Category Archives: Success Stories

A running account of Mass Audubon’s land conservation successes, posted on the blog as they occur.

Patience, Persistence, Protection!

About 4 years ago, I received a call from a landowner in Hampden about a possible donation of some land next to Laughing Brook Wildlife Sanctuary.  We talked about the process and the costs involved. It was helpful information for the landowner to have, though not the right time for him to act. In the middle of March this year, I got another call—it was the right time! 

Springing into Action

Despite the challenges of working from home, with limited ability to travel and do site visits, the landowner and Mass Audubon agreed on a donation of seven acres, leaving him with his house on three acres. 

Mass Audubon liked the property because of its location next to Laughing Brook, the buffer it provides between a residential neighborhood and a nature trail, and its ecological significance with Prime Forest, and Priority Habitat for rare and endangered species.  The property will provide a place for the wildlife of Massachusetts to adapt to climate change.

Covid-19 Causes Concern

We agreed to try our best to close before the end of June.  There was scant time to get a survey plan and prepare deeds.  We had to move quickly, but the landowner who had been so responsive and helpful was suddenly silent.  Time was ticking away, and the ability to close before June 30 was fast disappearing. 

I was concerned about the landowner because the silence seemed so abrupt and it was spring 2020 with the threat of Covid-19 always in the back of our minds. I was relieved to finally hear that while the landowner had been in the hospital, the reasons were not related to the virus and had been remedied. 

Back on Track

We were back on track with scarcely a month to go, and we needed an approved subdivision plan.  The Hampden Planning Board had not had a meeting in a couple of months.  I pleaded with the Planning Board Administrative Assistant.  She let me know when the Board agreed to meet on June 24. 

Meanwhile, I overnighted documents to the landowner— deeds and affidavits and a closing statement for signature.  Signature in front of a notary!  Another hurdle, but fortunately, a kindly notary met with our donor and witnessed the signings as required.  A self-addressed stamped envelope came back to me in a couple of days with all the original signed, witnessed documents. 

One Last Step

Back to the Plan — I tuned into Zoom at the appointed time on June 24 for the Planning Board meeting, explained the reason for the subdivision, and the Board approved the Plan.  Now to get it recorded! 

I picked up the signed copy, left for me by the Board Administrative Assistant in the Town Hall foyer (no contact), and sent it overnight mail to the Hampden County Registry of Deeds (no “in person” visits permitted there, no electronic recording, and certainly no “curbside” pickups!!)  Finally, I provided the original deeds to our attorney for electronic recording as soon as the Plan was on record.  All was completed with two days in June to spare. 


Thanks to the cooperation and help of the Hampden Township Planning Board, the Hampden County Registry of Deeds, the notary, the lawyer, and the landowner, a special 7 acres of land has now been added to Laughing Brook Wildlife Sanctuary.  The landowner, who wants to remain anonymous, is “very much interested in wildlife preservation and a believer in Audubon’s mission.”  Mass Audubon is fortunate to have such dedicated supporters helping to protect the nature of Massachusetts for people and for wildlife.

-Kate Buttolph, Land Protection Specialist

Adding Two New Special Properties on Cuttyhunk Island

On June 30, 2020 Mass Audubon acquired two new properties on Cuttyhunk Island totaling over 30 acres and containing roughly 1.25 miles of coastline. This is the final stage of a multiyear endeavor to complete the acquisition of land left to Mass Audubon by bequest of our longtime conservation partner on the island, Muriel Ponzecchi.

For those unfamiliar with Cuttyhunk, 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. 

Copicut Neck

The first and larger of the properties is known locally as Copicut Neck.  This section of coastline is one of the first bits of land that all visitors to the island see when they come in on the ferry.

Penikese Island (home to colonies of rare tern species) is seen in the distance from Copicut Neck

According to Kathy Parsons, Director of Mass Audubon’s Coastal Waterbirds Program, “Copicut Neck is an important location on Cuttyhunk for nesting American Oystercatchers, Willets and other coastal birds.  As a relatively long and remote peninsula, it offers great habitat for some of the most vulnerable birds using the coast.”

Its protection also helps mitigate the impacts of flooding from coastal storms. The peninsula remains a beloved spot locally to take strolls along the shore and hardly see another person—a rare thing in Massachusetts!

Bunker Hill

The second property may be only 3.75 acres, but it is located at one of the highest points on the island, with one of the best panoramic views in Buzzards Bay. 

The property gets its name from four World War II military pillboxes that remain on the site and were intended to provide vantage points from which to spot German submarines.  The army has long since abandoned them, but the Cuttyhunk community, coordinating with Mass Audubon, has stepped up to take on the responsibility of stewarding the restoration of those pieces of island history in the coming years.

