Author Archives: 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

Town of Lenox and Mass Audubon Exchange Land

When Mass Audubon acquired land adjacent to Lenox’s Kennedy Park in 1993, the ultimate aim was to swap it for a parcel just south of Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary along the western side of West Mountain Road.  This exchange as originally envisioned did not take place, but after 26 years a slightly modified version has.

A Quarter Century Later – Swap Takes Place

Mass Audubon and Lenox have worked closely together the last two years arranging the swap of two lots owned by Mass Audubon—east of West Mountain Road and adjacent to Kennedy Park—for the Lenox-owned “School Lot” on Yokun Ridge. 

The Town of Lenox and the Board of Directors of Mass Audubon approved this transaction, and the exchange became official on February 21, 2019, when deeds were recorded at the Berkshire Middle Registry in Pittsfield.

Trail and land management along the Yokun Ridge from Bosquet to the Lenox Watershed lands will be coordinated with the Berkshire Natural Resources Council (BNRC).  The land exchange will help consolidate land ownerships for Mass Audubon and the Town, ensuring consistent protection of the ridgeline as well as appropriate recreational opportunities in Kennedy Park.

Added Protection in Place

The two lots conveyed by Mass Audubon to Lenox are subject to Conservation Restrictions, one held by BNRC and the other held by the US Forest Service, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management, and BNRC.  

The 95-acre School Lot will fill a gap to the north and west in Mass Audubon’s Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary. Tom Lautzenheiser, Mass Audubon Regional Scientist for Central and Western Massachusetts, notes that “this area’s complex topography, harsh climate along the ridgeline, relatively sheltered conditions on the (very steep) eastern slope, and shallow soils in much of the area combine to make a diverse, interesting, and basically intact system.” 

View from the School Lot in Lenox, MA.

Welcome Intern Mary-Ellise Schiffer

Land Conservation has a spring intern for the third year in a row, and we are very happy to announce that it is Mary-Ellise Schiffer! 

A Class in Conservation Restrictions

For this internship, Mass Audubon is thankful to have a working relationship with John Baker of Clark University who advertises it to his current students.  John teaches a class each fall on Conservation Restrictions (CRs) in which students have the chance to learn hands on about how CRs work and how to go about running a CR Stewardship program.  In a sense, this internship is an opportunity for one student to take a deeper dive into all the ins and outs of CRs (tools for conserving land that remains in someone else’s ownership, by permanently extinguishing some or all of the development that might otherwise take place there).

The arrangement benefits both Clark and Mass Audubon.  John Baker has a chance to give his students real world professional experience, and Mass Audubon has a reliable pool of good candidates.

The internship itself tends to be a varied experience.   Students typically engage in tasks as varied as record keeping, report writing, assessing ecosystems, using mapping software, navigating through swamps, and taking photos of frog and salamander eggs in vernal pools.

Mary planting trees to restore rainforests in Queensland, Australia!

About Mary-Ellise Schiffer

Mary will serve as the CR intern for the spring semester of 2019.  She is currently a senior at Clark University, and is taking this internship for academic credit towards her Earth Systems Science major. In her role, she will help Nick Rossi (Mass Audubon’s CR Steward) with all things related to CR stewardship.

Growing up in the beautiful coastal town of Narragansett, Rhode Island, Mary has always loved the outdoors – the ocean, forests and wildlife. She is creative and enthusiastic, with a deep sense of wonder about the world around her.

Although she studies Environmental Science, she also enjoys researching subjects such as psychology, art, and philosophy. She’s always been an avid reader, and can often be found curled up somewhere cozy. Her dreams include becoming a well-published author, backpacking the Pacific Crest Trail, and holding a handstand.

By choosing an internship with Mass Audubon, she continues on the path which may one day lead her to the title of “National Park Ranger who gets to be outside all day and get paid for it!”

Amazing Gift Protects Landscape with Historical Ties to Mass Audubon’s Founding

Generosity that inspires all who hear of it has created a new wildlife sanctuary in Concord, MA. Nancy Beeuwkes has donated an astonishing 143 acres of land along the Concord River to Mass Audubon—to be preserved forever.

It is a natural gem that includes a half mile of riverbank, spectacular views, forested upland, open field, diverse wetlands, and habitat for a variety of rare plant and animal species.

