With increased stress associated with the COVID crisis, natural lands have never been more important – to all of us. They provide essential places of peace, solitude, and healing as we all attempt to navigate a world that became so much more complex, seemingly overnight. Our protected lands are a great place to appreciate the small things in life that bring us joy.
A good example of such a place is in Stow, where I live with my family.
The Stow Conservation Trust – an all-volunteer local land trust started in 1977 – protected a special place there, now called the Leggett Woodlands. I have been a trustee/director of the Trust for some time, and serve as the organization’s current president.
In 2004, I had the pleasure to work with Dorothy Leggett to protect this 23-acre forested property through her generous donation of the land. Charlie Leggett, her late husband, developed a new variety of squash in the mid-1940s, later named the Waltham Butternut Squash, in a field across Gleasondale Road from the Leggett Woodlands. The squash he developed has since become world famous.
A loop trail was constructed on the property in 2008, and the Leggett Woodlands are now home to two stations on the Trust’s Nature Discovery Trail. The first is a woodland Music Station with an amandinda (a log xylophone) and chime wall. The second station is “Forest Tales” which is home to whimsical forest fairy statues created by artist Linda Hoffman of Frog Pond Orchard in Harvard. The Trust commissioned them with a grant from the Alice Eaton Foundation. There are a series of small statues on rocks along a path; people are encouraged to play with the statues and add to the sculptures – as Ann Carley’s photo shows.
This serves as an important reminder that the natural world can bring us joy, even in stressful times.
One question we often get asked is “How exactly do you choose which land to conserve?”
The answer is probably less straightforward than you might think. There are a range of factors that influence our land protection decisions.
Prioritizing Land Protection
Mass Audubon has traditionally focused on land that can expand and enhance our wildlife sanctuaries across the state.
Such land provides two very important things: critical habitat for plants and animals (the nature of Massachusetts) and places for people to connect with nature – to experience it directly. As a sanctuary-based organization, we look for ways to preserve the integrity of the landscape and to enrich the experience of visitors.
Even then, some lands around our sanctuaries are more important than others.
When someone gives us a call about donating or selling land nearby, we conduct an initial “desk review”, using various digital tools to determine how important a property might be for conservation. If that initial screening looks promising, we follow-up with a site visit for a more fine-grained assessment.
Maps are a great tool to help us sort that out (the land department really loves maps!).
In particular, many sanctuaries have “Sanctuary Protection Plans” like the one for Rough Meadows in Rowley shown below.
These are maps that we produce that rank properties for conservation by their importance. The red parcels in the map above are ranked the highest with lighter shading ranked lower. Blue indicates existing Mass Audubon sanctuary land and green indicates other protected land.
A lot of data and fancy computer mapping go into making these. Much of the data comes from the state of Massachusetts which maintains a variety of map layers showing different types of natural resources. These include things like:
Rare species habitat
Drinking water, wetland and other water resources
Connection with other conservation lands (i.e. wildlife corridors)
Using the map above as an example, you can see that a lot of conservation has happened around Rough Meadows already. However, a number of gaps remain. Protecting these gaps will ensure Rough Meadows remains a large, intact natural area providing better habitat for biodiversity and richer experiences for people.
Protecting Habitat for Future Generations
While we tend to focus on protecting land around our existing sanctuaries, Mass Audubon also establishes altogether new wildlife sanctuaries on occasion, in instances where there is particularly outstanding habitat, or in an underserved part of the state.
Increasingly, the Land Department focuses on protecting land that will reduce the impacts of climate change for nature and people. This connection between land conservation and climate change response has grown clearer over time.
Protecting wetlands in a floodplain, for instance, ensures that those wetlands will keep storing and absorbing flood waters during increasing extreme rain events, and protecting forest ensures that those trees can keep storing carbon.
Once we’ve decided that we want to pursue the protection of a particular property, there are a number of practical matters to consider.
Do we have the financial resources needed? Even a gift of land requires significant staff time and funds to pay for legal work, environmental assessments, etc.
If it is a purchase rather than a gift of land, do we think we can launch a successful fundraising campaign? Thanks to our work securing donations and bargain sales, every $1,000 we raise averages to roughly $9,000 of land protected. Even so, the ability to raise funds for purchases is a key practical question to answer.
Is the project so complex that it would be difficult for Mass Audubon to protect the property on its own? Are there organizations (government or other non-profits) we can partner with to help achieve the conservation outcome? We do conservation in partnership with others a lot and the public/private conservation community in Massachusetts is unusually collaborative in this respect. It’s a way for us all to accomplish more by working together.
How You Can Help
If you own, or know of, property that might be of interest to Mass Audubon after reading this post, please do not hesitate to reach out to the Land Conservation Department.
Even if it is not the right fit for Mass Audubon, we always try to refer any interested landowners to a local land trust, their municipality, or other conservation organization that might be able to help. We want to find a “home” for any conservation project.
Or, consider donating to the Land Conservation Department so we can carry on this work!
One of the joys of working with landowners and looking at land for conservation is the chance to explore special places in the outdoors. Much of the work of land conservation is done at a desk – preparing documents, reviewing reports, and talking on the telephone. Then the sunny day comes and you MUST go out to see properties in person.
Last summer there came such a day. I was in Sandisfield, walking around a property, looking for any signs of wildlife, finding the boundaries, hoping there were no piles of debris, tires, or old bed springs.
Walking down a steep slope, watching my footing, I heard a sound. I stopped suddenly and looked up.
Directly in front of me was a startled porcupine. Porcupines are near-sighted and slow moving, and generally they are active at night. They spend most of their time on the ground. However, in the summertime, they like to rest in trees. This one decided to keep on climbing, getting farther away from whatever danger she thought might be coming her way.
The famous porcupine quills, about 30,000 per critter, are lightly attached to the porcupine’s skin. They come off easily if the porcupine encounters a predator (fishers are the primary ones). With few predators, porcupines are known to live as long as 18 years. Their babies are born during April and May. Babies have soft quills which harden with exposure to air.
Porcupines are plant eaters (actual vegans). They dine on bark, stems, nuts, tubers, seeds, grass, leaves, fruit, and buds. If you see a porcupine, you are lucky because they are shy and nocturnal. Enjoy the view but don’t try to pat one!
During these unprecedented difficult times it is easy to
slip into negative head space. A way to break the downward spiral is to pause
and remind yourself of what you are grateful for. Whether it be a spouse who
lifts you up or the smell of fresh coffee. Appreciating what you have allows
you to see the joy in the moment.
I am Mass Audubon’s Conservation Restriction Steward. A Conservation Restriction (or Easement) is an important tool designed to permanently protect the landscape for its intrinsic natural values such as prime farming soils, old growth forest, endangered species, etc. Each year, I visit all the properties where we hold this type of restriction, ensuring the land is not significantly impaired.
During a monitoring visit in Plymouth, I stumbled upon rocks placed in the shape of a heart and at the center was a stone that said “Thankful for nurses, Drs, EMT, FF + police”. I was touched by the note. It made me stop and think about the firefighters, police officers, and nurses in training that I know and most importantly it made me smile.
Acts of kindness and gratitude are contagious. They have the power to change someone’s day for the better. Just taking a moment to think about what you are grateful for will surely bring some light into these dark times.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.”
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
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
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!