The view from Bunker Hill

A Leader of Cuttyhunk Conservation

It is not possible to write about the protection of these wonderful properties without writing about Muriel “Oriole” Ponzecchi—she’s the one who made it all possible! 

Mass Audubon is extremely grateful to have worked with her collaboratively during her lifetime and to have received these generous bequests of land from her – reflecting her lifelong commitment to preserving what is so special about Cuttyhunk.

Muriel’s conservation vision with Mass Audubon began in 2001 when we acquired three Conservation Restrictions on the island from her.  After she passed away in late 2015, Mass Audubon received news of her bequest of Copicut Neck and Bunker Hill.

Those who knew her well say that Muriel cared deeply about the island and its natural lands, and informally made them open to islanders who wanted to visit.  Altogether, her bequests and donations to Mass Audubon amount to almost 50 acres of coastline, shrub forest, and grassland.   

Thanks to Muriel, we can all continue visiting those special places that she loved and shared.

-Nick Rossi, Land Protection Specialist

Piece by Piece: A Long-Term Strategy for Success

Working in partnership with the City of Northampton, Mass Audubon added 5.72 acres of state-designated “Critical Natural Landscape and Core Habitat” to the Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary.  It is strategically located along the eastern boundary of the Manhan Meadows and adds to the extensive wetland systems, grasslands, shrublands and forest that make up the 730-acre Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary. 

View of meadows that provide nesting habitat for bobolinks.

The sanctuary is known to host approximately twenty state-listed rare species.  Arcadia is a designated Important Bird Area, supporting habitat for numerous breeding and migratory birds of priority conservation interest, as well as being important habitat for a wide variety of other animals and plants. 

The new acquisition is part of an old “oxbow” (a U-shaped backwater) that became separated from the primary flow of the Connecticut River long ago. Oxbow wetlands such as this provide important storage capacity for flood waters, improved water quality through filtration services, and habitat for a variety of wildlife. This particular land is part of a wildlife corridor actively used by bobcat, coyote, deer and other wildlife. 

The property also has upland areas which provide vantage points where you might catch sight of an eastern bluebird or bald eagle. 

Wayne Feiden, the Director of Planning & Sustainability stated, “Northampton is pleased to have been able to have a small supporting role in Mass Audubon’s preservation of the Singler property. This land, in the city’s floodplain and with highly productive floodplain forest, fills a hole in the Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary and preserves the same ecosystem partially protected by the City’s nearby Meadows-Historic Mill River Greenway.”

-Kate Buttolph, Land Protection Specialist

Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary Grows By 85 Acres

In partnership with the Lincoln Land Conservation Trust, Mass Audubon closed on 85 acres of land south of our Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary near Old Sudbury Road.  The land straddles the borders of Lincoln, Wayland, and Weston, with the entirety of the property in Lincoln and Wayland. 

An established trail winding through the property.

The land was donated to Mass Audubon by the Carroll School. Mass Audubon is very grateful that the Carroll School approached us with this opportunity, and we are equally grateful to have the School as our neighbor in Lincoln. We look forward to continued collaboration with the School into the future as they develop ways to incorporate outdoor time on the sanctuary land into their educational programming.

Ready for Visitors

Downy Rattlesnake Plantain, Goodyera pubescens, a type of orchid found on the property.

The 85 acres itself actually has been open to visitors for some time, and it contains an established trail network.  The trail network has been maintained by the Lincoln Land Conservation Trust, which now holds Conservation Restrictions on the property. 

Most notable is a much beloved boardwalk that runs through an exquisite red maple swamp that makes up the majority of the property.  The land is ideal habitat for numerous plants and animals including two types of orchids—downy rattlesnake plantain and pink lady’s slipper.

This land connects to a much larger network of protected land and hiking trails.  This includes land protected by the Town of Lincoln, the Weston Town Forest to the south, and of course Mass Audubon’s Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary.

The property is best accessed via the trailhead on Town of Lincoln conservation land on Old Sudbury Road.

By Nick Rossi, Land Protection Specialist

Critical Addition to Cook’s Canyon Wildlife Sanctuary

The Trifilo family has bought, sold and owned several properties in Barre over the past century.  One special property has been in the Trifilo family for over 50 years and the three children who inherited it decided to sell to Mass Audubon, adding nine acres and frontage on Galloway Brook to the Cook’s Canyon Wildlife Sanctuary. 

