Category Archives: Acquisitions

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

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.”


Mass Audubon & City of Northampton Team Up to Protect Wildlife Corridor

On April 1, 2015, Mass Audubon acquired a conservation restriction on an important 48-acre forested parcel in a corridor linking our Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary to the extensive open lands in the western part of Northampton.

For years we have had our eye on a group of undeveloped properties on the west side of Route 10 across from Arcadia. Zoned by the city years ago for business park development, these parcels had languished on the market for lack of sewer access and other issues. For Arcadia, hemmed in by development and water, they’re also at the heart of one of the two best remaining corridors connecting Arcadia to large tracts of open space further afield.

So when our long-time conservation partners at city hall called to say they thought there was an opportunity to protect one of the larger properties in this corridor, we said we’d do everything we could to assist. For the city, it was an opportunity not only to protect this land for its conservation value, but also to secure the route for a spur trail off the new bike path connecting Northampton and Easthampton.

What the city needed were funds to bridge the gap between what they could afford and the minimum the owner would accept. They also needed a holder for the conservation restriction mandated by the Community Preservation Act. The city was an early adopter of CPA, which allows municipalities to levy a property tax surcharge for conservation, recreation, historic preservation restriction and affordable housing projects, provided a conservation restriction is imposed on any conservation acquisitions.

We agreed to provide $50,000 towards the acquisition costs of the property, to accept the conservation restriction, and to cover our transaction and long-term stewardship costs as well – a total package worth $70,000. We were able to do this thanks to the many friends who had generously donated funds over the years to be used at Arcadia for just such occasions, including the McCane-Chin Fund for Land Protection which provided half of the funds needed.

Wildlife tracking studies a few years ago confirmed the importance of this corridor for fox, deer, bear, and other large mammals. Now thanks to the City of Northampton and to some very generous and committed friends, a key part of this corridor is forever protected.

This Sanctuary Has Never Met a State Forest it Didn’t Like!

Bob Wilber, Director of Land Conservation
Connections, linkages, corridors, land bridges – these are all related and popular concepts in conservation science these days. With conserved lands, bigger is almost always much better – particularly when one is looking through the lens of climate change, where many plants and animals will need to move around a bit to sustain over the long term. By physically connecting one tract of existing conservation land with another, not only do both tracts become more significant, but the value of the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts.

Mass Audubon recently completed the acquisition of such a critical link – 82 acres of high quality forest land from Gregg S. Whitney, connecting our Whetstone Wood Wildlife Sanctuary with a portion of the Wendell State Forest to the west. We acquired this important property for $95,000 – a bargain sale $45,000 below current appraised value.

Whetstone is unique for several reasons, including the fact that it is both Mass Audubon’s largest Newly protected landwildlife sanctuary, and the only one managed explicitly as a wildland – where human impact is minimized and the extent and function of natural communities are of paramount importance. Whetstone Wood is a terrific example of a wildland, consistent with the Wildlands and Woodlands forest conservation vision put forth by Harvard Forest and the University of Massachusetts. Whetstone Wood is also located within the multi-state Quabbin to Cardigan (Q2C) corridor conservation initiative. In addition, the land lies within an area designated by the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs as the North Quabbin Bioreserve, further reflecting its ecological significance.

Making connections between conservation lands is one of the most prominent themes underpinning the Sanctuary Land Conservation Plan for Whetstone, located in the north Quabbin region of the state. Under that plan, we have been working hard to link that sanctuary with two of the largest expanses of protected open space in the state – more than 50,000 acres surrounding the Quabbin Reservoir and its watershed to the south, and the nearly 80,000 acres of land protected by private land trusts and by state conservation agencies to the north and west as well as extending further westward to Mt. Toby and the Connecticut River corridor. The “land bridge” context of Whetstone will be particularly important in the years ahead, as the impacts of climate change become more pronounced. By connecting these lands where possible today, they will be more resilient tomorrow – a critical factor in natural communities adapting to climate change.

The Gift of a Not-So-New Sanctuary in Attleboro

Charlie Wyman, Senior Land Protection Specialist
Four years ago this week, a new Mass Audubon sanctuary was born. The National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette, responding to the avowed commitment of their Order to “protect the integrity of creation,” dedicated 117 acres of woodland and wetland at the rear of the Shrine to conservation. In a complicated project facilitated by the Religious Lands Conservancy and involving three conservation partners, the Shrine granted a perpetual conservation restriction on the property to the City of Attleboro and the Attleboro Land Trust, and then permanently transferred management of the property to Mass Audubon for Pond at Attleboro Springs operation as a publicly accessible wildlife sanctuary, while retaining title to the land.

This unique arrangement served the parties well at the time. After four years, though, La Salette has concluded that ownership should be combined with stewardship responsibility, and has generously gifted title to the property to Mass Audubon. We are very grateful for this latest act of generosity and environmental commitment by La Salette.

Visitors to Attleboro Springs Wildlife Sanctuary at La Salette will notice no difference with this change, as the property has been operated as a Mass Audubon sanctuary since 2009. And the change represents no weakening of our partnership with the Shrine: we stay in close touch, coordinate our programs, and count each other as good friends.

People enjoy our sanctuaries for many reasons, and for some, nature and faith are closely aligned. Many Shrine visitors find in the sanctuary not only an experience of nature but also a place for contemplation, solitude, and peace. “People like to have a bold vision of the Almighty speaking to them,” noted Father Roger Plante, who conceived and championed the protection effort, “but the tiniest grain of sand, flower or insect can put you in touch with God.” Whether you seek a contemplative walk, or a good hike in the woods, or an experience with nature along our all-persons accessible nature trail, our Attleboro Springs sanctuary welcomes you.