Another Piece of the Puzzle Conserved in Holliston

On April 22, 2019 a new Conservation Restriction (CR) was acquired in a joint effort between the New England Forestry Foundation, Mass Audubon, and the Poitras Family (longtime conservationists and supporters of Mass Audubon).  The property includes 60 acres of lovely fields and woodlands along Highland Street.

Mass Audubon has been busy in Holliston over the past few years.  It is all part of a long term effort to knit together a large natural landscape for the benefit of Holliston and neighboring communities. 

Altogether, Mass Audubon has played a role in protecting over 360 acres in Holliston since 2005.  This CR furthers the connection to hundreds of acres of existing protected land.  The mosaic of connected, protected lands will facilitate wildlife movement and increase nature’s resilience to the impacts of climate change, in addition to providing cleaner air and drinking water for these MetroWest communities in the years ahead.  A large portion of this land will eventually become a new Mass Audubon property called Broad Hill Wildlife Sanctuary.

A mossy stone wall on the recently protected 60-acre Poitras property

The People Making It Possible

It is hard to talk about our work in Holliston without mentioning the Poitras Family.  Without them, this work would not have been possible.

The Poitras family are the ones who first envisioned the protection of this historic and scenic section of Holliston. Largely with their own resources, they have gradually been purchasing land and then donating CRs on that land to Mass Audubon and the New England Forestry Foundation.

It is difficult to find better supporters of land conservation anywhere.

A Team Effort

We also need to give credit to the New England Forestry Foundation for all their help in making this work possible. 

In the conservation community, it’s important to remember that we all think of ourselves as “playing on the same team” with many other talented, dedicated “players”.  So much more conservation gets done when we work together.

New England Forestry Foundation has been working with Mass Audubon in Holliston for quite some time, and we are grateful to have them as our partner.

by Nick Rossi, 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.

Welcome Intern Mary-Ellise Schiffer

Land Conservation has a spring intern for the third year in a row, and we are very happy to announce that it is Mary-Ellise Schiffer! 

A Class in Conservation Restrictions

For this internship, Mass Audubon is thankful to have a working relationship with John Baker of Clark University who advertises it to his current students.  John teaches a class each fall on Conservation Restrictions (CRs) in which students have the chance to learn hands on about how CRs work and how to go about running a CR Stewardship program.  In a sense, this internship is an opportunity for one student to take a deeper dive into all the ins and outs of CRs (tools for conserving land that remains in someone else’s ownership, by permanently extinguishing some or all of the development that might otherwise take place there).

The arrangement benefits both Clark and Mass Audubon.  John Baker has a chance to give his students real world professional experience, and Mass Audubon has a reliable pool of good candidates.

The internship itself tends to be a varied experience.   Students typically engage in tasks as varied as record keeping, report writing, assessing ecosystems, using mapping software, navigating through swamps, and taking photos of frog and salamander eggs in vernal pools.

Mary planting trees to restore rainforests in Queensland, Australia!

About Mary-Ellise Schiffer

Mary will serve as the CR intern for the spring semester of 2019.  She is currently a senior at Clark University, and is taking this internship for academic credit towards her Earth Systems Science major. In her role, she will help Nick Rossi (Mass Audubon’s CR Steward) with all things related to CR stewardship.

Growing up in the beautiful coastal town of Narragansett, Rhode Island, Mary has always loved the outdoors – the ocean, forests and wildlife. She is creative and enthusiastic, with a deep sense of wonder about the world around her.

Although she studies Environmental Science, she also enjoys researching subjects such as psychology, art, and philosophy. She’s always been an avid reader, and can often be found curled up somewhere cozy. Her dreams include becoming a well-published author, backpacking the Pacific Crest Trail, and holding a handstand.

By choosing an internship with Mass Audubon, she continues on the path which may one day lead her to the title of “National Park Ranger who gets to be outside all day and get paid for it!”

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.”


Additional 5 Acres Preserved at Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary

A Conservation Restriction (CR) adjacent to Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary was expanded to permanently protect an additional five acres. The donation was made by the Hunnewell family and it preserves a section of Glen Street in Natick from further development. It also helps ensure the integrity of this natural corridor along the Charles River.

View of the newly protected land

Gradual Land Conservation

The expansion of this CR is another gift in a remarkable set of 5 separate donations from the Hunnewell Family to Mass Audubon dating back to the 1970’s.  The total amount of land they have protected with Mass Audubon is now roughly 137 acres—an impressive achievement from a conservation-minded family.

The story of the Hunnewell family is not entirely unusual; although, the number of donations does demonstrate a particularly remarkable generosity.  Many people decide to preserve their land gradually over a period of time.  The reasons for this are numerous.

Some families reserve a small portion of their land to sell as a house lot in case they find themselves in financial need later.  Then, in the future, they may realize that they do not need this financial insurance so they choose to conserve the rest of it.

Others choose to conserve part of their land during their lives, and then gift the remaining interest upon their passing.

With a bit of thoughtful flexibility, we can preserve more land than otherwise possible.

If you are thinking about conserving your land, remember that land conservation is not always an “all or nothing” proposition. You can make some arrangements to protect your land now, and then build on that in the future if you like.

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

Giving Thanks in 2018

Many Americans gathered with family and friends to give thanks last week.  Earlier this month, many of those who play a role in Mass Audubon’s land conservation efforts gathered to give thanks for the land.  Almost 100 people attended our eleventh Giving Thanks for the Land event, and nature smiled on us with a rare (this year) sunny fall day.  After chatting and enjoying some refreshments outside, we gathered inside the Great Room at Drumlin Farm in Lincoln.

Judy Williams shows the barn where she and her husband "camped out" the first few years after they bought their property.

Judy Williams shows the barn where she and her husband periodically “camped out” the first few years after they bought their property. The porcupine living there at the time was a somewhat reluctant but gracious host.

What does “Giving Thanks for the Land” mean?

At Mass Audubon, it means an annual event where we gather and celebrate the conservation of key pieces of land by those who help make these projects happen—financial supporters, partner organizations, conservation-minded landowners and the Mass Audubon Board, staff and members.

Sharing personal stories is at the heart of the day.

Among those that spoke to the crowd was a retired school teacher named Judy Willliams.  Thirty years ago, Judy saw a small notice in Mass Audubon’s Sanctuary magazine looking for conservation-minded buyers for a property in western Massachusetts. She spoke of jumping in the car with her husband Dudley, driving out to Plainfield, and immediately falling in love with the property and the area.  Turn the clock ahead to the present day and find the Williamses have been responsible for the protection of almost 350 acres of land linking West Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary and Hawley State Forest.

David Gould, a self-proclaimed “Fish Nerd”, told of a career dedicated to protecting our natural resources.  The Director of Marine and Environmental Affairs for the Town of Plymouth, fishing with his grandfather hooked David on the outdoors at an early age.  Without someone to guide him and easy access to a river, David may have chosen a different career and never gotten the opportunity to protect that special fishing spot he shared with his grandfather.

Do you feel a strong connection and love for the land in Massachusetts?  Then we hope you will join us at next year’s Giving Thanks for the Land celebration and swap stories with others who share that passion.