Category Archives: Success Stories

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

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

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

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.

23 Acres Preserved in Petersham – Adjacent to Rutland Brook Wildlife Sanctuary

Along Loring Hill Road, 23 acres of field and forest has been permanently protected with a Conservation Restriction (CR) donated to Mass Audubon by the Sinclair family. 

It is one of the last steps in a project envisioned by Fraser Sinclair in 2014.  His neighbor George Butterworth (a former Mass Audubon trustee) passed away that year and the heirs were hoping to sell the land for conservation – over 200 acres. 

An intermittent stream on the Sinclair land.

A Plan to Protect 200 Acres

Sinclair quickly put in motion a preservation plan that ultimately called for:

  • Mass Audubon to purchase 84 acres.
  • Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation to acquire a CR on 84 acres.
  • Harvard Forest to purchase 103 acres. 
  • The Sinclairs to purchase 16 acres (adjacent to their 13 acres) and then donate a CR to Mass Audubon.

Now all but the Harvard Forest purchase has been completed, and that is expected to happen within the next two years.  In the end, this addition of protected lands will further promote a healthy environment for a wide variety of plants and animals, as well as humans.

Clean Water and Clear Views

This 23-acre CR donated by the Sinclair family strengthens the connection between Rutland Brook Wildlife Sanctuary, neighboring Harvard Forest and the Swift River Reservation, and protects the Quabbin Reservoir which provides drinking water to over 2.5 million people.  

You can visit Rutland Brook Wildlife Sanctuary and enjoy hiking, bird-watching, and nature study.  While there take a moment to appreciate the scenic landscapes and watersheds this 23-acre CR protects and the donors who made it happen. 

60 Acres of Farmland Protected

“Pretty darn amazing and cool—truly a dream come true for so many of us in Princeton and the surrounding region—this farm was absolutely the iconic farm to protect!”

This was Deb Carey’s reaction upon hearing the news that the transfer of 60 acres of the former Fieldstone Farm to Hubbard’s Farm had been completed.  Deb is the Director at Mass Audubon’s Wachusett Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary and was a member of the Town of Princeton’s Open Space Committee when the 300-acre Fieldstone Farm came up for sale in 2015.

Growing a Family Farm

As part of a larger, coordinated effort to preserve the land (approximately 230 acres were ultimately protected), Mass Audubon purchased 60 acres—the agricultural core of the farm—with the intention of restricting the use of the property to agriculture (using the state’s Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) Program) and then selling the property to a local farmer.

Now that transfer has taken place.

The Hubbard Family

Hubbard’s Farm couldn’t be a more perfect fit.  A local, family owned and operated business, Nancy Hubbard’s late husband Brad was the third generation on this farm that Brad’s grandparents founded in the 1920s.  And the family roots here go back to the 1700s! Nancy’s kids and grandchildren also live and work on the premises, providing meats and eggs, among many other products, to the community.  The addition of this 60 acres gives them room to grow in response to the local food movement.

Getting to this point took assistance from both state and federal agencies who were happy to work on a project that protected so much farmland.  “We are delighted to have worked with Mass Audubon, our federal partners the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Hubbard family to protect this property in Princeton.  Preservation of this farmland will allow the Hubbard family to raise additional crops for their local farm operation which will improve the viability of another Massachusetts family farm,” stated John Lebeaux, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources.  Lebeaux’s colleague Christine Clarke at the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service added, “We’re pleased to have partnered with the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources and Mass Audubon on the preservation of Fieldstone Farm. Protecting working agricultural lands and prime farmland soils provides many benefits for the Commonwealth, including environmental quality, historic preservation, wildlife habitat and protection of open space.”

Continuing to Provide Access

The Hubbard’s new farm straddles Hubbardston Road, so finding a location for a connecting trail that permitted both agriculture and public hiking was a challenge.  That challenge was quickly met by Mass Audubon, Princeton Land Trust, the Hubbard family, and the state APR program.  In keeping with the conservation plan for the larger Fieldstone Farm landscape, Mass Audubon conveyed a trail easement on a segment of the 60-acre property to the Princeton Land Trust.   Hikers will be able to make their way along a designated trail from Hubbardston Road to Mass Audubon’s Wachusett Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary.  Princeton Land Trust has plans to extend trails from Hubbardston Road to the town-owned land south of the farm.

One Family’s Proud Conservation Legacy at Allens Pond

On December 11, 2018, Mass Audubon was given a 7-acre Conservation Restriction near our Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary in South Dartmouth.

Salt marsh on the newly protected land.

This land is one of the last remaining pieces of unprotected shoreline along the sanctuary’s namesake pond. And it was protected by the children and grandchildren of the woman that first started conserving land in this area some 50 years ago.

Continuing a Conservation Ethic

We owe the start of conservation around Allens Pond (the water body and surrounding sanctuary) to Angelica Russell. Angelica first came to Mass Audubon back in 1971 with an interest in protecting her substantial property at Barney’s Joy Point, which borders Allens Pond.

Photo of Angelica Russell
Angelica Russell © Deedee Shattuck

After some negotiations, she ultimately donated Mass Audubon’s very first Conservation Restriction (CR). This was at a time when CRs were a brand new concept in Massachusetts. It was also the first piece of land that Mass Audubon protected in South Dartmouth.

 The scale of Angelica’s donation is noteworthy.

  • Her first donation protected 156 acres of coastline, grassland and sand dunes.
  • Then in 1986 Angelica and her family added to this by protecting another 88 acres of important habitat. 
  • Including this new property, the entire area protected by Angelica and her descendants totals about 250 acres—truly a remarkable act of conservation for coastal Massachusetts.      

Pieces of a Puzzle

After Angelica’s first donation, Mass Audubon worked for decades to protect the rest of the area around Allens Pond. Bit by bit we worked with dozens of private landowners and supporters to conserve one piece of land at a time—filling in a conservation jigsaw puzzle. 

This newly conserved land can be seen then as a further fulfillment of Angelica’s intent to preserve Allens Pond and Barney’s Joy.   

Mass Audubon is grateful for Angelica Russell’s vision of preserving this beautiful landscape, and we are happy to work with her family members and others to continue it today.


By Nick Rossi, Mass Audubon’s Conservation Restriction Stewardship Specialist