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.
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.
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.
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