride and accomplishment. This is a real gift,” Mr. Johnson said.

The gift is the difference between the sale price and the developed value of the farm, based on the 33-lot plan. The development plan was approved by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission last year. Eight years ago, a 54-lot development plan for the farm was rejected by the commission.

The $64 million transaction was extremely complicated and involved numerous purchasing parties matched by numerous attorneys. In the end the recorded sale involved more than 80 documents, and more than $1 million in fees, including a $740,000 fee to the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank and more than $500,000 in registry stamp fees.

In simple terms, The Nature Conservancy paid the Wallaces $64 million for the 214-acre farm. The cash for the sale comes from the following sources:

- The Wallace family made an unrestricted cash gift of $18.5 million to the Nature Conservancy, the conservancy then paid the same amount back to the Wallaces as part of the total purchase price.

- Roger and Denise Bamford made a $10 million-plus contribution to The Nature Conservancy.

- Roger and Denise Bamford paid $12 million to the conservancy for two lots and two houses on the farm.

- The FARM Institute paid $28 million for the remainder of the farm. The FARM Institute then sold four lots including one house to the Letterman group for $11 million. Two other parcels were also sold as part of the Letterman deal; one parcel was sold to a private buyer for $12 million and another parcel was sold to a second private buyer for $4 million. In the end the FARM institute sale involved $27 million in cash and a promissory note from the FARM Institute for $1 million.

The total adds up to some $68.5 million, but some of that money includes fees and some also is paid out to the descendants of Benjamin Cohan, who received cash, houses and land as part of the transaction.

The Cohan descendants hold a legally binding covenant that restricted any sale of the farm until the year 2010. The descendants waived their rights under the covenant in exchange for considerations as part of the sale. The Cohan descendants will take ownership of more land and also two houses on the farm (Sanderling and Blue Heron). They also will be paid some $1.7 million to cover the cost of legal fees incurred during the last 10 years to defend their rights under the 1969 agreement.

The sale price of the farm also included many tax considerations for the Wallaces.

The news of the sale of Herring Creek Farm stirred heartfelt reaction from Vineyard officials who have lived through two development plans and 11 years of lawsuits from the farm owners.

“They came in here with bulldozers and shotguns, and they found out that we will not back down when it comes to something we believe in,” said Martha’s Vineyard Commission executive director Charles W. Clifford. “It was a very odd and tumultuous 10 years, but I believe that this is exactly what the state legislature had in mind when it created the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. They brought in all their high-paid lawyers and it scared nobody, and gee whiz, guess who won - the hicks, the ones who didn’t know what they were doing. I think it shows the faith the Island people have in the institutions they themselves create,” Mr. Clifford added.

Along the way, the Wallaces filed a challenge to three-acre zoning in the town of Edgartown - the zoning challenge was argued all the way to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. In the end the town won.

“The three-acre zoning issue was such a needless thing. It’s just unfortunate that it is such a bitter, bitter relationship over the years,” said longtime Edgartown selectman Fred B. Morgan Jr. He added: “It was great that the Martha’s Vineyard Commission stood up and fought the battle, and the town stood up, too. I am delighted that things worked out the way they did. This is a great climax to a miserable period in our town history.”

In an interview with the Gazette, Mr. Johnson also took a minute to look back.

“Clearly in the early years we harbored real strong feelings about our constitutional rights - we had genuine beliefs about property rights and we were strident and we were outraged at what I call the rule by whim,” he began. But he admitted that in the last two years he has developed new eyes for the Vineyard - and for the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

“The commission is this eclectic group of individuals and they interact in the strangest ways - it is a difficult group, but in a way it works and I think there is some wisdom to it,” Mr. Johnson said. He also said:

“There are a lot of unsung heroes in this. I am talking about a lot of people in this community and you never hear their names. One of the stores here is how the community helped make this happen.”

Tom Chase, who is director of the Massachusetts Islands program for The Nature Conservancy, called the sale a beginning.

“It just started, it’s not done,” Mr. Chase said.

He also said the conservation initiative at the farm is symbolic of a new approach.

“We have been operating under the assumption that we are here to salvage the Vineyard that we remember - and guess what, if that is the view we are going to take we are going to lose. The view we need to take is we can create the Island we want - we can create a viable place, we can create a Great Pond with a viable shellfishery, we can create affordable housing. It doesn’t have to be a race for consumption; the emotional value of having land that you are going to restore back to a native state - you are not saving stuff, you are getting things back. That is fundamentally different,” Mr. Chase said.

From his office in California yesterday, Mr. Bamford expressed pure excitement at the farm project.

“Man and nature living in harmony - it sounds so sappy, I know, but what they are doing in the east field with restoring the native habitat is just really exciting,” he said.

Mr. Bamford has family ties in Harthaven that go back for generations, and as a child he came to the Vineyard every summer. Last summer, he and Ms. Lahey rented Monte Wallace’s house and fell in love with the farm. They will return next week for the month of August to their new house, formerly Neil Wallace’s house.

Mr. Bamford said they have no real plans to change the house.

David Peters, a spokesman for the MV Regency Group, said the same things is true of David Letterman, who now owns Monte Wallace’s house.

“Dave will do little if anything with his house,” Mr. Peters said.

Real estate experts took note of the record sale price paid for the farm.

“The market has come to the point where larger-sized properties with reduced density are of higher value, and this transaction is a verification of that reality,” said Tom Wallace, an Edgartown Realtor who consulted with the Cohan descendants and who is not related to the Wallace brothers.

Tom LeClair, a Realtor and partner with Gerret C. Conover in Conover Real Estate in Edgartown who represented the Letterman group, called the farm purchase important for the whole Island.

“When you consider the fragile nature of the Vineyard south shore and the increasing development pressure on the Island, the importance of this conservation solution for the farm is monumental. It is an important milestone,” said Mr. LeClair. He and Mr. Conover were consultants for the Herring Creek Farm transaction.

Rob Hughes, one of the Cohan descendants, expressed relief.

“Knowing now that the farm will largely be forever as it always has been in our lifetimes - that is made all the sweeter by the knowledge that as we look at the next generation coming on, it will be the same for them,” Mr. Hughes said.

He concluded: “This is the very essence of conservation - from one generation to the next.”