Author Archives: Land Conservation

Longstanding Partnership with City of Northampton Bears Fruit Once Again

Mass Audubon and the City of Northampton worked in partnership to add one and a half acres to the conserved land known as the Rocky Hill Greenway and approximately four acres to Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary (see map below). The Greenway is an active wildlife corridor that has been the focus of protection efforts by the conservation partners for much of the last decade.

The two organizations swapped ownership interests in the transactions.  In the case of the Greenway property formerly owned by “Open and Shut, LLC” located on Route 10, the City owns the land and Mass Audubon holds a permanent Conservation Restriction (CR).  The reverse is true for the four-acre parcel, formerly land of Ralph Thompson, added to the Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary.  Mass Audubon owns the land and the City holds a permanent CR. 

A Wildlife Corridor

The Thompson property has been vacant for at least the past 50 years.  The owner, a local entrepreneur, considered installing a public storage facility on the site but opted for this sale to Mass Audubon instead.  The property is within the identified wildlife corridor. The ravine on the southern side in particular shows evidence of animals crossing from Arcadia to the Rocky Hill Greenway. 

The Thompson property is located next to the wetland area of Arcadia, and provides a good vantage point to observe wildlife and also provides access for people to wander along the wetland’s edge in the woods. 

Getting More Done

Wayne Feiden, Director of Planning and Sustainability for the City of Northampton, notes that, “Partnering with Mass Audubon allows the City of Northampton to protect much more land than we would be able to on our own.  Together we have expanded the conservation land in this area by 120 acres over the past five years alone.” 

Bob Wilber, Mass Audubon’s Director of Land Conservation, comments that “while many other states are just beginning to cultivate a public/private ‘conservation community’ working regularly in partnership, it is second nature here in Massachusetts.  Each partner has unique skills and capacities that, when combined, give us the ability to do great things.  We simply get much more accomplished this way.  Our partnership with Wayne and the City of Northampton is a shining example of what a public/private partnership can achieve.”

By Kate Buttolph, Land Protection Specialist

Project Update: Confirming a Legacy of Conservation on Cuttyhunk Island

Our recent acquisition of the West End parcel on Cuttyhunk Island for conservation marked only one step in a much larger project on the tiny island at the end of Buzzards Bay.

Over the last several years, Mass Audubon has been doing the work necessary to accept the gift of several parcels on Cuttyhunk.  These pieces of land, scattered around the island, were all owned by Muriel “Oriel” Ponzecchi who passed away in late 2015.  Oriel, as she was known by her friends, generously left all these lands to Mass Audubon in her will.  We are very grateful to have the opportunity to help achieve her intended legacy of conservation.

Accepting gifts of land can be more time consuming than one might think.  There are many things to consider before taking on a property, especially on a place like Cuttyhunk with its long history of varied human uses including military, agriculture, and tourism.

View from Cuttyhunk southwest towards the Atlantic Ocean

Similar to buying a house, we have to consider all sorts of issues to make sure we understand the property we are about to own.  For example, we have to consider if there are any safety concerns on the property and if there is clear title to the land (meaning no risk of disputed ownership) among other things.

Some twists and turns are expected.

That all aside, we have worked on some wonderful properties so far and there are more to come.  Next on the list is a high point on the island with one of the best views of Buzzards Bay that one could hope to find. 

More trips to the island by this Mass Audubon Land Protection Specialist will likely be necessary, hopefully in summer, because fortunately someone has to do it!

 By Nick Rossi, Land Protection Specialist

Progress in Effort to Permanently Protect 1,500-acre Bear Hole Landscape

Mass Audubon has been working for some time, in close partnership with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Conservation & Recreation (DCR), and the City of West Springfield, to permanently protect more than 1,500 acres located in the southern Connecticut River Valley.

This large-scale project seeks to conserve the spectacular Bear Hole Landscape. That extensive, intact, forested area was acquired by the City of West Springfield over the last century as a surface water supply.  When the City went to a groundwater well system to fulfill their municipal water needs in recent decades, the future of the land was brought into question because it was no longer needed for the purpose for which it had been acquired. 

