Tag Archives: arcadia

John Burk © Stan Sherr

In Your Words: C. John Burk

In Your Words is a regular feature of Mass Audubon’s Explore member newsletter. Each issue, a Mass Audubon member, volunteer, staff member, or supporter shares his or her story—why Mass Audubon and protecting the nature of Massachusetts matters to them. If you have a story to share about your connection to Mass Audubon, email [email protected] to be considered for In Your Words in a future issue! 

John Burk © Stan Sherr
John Burk © Stan Sherr

I arrived in Northampton on Labor Day weekend in the fall of 1961. I was 25 and unmarried. My second-floor apartment looked out on a parking lot and then beyond to the Mill River.

Sometime over that weekend I decided to explore and followed the Mill River down through the meadows. Crossing the bridge where the river flows into the oxbow and trying to return back on the opposite side, I encountered signs that informed me I was entering Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary. Not wanting to trespass, I turned around and retraced my earlier route into town.

I had been newly hired by the Botany Department at Smith College to teach, among other subjects, plant ecology. I wanted to take my students on a field trip and wondered whether I could take them to the wildlife sanctuary since the state’s woodlands were closed due to drought and a threat of forest fires.

We drove out that Friday afternoon to the white farmhouse that serves as Arcadia’s offices and knocked on the door. The person who answered was Ed Mason, the sanctuary director. He graciously welcomed us. We walked down the trail to the Mill River and its marshes, the first of many such expeditions through the years for class field trips and an assortment of independent research projects.

John Burk © Kai Jensen
John Burk © Kai Jensen

I learned that a colleague was serving on the sanctuary advisory committee, and she eventually asked me to replace her. It was an obligation I happily took on.

In the five decades since, I have focused my volunteer activities on issues of ecological management. I’ve worked with students and sanctuary staff to document the plant life of the area and identify patterns of vegetation and its responses to outside forces, such as oil ollution in the marshes, invasion by aggressive non-native species, and a changing climate.

Carefully documenting these changes over time provides important data that can help inform and guide conservation efforts. As a period of accelerated climate change becomes increasingly likely, I hope that my work with students and staff will better position us to meet the challenge.

John Burk is Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences at Smith College and a longtime volunteer at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton and Northampton.

Following the Sun at Arcadia

A new, tilting, rotating solar panel is going online at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton and Northampton. Like other photovoltaic (PV) panels, it generates clean, renewable electricity from sunlight.

But unlike other static arrays, this panel uses a tracker that follows the sun across the sky. It adjusts to the height of the sun above the horizon as it changes during the day and throughout the seasons, harnessing 45% more power than fixed panels.

Statewide, Mass Audubon generates more than 37% of electricity from solar, and we purchase the rest of what we need from renewable sources. With this new panel, Arcadia will generate even more electricity than it uses, feeding the excess back into the electrical grid. That reduces the need to generate electricity from sources that emit heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

This particular solar panel at Arcadia highlights the importance of donations to Mass Audubon’s mission. Contributions from two exceptionally generous community members—Brian Adams and Morey Phippen—and Northeast Solar made this possible. The care and generosity of others is what empowers us to address climate change and continue to set an example for the rest of New England.

You can help fight climate change and reduce your own greenhouse gas emissions. Find out how >

Sanctuary Director Jonah Keane contributed to this post. 

How Arcadia Nature Preschool Impacted Two Sisters

As Laura and Mary Fisher walked around the Arcadia Nature Preschool this past December, the memories came flooding back. The sisters attended the preschool in the 1990s and vividly recall free play around the sand table, pretending to be pollinators, and going outside rain or shine every day.

Preschool 1

Not only do they both consider Arcadia Nature Preschool, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, as the best educational experience of their lives but agree their experience at Arcadia set them on the path toward their current professions and passions.

“There was never the notion that you couldn’t—or worse, shouldn’t—do something because you were a girl,” says Laura. “Everyone got their hands dirty, especially me. The preschool taught me always to say ‘I can do that.’ And that still applies now in all areas of my life.”

