Thickening Around the Middle

Charlie Wyman, Senior Land Protection Specialist

Who among us (of which yours truly is surely one) hasn’t run across an old pair of jeans at the back of the closet and thought “I used to fit into those?!?!” That extra inch or two (or three) around the middle seems as inevitable as the relentless march of time itself.

Today I rise whole-heartedly in praise of “thickening around the middle”, at least as far as land conservation is concerned. Out at Mass Audubon’s gem of a property in Barre and Petersham known as Rutland Brook Wildlife Sanctuary, some much hoped for thickening is lining up to take shape. At 1,874 acres the sanctuary is one of Mass Audubon’s largest, and one of its many virtues is that it contains large blocks of unbroken habitat, which the ecologists tell us are particularly valuable in maximizing the diversity of species that a particular refuge can support.

But Rutland Brook has a narrow waist, leaving it vulnerable to development pressure from its edges. We now have an opportunity to thicken its waist, thanks to the conservation commitment of the family of the late Harold and Hazel Patterson. When Mrs. Patterson passed away last fall, two of her children expressed interest to our friends at the East Quabbin Land Trust in selling the property for conservation, and the land trust put them in touch with us. With assistance from an appraiser and surveyor, we have now reached agreement with the family on the purchase of approximately 50 acres on the east side of the sanctuary’s “waist”.

The property has much to recommend it.  Its topography ranges from steep, boulder-strewn slopes, through gently rolling terrain, to level flats.  The forested uplands are a mix of white pine, red maple, red oak, and eastern hemlock. Wetlands in the valleys include a hemlock/yellow birch swamp, another dominated by red maple, an abandoned beaver meadow, and small areas of shrub swamp that may provide breeding habitat for vernal pool-associated amphibians. The property drains to nearby Osgood Swamp, the magnificent swamp/marsh/fen that dominates the southern part of the sanctuary.

We are currently working our way through title and other so-called “due diligence” items and plotting funding strategies, with hopes that we can add this wonderful land to the sanctuary sometime this winter or spring. Stay tuned.
New addition to Rutland Brook Wildlife Sanctuary
Above map shows Rutland Brook Wildlife Sanctuary blue and the land to be added in red.

Land to be added to Rutland Brook Wildlife Sanctuary
Above photo taken on the Patterson land, which will be added to Rutland Brook Wildlife Sanctuary