Paucatuck Brook at Bear Hole

In recent years, Mass Audubon and DCR have had the good fortune of working with two forward-thinking mayors of West Springfield – mayors who have embraced the vision of placing permanent protections on Bear Hole.  In that future, the conserved landscape would be managed for powerful climate change response, as well as increased and enhanced low impact public use and enjoyment.  West Springfield is to be commended for recently taking steps necessary to become one of the first municipalities to monetize the carbon sequestration services of their forests – opening up exciting reinvestment potential for the Bear Hole Landscape.

While there are a number of important milestones still ahead of us, we remain optimistic that the exciting opportunity to permanently protect Bear Hole will be fulfilled.

By Bob Wilber, Director of Land Conservation

Finding Ways to Ramp Up the Pace of Conservation

Mass Audubon often needs to move quickly in order to protect a critical piece of property.  Even when we do have the luxury of time, local or place-based fundraising may not be sufficient to raise all the funds needed.

For these situations we created the Land Conservation Fund.  Gifts to this fund are used to:

  • Respond rapidly to important land conservation opportunities
  • Leverage additional funds through matching challenges
  • Make projects that have exhausted all other funding possibilities feasible

The conservation impact of these funds cannot be overstated.  In many cases, they simply make the protection of important land possible. Sometimes a property’s location presents its own set of challenges.  For example, fundraising can be particularly challenging in the western part of the state, where there is lots of important land to be protected, but fewer people to fund its conservation.

Land Conservation Fund in Action

A few of Mass Audubon’s recent successful projects where the Land Conservation Fund played a critical role include:

  • 109 acres in Plainfield that are part of a large network of significant wildlife corridors extending north all the way to maritime Quebec
  • 84 acres in Petersham that helped provide a functional connection between our Rutland Brook Wildlife Sanctuary and Harvard Forest
  • Leveraging the protection of 140 acres in Metrowest that served as the keystone to creating a connected, protected landscape of more than 1,000 acres overall.   

Your Gift

This financial resource enables us to be more nimble, proactive, and employ a visionary statewide approach. Your gift to the Land Conservation Fund empowers us to pursue and complete projects for climate change response – helping both people and nature be more resilient in the years ahead.

Great Neck Property Acquired by Mass Audubon

Great news – Mass Audubon just completed the purchase of 110 acres at Great Neck in Wareham with more than a mile of salt water frontage on Buzzard’s Bay! This land was owned since 1943 by the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts. Two years ago they decided to sell it.

A decade earlier, we worked in partnership with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Conservation & Recreation (DCR), the Wareham Land Trust, and the Town of Wareham to purchase a Conservation Restriction (CR) covering 95 acres of this property.  Somewhat amazingly, there were 90 acres of pre-existing Mass Audubon land located on two sides of this spectacular coastal tract. 

The purchase of that CR at that time did two things – one positive, one less so – it permanently and significantly reduced the value of the land but also left fifteen acres of the land totally unprotected.   Fortunately, Mass Audubon had the foresight at that time to acquire a Right of First Refusal (RoFR) on the entire property – giving us 60 days to match any prospective buyer’s offer and acquire the property, if it were ever sold.  It is a safe statement that few of those involved at the time expected that opportunity to ever become real.

Well, one should never say never – in mid-December (2018), we received legal notice that our RoFR had been triggered, and that we had only 60 days to come up with the $2.6 million needed to match the purchase price.  For us to acquire the land and convert it to the Great Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, many additional costs would be incurred, including demolishing many of the buildings on the site, restoring the landscape, committing a staff presence, and expanding the trail network and other sanctuary start-up activities.  While certainly daunted by the magnitude of the challenge, we were highly motivated to put forth a rapid response campaign to try to raise the funds needed before the clock ran out.

Thanks to the amazing generosity of several conservation-minded Great Neck families (who should also be credited with providing the bulk of the privately raised funds a decade ago for part one of the Great Neck conservation effort) and nearly 100 others, the necessary funds were assembled in time for Mass Audubon to take advantage of this incredible opportunity and save this land.

While we will certainly need additional help for this sanctuary to reach full potential, the property has been acquired and is now protected.  Instead of hosting additional development, it will be “undeveloped” and serve as a very special place for people to connect with nature for generations to come. (Reflecting it’s significance, the property has been a mainstay on our Gaining Ground banner above for years – with my then five year old daughter, Lindsey, so clearly delighted to be upon it).