Fisher sisters by school house

As a lawyer, Laura has written and published scholarly articles about the intersection of policy, nature, and agriculture. As a volunteer, she runs the Easthampton Community Garden.

Mary studied biology in college and is now a chemistry teacher at a high school in Springfield. “I told my mom that sending me to Arcadia Nature Preschool was the greatest thing she could have done for me,” Mary adds. “Preschool set the stage for my going into science. The hands-on activities of the Preschool are the same as the experimental approaches of the research lab.”

Celebrating 40 Years

This year Arcadia Nature Preschool celebrates its 40th anniversary of the first nature preschool in Massachusetts and one of the first in the nation. You can be part of the celebration by:

  • Attending 40 Years of Wonder special event on Saturday, May 22, complete with birds of prey, seed starting activities, nature games, and a gathering of past teachers and graduates.
  • Ensuring that Arcadia reaches and inspires more young people like Laura and Mary for the next 40 years by supporting Environmental Education at Arcadia.

Written by Carolyn Cushing, Special Projects and Events Coordinator at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary

5 Fun Facts About Arcadia

By Jonah Keane, Sanctuary Director

Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Northampton and Easthampton is Mass Audubon’s flagship sanctuary in the Connecticut River Valley. Sandwiched between the two cities’ downtown areas, its 700+ acres of forest, river, wetlands, and restored grasslands are remarkably diverse and easily accessible.

Even though the wildlife sanctuary has been around from more than 70 years and thousands of visitors have walked the trails, canoed the river, or taken a program, you might be surprised by some of Arcadia’s lesser known history and inhabitants.

A River Runs Through It


The heart of Arcadia is an ancient oxbow of the Connecticut River. You know the large oxbow visible from Interstate 91? It used to be a part of the river prior to 1840, when the river changed course and separated the bend from the channel. That same process occurred 800 years ago directly to the west, meaning that if you were on what is now Arcadia’s Fern Trail back then, you would have been in the river!

Hotel Heronry

Copyright Phil Doyle

Copyright Phil Doyle

Located in the wetland known as Ned’s Ditch (sadly, the origin of this moniker remains unknown) in the middle of the meadows is a great blue heron rookery. A rookery is the place where great blue herons nest communally.

Herons typically use the same rookery every year, until, eventually, the trees collapse. As many as 59 nesting pairs have called this rookery home. And more recently, a pair of bald eagles successfully nested here as well!

Bird’s-Eye View

copyright Phil Doyle

copyright Phil Doyle

The viewing tower (think big tree house) on the Fern Trail has been overlooking the marsh for decades. From the tower, you can observe ducks, geese, herons, otters, beavers, and many more critters. In the winter, you can see out through the trees to the Arcadia Meadows, too.

The tower sits squarely in the yearly floodplain, and markers on the tower’s legs indicate just how high the water level has reached during two of the area’s biggest storms (the highest coming from the Great New England Hurricane of 1938).

Imperiled but Protected


Arcadia is home to three “Priority Natural Communities” that are state listed as rare and imperiled, which means these communities of plants are found in only 20 or fewer locations across the Commonwealth. The most visible from the trail network is the floodplain forest. This forest contains lovely large silver maple, shagbark hickory, and black birch trees, a treat for the budding botanists out there.

Nature For All

The rope-and-post accessible trail. The round bead means there a stop with braille signage and/or audio tour.

The rope-and-post accessible trail. The round bead means there a stop with braille signage and/or audio tour.

Arcadia is home to one of Mass Audubon’s universally accessible multi-sensory interpretative trails. The goal of these trails is to create a richer experience for visitors with a wide range of vision, hearing, and mobility levels. In addition to Braille signage and a rope-and-post guiding system, Arcadia’s Sensory All Person’s Trail features an audio tour that you can download or listen to via cell phone.

This post was adapted from a guest blog post on MassVacation.com.