Cook’s Canyon is the small ravine in which Galloway Brook flows.  Galloway Brook has some impressive waterfalls and rapids during times of high water.  A small shopping center on the east is separated from the land by a natural cliff-face.  This acquisition preserves an ecologically significant natural area, and assists wildlife movement by expanding the connectivity of Cook’s Canyon Wildlife Sanctuary – a key response to climate change.

Galloway Brook

The Galloway Brook along the southern boundary is a tributary of the Prince River, a coldwater stream.   Coldwater streams are areas or reaches of streams and small rivers with water cold enough throughout the year to support coldwater fish species such as brook trout.  This acquisition increases the length of protected stream corridor by approximately 650 feet.

-Kate Buttolph, Land Protection Specialist

Donation of 50 Acres Near Graves Farm Wildlife Sanctuary

Mass Audubon has received a generous donation of a 50-acre property on the former Grass Hill Road in Whately, near the Graves Farm Wildlife Sanctuary.  It is a forest habitat type known as hemlock-hardwood-pine. White pine and eastern hemlock are predominant with hardwoods such as red oak and ash mixed in. 

This property abuts private lands on its northern and western boundaries that are protected through Conservation Restrictions held by the Hilltown Land Trust.  In addition, the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game has a Wildlife Management Area off the northeastern corner, and the City of Northampton owns watershed lands further north and east of the land.

The donors owned this land for 60 years.  It was originally part of a much larger land holding of the Graves family after which the Wildlife Sanctuary is named.  Thaddeus Graves conveyed this particular parcel to the New England Box Company, which owned it from 1909 to 1955

Historically, the property was used primarily for timber, but it has not been logged in the past 20 years.  Signs of bear and moose were found during a recent walk.  These 50 acres add significantly to the connection between protected lands in the area thereby preserving the integrity of the natural landscape.  This in turn assists wildlife movement—a critical need in the age of habitat-altering climate change.  A walk in these woods provides a sense of awe at the resilience of nature, and the peace of the natural world.

-Kate Buttolph, Land Protection Specialist

Introducing A New Wildlife Sanctuary in Warwick

In a secluded part of western Massachusetts, a hidden valley along a brook in Warwick was recently acquired by Mass Audubon. Adjacent to the Warwick State Forest, this 140-acre property has been on the wish-list since 2004 when a neighbor to the north, Nick Arguimbau, generously donated a Conservation Restriction to Mass Audubon on his 30+ acres which include a section of Gales Brook. 

Nick also gave Mass Audubon startup funds to be used to extend protection of the Gales Brook from his property southward. The newly purchased property increases protection of the Gales Brook stream corridor by over 5,000 linear feet.

The property has steep slopes and rocky outcroppings, and contains habitat for rare and endangered species. Conservation preserves this ecologically significant natural area, designated as BioMap2 Critical Natural Landscape by the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species program of Massachusetts Department of Fish & Game (Fish & Game), and rated as highly resilient to the impacts of climate change.  Protection of the property will also assist wildlife movement because of its extensive connection to Warwick State Forest.

This area is a high priority in the Quabbin to Cardigan (Q2C) Regional Conservation Partnership because it is entirely located in the Core Focus Connectivity area.  Q2C is a collaborative landscape-scale effort of 27 private organizations and public agencies to conserve the a 50+ mile contiguous corridor between the Quabbin watershed conservation holdings and Mount Cardigan in New Hampshire.   

Sam Lovejoy

Importantly, when the owners were considering possible development of the property, longtime conservationist and former land agent for Fish & Game – Sam Lovejoy – got involved and persuaded them to sell to Mass Audubon for permanent conservation instead. We are very grateful to Sam for his volunteer advocacy for conservation in this instance (and others).

Mass Audubon Welcomes 7-Acre Addition to Cold Brook Wildlife Sanctuary

On the southern side of Cold Spring Road in the Town of Sandisfield sits seven acres of ecologically rich land recently acquired by Mass Audubon from Donald and Mary Turek. 

Part of the Minery Property

The Turek’s land is directly across the road from Mass Audubon’s Cold Brook Wildlife Sanctuary and is adjacent to a larger 173-acre parcel Mass Audubon has an opportunity to purchase, if we can raise the funds. These 180 acres, as well as 60 acres of the existing Cold Brook Wildlife Sanctuary, once belonged to Robert Minery. 

Mr. Minery sold the seven acres to the Turek family in 2004, and they are delighted to see it re-connected.  Mary Turek commented, “It is always a pleasure to work with Mass Audubon. We are just happy to see that Mr. Minery had always had a soft spot for the audubon, and now this parcel will be part of the Cold Spring Rd. audubon property.”