By Bob Wilber, Director of Land Conservation 

Mass Audubon Welcomes the Newest Addition to its Broad Meadow Brook Wildlife Sanctuary

A donation of land by Karen Faler has added five acres to Broad Meadow Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Worcester.  Karen and her husband Paul, who passed away seven years ago, received the property from his grandparents.  They purchased it after emigrating from Finland and used it for a woodlot.  Paul and Karen visited the property occasionally and enjoyed the step back in time to a rural community where keeping a woodlot was not uncommon.   Karen is now the sole owner.  When no family members expressed interest in keeping the land, Karen approached Mass Audubon about donating it. We accepted with enthusiasm! 

The Faler land is a wooded lot that has never been developed and directly abuts the Broad Meadow Brook Wildlife Sanctuary.  Although small, this 5-acre parcel is ecologically significant. The entire property is designated as important habitat for threatened species by the state’s Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program. In addition, the donation of this parcel to Mass Audubon eliminates the potential for intrusive development that would affect a nearby trail at Broad Meadow Brook. 

Karen Faler commented on the successful transaction saying, “It is with great satisfaction that I donate this land to the Mass Audubon preserve at Broad Meadow Brook.  It honors both my family’s heritage and Mass Audubon’s efforts to preserve undisturbed elements of nature for all to enjoy.”

The Faler’s former woodlot that is now part of Broad Meadow Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Worcester

Expanding Our Presence on Cuttyhunk Island

On June 27, 2019 Mass Audubon received a two and a half acre property located on Cuttyhunk Island. 

Cuttyhunk

If you’re not familiar with Cuttyhunk, you are in good company. The island is a little known gem of coastal Massachusetts.  Specifically, it is the last and smallest of the Elizabeth Island chain just northwest of Martha’s Vineyard.  The island is about two miles from end to end.   There is a small, picturesque community (Gosnold, MA) comprised of mostly summer residents, but the vast majority of the island is still undeveloped. 

The West End

This new Mass Audubon land sits at the very western tip of the island, hence we’ve been calling it “The West End”.

This little piece of land at the edge of the world is a lovely bit of sand, rock, and grass by the sea.  A perfect place to stare out at the ocean on a summer day.  

It contains some of the highest bluffs on the island, and the shoreline offers a wonderful view of Martha’s Vineyard from a piece of rare coastal habitat.

Looking towards Martha’s Vineyard from the West End

This property is part of a generous bequest made by conservation-minded Muriel Ponzecchi to Mass Audubon in order to protect places on Cuttyhunk Island that she held so dear.  The West End parcel is actually phase two of the bequest. The first phase was a Conservation Restriction on roughly nine acres called “Bayberry Hill” which occurred in 2017.  

We hope to conclude phase three in the coming year, so stay tuned for more land protection news from Cuttyhunk!

by Nick Rossi, Land Protection Specialist

Fulfilling Norma’s Wishes

In early 2018, I was asked by Lauren Gordon – Sanctuary Director at our Oak Knoll Wildlife Sanctuary in Attleboro – to join her for a meeting with members of the Dorrance Family regarding our interest in acquiring 25 acres of land they owned abutting that sanctuary.  Given that this represented an opportunity to expand that popular urban sanctuary’s footprint by more than 50% – likely the last such opportunity that we would ever see – I was happy to join her to fully explore that possibility. 

Family Land

Norma Dorrance (left) with her daughter Susan

The property was owned by Dorrance family matriarch, Norma E. Dorrance. She became the property’s owner upon the passing of her husband, Howard M. Dorrance, in 2014.  Mrs. Dorrance was 88 years old and attended that meeting with one of her sons, Steve, and one of her daughters, Susan.  Mrs. Dorrance made it clear that while she was not in a position to donate the property, she fully understood how it would so greatly enhance Oak Knoll forever, and that it was quite important to her that the sanctuary have first opportunity to purchase it.

Ecological Importance

In addition to its location abutting the sanctuary, and its sizeable acreage, the property is comprised of mature, mixed deciduous forest and more than eight acres of wetlands.  Importantly, it also includes a spectacular knoll dominated by oak trees – almost certainly the geographic landscape feature for which Oak Knoll Wildlife Sanctuary is named.  New England Bluet, a Species of Special Concern, is found on the property, along with several other species of conservation interest. 

View across Lake Talaquega to the Dorrance property.

