Tag Archives: Great Neck Wildlife Sanctuary

“Rewilding” Great Neck

Almost a year ago, thanks to the support of many, generous donors, Mass Audubon acquired the 110-acre former Sacred Hearts property abutting Great Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Wareham.

Here’s an update on what’s been happening since then:

First, we had a celebration!

Friends and donors gather to celebrate a remarkable fundraising effort and the successful protection and acquisition of the former Sacred Hearts property.
Sister Claire speaks to the audience about her long involvement with the Sacred Hearts Healing Center at Great Neck and the sanctuary the land will continue to provide under Mass Audubon’s stewardship.

Then, with a vision towards restoring the landscape, we hired a demolition company to remove most of the buildings – including 30 bathrooms!

Thanks to due diligence performed before purchasing, we knew there was some asbestos in the buildings, as well as five underground fuel tanks. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to know the full extent of a hazard until destructive testing begins. The asbestos here turned out to be more widespread than projected, but it was all safely removed (along with the fuel tanks).  

The full demolition began in March 2020. These before and after photos tell some of that story.

Before: Boathouse at the edge of Buzzards Bay.
After: The newly unobstructed view across the water with beach grass planting to follow soon.
Before: View of the 46-room Manor House with attached chapel building.
After: The Manor House has been removed and the chapel secured as a venue for hosting educational programs in the future.

With the demolition complete, we shifted our focus to revitalizing the former campus. Mass Audubon received two grants totaling over $20,000 that enabled us to plant over 100 trees and shrubs, and to sow native flowers—transforming the past building sites to benefit bird and butterfly populations.

Next up, staff and volunteers will develop additional trails and plan educational experiences for visitors—creating interpretive signage and offering programs.  Great Neck Wildlife Sanctuary’s projected role in accommodating salt marsh migration gives us the perfect opportunity to demonstrate land conservation’s vital role in our collective response to the effects of climate change.

Our rewilding efforts to date, particularly the infrastructure removal noted above, were far more costly than originally estimated. If you’d like to help us continue the work we’ve started here and make the full vision become a reality, please consider making a donation to Great Neck Wildlife Sanctuary today.

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