View towards Sandisfield State Forest

Building a Bridge

Acquisition of this land eliminates possible development that would fragment the area, and helps form a bridge between the 770-acre Cold Brook Wildlife Sanctuary to the north, the 6,616-acre Sandisfield State Forest to the south, and the 6,600-acre Otis State Forest to the west. 

This type of connection is a key response to climate change.  As temperatures rise, plants and animals will be on the move – searching for hospitable landscapes in which to live.  This particular area is a high priority within the Berkshire Wildlife Linkage of Western Massachusetts, the goal of which is to connect the Green Mountains in Vermont to the Hudson Highlands of New York

by Kate Buttolph, Land Protection Specialist

Land Next to Wachusett Regional High School Conserved

Occasionally Mass Audubon comes across a property that is an “inholding” (a property not owned by Mass Audubon that is virtually “within” a sanctuary) in relation to one of our sanctuaries.  In this case, a staff person identified a seven-acre property with no road frontage between the Wachusett Regional High School and the Eagle Lake Wildlife Sanctuary in Holden, MA.  What does Mass Audubon do in these circumstances? 

“Would You Like to Make a Gift of Your Land?”

The first step is to contact the owner and see if they might be interested in donating the land.  The owner of this parcel was a real estate investment company and when we approached them about donating the land they said “Yes”!  On December 10, 2019, that intention was realized when UMass Memorial Realty signed the deed to Mass Audubon. 

Asked to comment on the gift, Renee Mikitarian-Bradley of UMass Memorial said, “We should all have a goal of leaving a space, a building, or a property in a better condition than on our first encounter. Mass Audubon has demonstrated for years its commitment to being responsible environmental stewards here and beyond. We think it is appropriate and fitting that this land is now in their hands.”  

Eagle Lake Wildlife Sanctuary

With everything from large red oaks to extensive wetlands, Eagle Lake Wildlife Sanctuary supports a wealth of wildlife including fisher cats, deer, a variety of snakes, as well as hosting nesting sites for Scarlet Tanagers, Great Crested Flycatchers, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks.

The Wildlife Sanctuary was established in 1983 with a gift by Clifford and Hilda Appleton of 130 acres.  It has almost tripled in size since then thanks to many generous donors. This newest addition gives Mass Audubon an opportunity to preserve an ecologically significant and locally popular natural area, as well as the potential to connect with established trails at Eagle Lake Wildlife Sanctuary.

The boy’s and girl’s cross country running teams at the abutting neighbor to the east—Wachusett Regional High School—have used the property for many years to augment their running route, and agreements are in place for them to be able to continue that use. Wildlife will benefit, the runners will benefit, and our sanctuary is now more closely connected with the regional high school that abuts it – “it’s all good”, as they say!

By Kate Buttolph, Land Protection Specialist

Gift Protects 70 Acres Adjacent To “The Mount” In Lenox

A 70-acre woodland parcel adjacent to “The Mount,” Edith Wharton’s home and a National Historic Landmark, is now permanently protected thanks to a Conservation Restriction generously donated by the property’s owner, David Carver, to Mass Audubon.  

Partnering With The Mount

Becky Cushing, Director for Mass Audubon’s Berkshire Wildlife Sanctuaries, has partnered with the staff at The Mount for the past two years – providing free bird walks for the public on The Mount property and extending on to Mr. Carver’s property next door.  The Mount’s Executive Director, Susan Wissler, has been working closely with Mr. Carver for several years to protect this property and says, “This is a huge move on David’s part, and through Becky, Mass Audubon is proving to be an excellent partner.”

A trail on the newly protected property.

Protecting these acres will provide greater resiliency to the impacts of climate change in a relatively developed location – absorbing flood waters from storm events and connecting 14 acres of Lenox Township conservation land on Laurel Lake with The Mount and at least 1,000 acres of undeveloped lands around Rattlesnake Hill to the west.  

Trail Network

Mass Audubon and The Mount will work together on improving and maintaining the trails throughout the Carver property – enhancing and restoring a 6-mile network of trails for public access and recreation. 

“Our intention is to improve the trails, expand the trail network and reactivate wonderful old carriage roads that connected old estates,” Wissler said.  “It’s a marvelous opportunity, given The Mount’s interest in protecting its borders and Lenox’s interest in having open space and natural beauty preserved.”

“This partnership supports the integration of nature and culture, a theme strongly woven through the fabric of the Berkshires. We look forward to working with The Mount to connect visitors with nature through interpretive signage, trails and programming,” Cushing said.

by Kate Buttolph, Land Protection Specialist