Tag Archives: land donation

Patience, Persistence, Protection!

About 4 years ago, I received a call from a landowner in Hampden about a possible donation of some land next to Laughing Brook Wildlife Sanctuary.  We talked about the process and the costs involved. It was helpful information for the landowner to have, though not the right time for him to act. In the middle of March this year, I got another call—it was the right time! 

Springing into Action

Despite the challenges of working from home, with limited ability to travel and do site visits, the landowner and Mass Audubon agreed on a donation of seven acres, leaving him with his house on three acres. 

Mass Audubon liked the property because of its location next to Laughing Brook, the buffer it provides between a residential neighborhood and a nature trail, and its ecological significance with Prime Forest, and Priority Habitat for rare and endangered species.  The property will provide a place for the wildlife of Massachusetts to adapt to climate change.

Covid-19 Causes Concern

We agreed to try our best to close before the end of June.  There was scant time to get a survey plan and prepare deeds.  We had to move quickly, but the landowner who had been so responsive and helpful was suddenly silent.  Time was ticking away, and the ability to close before June 30 was fast disappearing. 

I was concerned about the landowner because the silence seemed so abrupt and it was spring 2020 with the threat of Covid-19 always in the back of our minds. I was relieved to finally hear that while the landowner had been in the hospital, the reasons were not related to the virus and had been remedied. 

Back on Track

We were back on track with scarcely a month to go, and we needed an approved subdivision plan.  The Hampden Planning Board had not had a meeting in a couple of months.  I pleaded with the Planning Board Administrative Assistant.  She let me know when the Board agreed to meet on June 24. 

Meanwhile, I overnighted documents to the landowner— deeds and affidavits and a closing statement for signature.  Signature in front of a notary!  Another hurdle, but fortunately, a kindly notary met with our donor and witnessed the signings as required.  A self-addressed stamped envelope came back to me in a couple of days with all the original signed, witnessed documents. 

One Last Step

Back to the Plan — I tuned into Zoom at the appointed time on June 24 for the Planning Board meeting, explained the reason for the subdivision, and the Board approved the Plan.  Now to get it recorded! 

I picked up the signed copy, left for me by the Board Administrative Assistant in the Town Hall foyer (no contact), and sent it overnight mail to the Hampden County Registry of Deeds (no “in person” visits permitted there, no electronic recording, and certainly no “curbside” pickups!!)  Finally, I provided the original deeds to our attorney for electronic recording as soon as the Plan was on record.  All was completed with two days in June to spare. 


Thanks to the cooperation and help of the Hampden Township Planning Board, the Hampden County Registry of Deeds, the notary, the lawyer, and the landowner, a special 7 acres of land has now been added to Laughing Brook Wildlife Sanctuary.  The landowner, who wants to remain anonymous, is “very much interested in wildlife preservation and a believer in Audubon’s mission.”  Mass Audubon is fortunate to have such dedicated supporters helping to protect the nature of Massachusetts for people and for wildlife.

-Kate Buttolph, Land Protection Specialist

Adding Two New Special Properties on Cuttyhunk Island

On June 30, 2020 Mass Audubon acquired two new properties on Cuttyhunk Island totaling over 30 acres and containing roughly 1.25 miles of coastline. This is the final stage of a multiyear endeavor to complete the acquisition of land left to Mass Audubon by bequest of our longtime conservation partner on the island, Muriel Ponzecchi.

For those unfamiliar with Cuttyhunk, 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. 

Copicut Neck

The first and larger of the properties is known locally as Copicut Neck.  This section of coastline is one of the first bits of land that all visitors to the island see when they come in on the ferry.

Penikese Island (home to colonies of rare tern species) is seen in the distance from Copicut Neck

According to Kathy Parsons, Director of Mass Audubon’s Coastal Waterbirds Program, “Copicut Neck is an important location on Cuttyhunk for nesting American Oystercatchers, Willets and other coastal birds.  As a relatively long and remote peninsula, it offers great habitat for some of the most vulnerable birds using the coast.”

Its protection also helps mitigate the impacts of flooding from coastal storms. The peninsula remains a beloved spot locally to take strolls along the shore and hardly see another person—a rare thing in Massachusetts!

Bunker Hill

The second property may be only 3.75 acres, but it is located at one of the highest points on the island, with one of the best panoramic views in Buzzards Bay. 

The property gets its name from four World War II military pillboxes that remain on the site and were intended to provide vantage points from which to spot German submarines.  The army has long since abandoned them, but the Cuttyhunk community, coordinating with Mass Audubon, has stepped up to take on the responsibility of stewarding the restoration of those pieces of island history in the coming years.

The view from Bunker Hill

A Leader of Cuttyhunk Conservation

It is not possible to write about the protection of these wonderful properties without writing about Muriel “Oriole” Ponzecchi—she’s the one who made it all possible! 

Mass Audubon is extremely grateful to have worked with her collaboratively during her lifetime and to have received these generous bequests of land from her – reflecting her lifelong commitment to preserving what is so special about Cuttyhunk.

Muriel’s conservation vision with Mass Audubon began in 2001 when we acquired three Conservation Restrictions on the island from her.  After she passed away in late 2015, Mass Audubon received news of her bequest of Copicut Neck and Bunker Hill.

Those who knew her well say that Muriel cared deeply about the island and its natural lands, and informally made them open to islanders who wanted to visit.  Altogether, her bequests and donations to Mass Audubon amount to almost 50 acres of coastline, shrub forest, and grassland.   

Thanks to Muriel, we can all continue visiting those special places that she loved and shared.

-Nick Rossi, Land Protection Specialist

Land Next to Wachusett Regional High School Conserved

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 Wildlife Sanctuary.

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!

By Kate Buttolph, Land Protection Specialist

New Hampshire Couple Donate Land in Princeton

Scott and Gladys Olson generously donated their 4.9-acre property in Princeton, to have it become part of the Wachusett Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary. While modest in size, the parcel situated at the intersection of Gates and Goodnow roads near Wachusett Meadow’s western boundary represents a significant addition to the 1,100-acre wildlife sanctuary.  

Benefits for People and Nature

A section of the Midstate Trail, a popular long-distance hiking path stretching from Rhode Island to New Hampshire, passes right alongside the newly-protected parcel and also links to the sanctuary’s network of trails. These additional acres help preserve the integrity of the natural landscape, and secure a larger area for wildlife movement—a critical need as our climate changes.

A Family’s Generosity

Scott and his family have owned this land for almost 40 years.  Scott grew up in Holden, attended Wachusett Regional High School, and ended up living in Princeton.  He and Gladys reside in New Hampshire now and decided the best thing for the land would be to donate it to Mass Audubon. 

On behalf of his family, Scott wrote, “I have a trove of wonderful memories of my life in Princeton, particularly time spent walking in the sanctuary at all times of day in all seasons of the year…I took my forty-one year old son on his first hike down our dirt road into the sanctuary when he was six days old. It gives me profound satisfaction to know that the land will be conserved in perpetuity for others to share.”

The generosity of the Olsons is a lasting legacy to people, wildlife and the nature of Massachusetts.

by Kate Buttolph, Land Protection Specialist