A Conservation Commitment

We commissioned an independent real estate appraisal and Mrs. Dorrance and family agreed to sell it to Mass Audubon for less than offers they had received from those seeking to develop the beautiful property.  She signed a Purchase & Sale contract with Mass Audubon in early June 2018.

Sadly, Norma died less than a month later.  While she did not live to see her property become such an important addition to Oak Knoll, her wishes were carried out by virtue of her signature on the binding real estate contract.   We – and the 20,000 people who reside within a 2-mile radius of the Oak Knoll Wildlife Sanctuary – are forever indebted to her, and to the many individuals and foundations whose combined generosity made this important acquisition possible.    

 By Bob Wilber, Director of Land Conservation

Strengthening the Whetstone Land Bridge

Whetstone Wood Wildlife Sanctuary, Mass Audubon’s largest wildlife sanctuary at almost 2,500 acres located in Wendell, Orange, and New Salem, just added another 118 acres—home to high quality forest and vernal pools. 

The property was offered to Mass Audubon for purchase by Wendell resident Marcelle Feltman (who lives just down the road) with the understanding that it would be conserved and become part of the Whetstone Wood Wildlife Sanctuary.  The Feltman family loves living in Wendell and appreciates the wildness and unbroken nature of much of the forest there. They are very pleased that Mass Audubon was able to purchase the property to protect it forever.

Moving to Wendell

Marcelle and her husband Neal (who passed away in 2016) both attended UMASS Amherst.  They moved to Wendell in 1974 and built a house.  A forester and a teacher, the Feltmans eventually purchased an additional 136 acres, subdivided the property, and sold a few house lots along Jennison Road. The outcome for this property strikes a healthy land use balance.  The Town of Wendell continues to receive property tax revenue from the house lots while the larger community and planet receives the more intangible benefits that conservation land provides. 

Adding to a Bridge

This large conservation acreage in Wendell is a terrific example of the critically important role that strategic land conservation will play in climate change response – both now and in the important years ahead. First, it provides corridors to help plants and animals move in order to find more comfortable locations as the impacts of climate change become more pronounced. Whetstone has grown to form a “bridge” of protected lands connecting literally tens of thousands of acres of existing conserved lands. Second, the protection of the forested landscape benefits all of us by sequestering carbon, absorbing other greenhouse gases, cooling temperatures, and generating clean water and air. 

Map showing the connection between Whetstone Wood Wildlife Sanctuary and thousands of acres of conserved land.

by Kate Buttolph, Land Protection Specialist

Another Piece of the Puzzle Conserved in Holliston

On April 22, 2019 a new Conservation Restriction (CR) was acquired in a joint effort between the New England Forestry Foundation, Mass Audubon, and the Poitras Family (longtime conservationists and supporters of Mass Audubon).  The property includes 60 acres of lovely fields and woodlands along Highland Street.

Mass Audubon has been busy in Holliston over the past few years.  It is all part of a long term effort to knit together a large natural landscape for the benefit of Holliston and neighboring communities. 

Altogether, Mass Audubon has played a role in protecting over 360 acres in Holliston since 2005.  This CR furthers the connection to hundreds of acres of existing protected land.  The mosaic of connected, protected lands will facilitate wildlife movement and increase nature’s resilience to the impacts of climate change, in addition to providing cleaner air and drinking water for these MetroWest communities in the years ahead.  A large portion of this land will eventually become a new Mass Audubon property called Broad Hill Wildlife Sanctuary.

A mossy stone wall on the recently protected 60-acre Poitras property

The People Making It Possible

It is hard to talk about our work in Holliston without mentioning the Poitras Family.  Without them, this work would not have been possible.

The Poitras family are the ones who first envisioned the protection of this historic and scenic section of Holliston. Largely with their own resources, they have gradually been purchasing land and then donating CRs on that land to Mass Audubon and the New England Forestry Foundation.

It is difficult to find better supporters of land conservation anywhere.

A Team Effort

We also need to give credit to the New England Forestry Foundation for all their help in making this work possible. 

In the conservation community, it’s important to remember that we all think of ourselves as “playing on the same team” with many other talented, dedicated “players”.  So much more conservation gets done when we work together.

New England Forestry Foundation has been working with Mass Audubon in Holliston for quite some time, and we are grateful to have them as our partner.

by Nick Rossi, Land Protection Specialist