Part of a Constellation of Protected Lands

These 143 acres sit within a much larger network of existing protected natural areas including:

  • The 3,800 acre Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, a portion of which is located on the opposite side of the Concord River and running to the north and south.
  • A 1,200-acre area with conservation protections to the west known as Estabrook Woods.
  • The abutting 80-acre October Farm Riverfront to the south, a conservation area established by the Town of Concord and the Concord Land Conservation Trust in 2016.

Historic in Nature

In an interesting twist, this new sanctuary is a part of the original 300-acre homestead of William Brewster—noted ornithologist and Mass Audubon’s first president. It was his retreat from city life in Cambridge. He would often camp out along the river hoping to hear, or catch sight of, a bird that interested him. 

Brewster’s house, which dates back to the 1700s, will also be conserved.

While the property itself holds these notes of historic interest, the gift of the property is also historic. It is the largest single gift that Mass Audubon has received since it was founded in 1896, and one of the largest conservation gifts in the history of the Commonwealth.

In Brewster’s Woods, atop Davis Hill, looking down at the Concord River.

Future Plans

Brewster’s Woods Wildlife Sanctuary is not yet prepared for the public, but it will be in the near future.  The first step will be establishing a parking area and opening a trail system. Later, there will likely be educational events and programs. Some of these will be designed to explain how the resilience of conserved landscapes like this one can be bolstered in the face of climate change. 

We look forward to welcoming you to Mass Audubon’s newest wildlife sanctuary soon!

Donation Fills a Gap

The Fischer family has generously donated their 3-acre property in Sandisfield, along the western side of Cold Brook Wildlife Sanctuary, to Mass Audubon. 

Steve, Douglas, Cynthia, and Janet Fischer are part of an extended family, the Johnsons, who have owned this land for almost 100 years.  This parcel in Sandisfield was originally part of a larger land holding that the Johnson family purchased in 1922.

The Johnsons lived in Connecticut and used this property primarily for logging.  According to the Sandisfield Times (Dec. 2014): “Alvin Johnson, a Swedish immigrant then living in the New Haven area, acquired from Edmund Strickland two sprawling former farms on Beech Plain Road.”  The Johnsons added two small cottages across the street from each other—one in 1924 and the other in 1930.   

The donated land is located on the easterly side of Beech Plain Road and fills a gap in the protection of the wildlife sanctuary (as shown in the map below).  

Douglas Fischer wrote,

“The land holds so many memories for my mother, Eleanor Viola Johnson Fischer. She lived in the two-story white farm house across and down the street from the land we donated…Her mother was a homemaker and her father was a lumberman. In the histories of the area, their home is sometimes referred to as The Strickland Farm. It was built in 1785 and was a stopover for the Underground Railroad. She remembers going to school at The Little Red School House, harvesting blueberries, caring for their two dairy cows and playing with her older sister Evelyn. This donated piece of land was a gift to her and Evelyn from their father. It was passed on to myself and my brother, Steve. As we live in the Midwest we are unable to use it and are delighted that it will be preserved. We trust that under Mass Audubon’s stewardship many future generations of birds and animals will enjoy the same wild blueberries and protected environment that brought joy to our mother’s heart.”


Additional 5 Acres Preserved at Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary

A Conservation Restriction (CR) adjacent to Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary was expanded to permanently protect an additional five acres. The donation was made by the Hunnewell family and it preserves a section of Glen Street in Natick from further development. It also helps ensure the integrity of this natural corridor along the Charles River.

View of the newly protected land

Gradual Land Conservation

The expansion of this CR is another gift in a remarkable set of 5 separate donations from the Hunnewell Family to Mass Audubon dating back to the 1970’s.  The total amount of land they have protected with Mass Audubon is now roughly 137 acres—an impressive achievement from a conservation-minded family.

The story of the Hunnewell family is not entirely unusual; although, the number of donations does demonstrate a particularly remarkable generosity.  Many people decide to preserve their land gradually over a period of time.  The reasons for this are numerous.

Some families reserve a small portion of their land to sell as a house lot in case they find themselves in financial need later.  Then, in the future, they may realize that they do not need this financial insurance so they choose to conserve the rest of it.

Others choose to conserve part of their land during their lives, and then gift the remaining interest upon their passing.

With a bit of thoughtful flexibility, we can preserve more land than otherwise possible.

If you are thinking about conserving your land, remember that land conservation is not always an “all or nothing” proposition. You can make some arrangements to protect your land now, and then build on that in the future if you like.