the trustees of reservations
On The Land
The Trustees of Reservations

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Trustees of Reservations and Holliston Open Space Committee's conservation accomplishment - 86 Acres adds to Holliston's Adams Street Town Forest!

A quick exit off the frantic pace of Interstate 495 in Milford brings you to Route 16 - here you have a choice - turn in to that certain sign of Massachusetts civilization - Dunkin' Donuts - and the shopping plazas next door, or turn east toward Holliston.  Unless you need a bite to eat or some retail therapy, we are proponents of the second choice (or both!), which shortly leads you to a quick, indiscrete left onto Adams Street, into a block of deep and rocky, rolling forestland where the hum of the Interstate begins to seem like an illusion.  A thick canopy of trees envelops the narrow road, punctuated by pleasant homes and horse farms, and just a mile up the road you reach a sign inviting exploration - and also commemorating the Town of Holliston's conservation-minded foresight to secure an additional 86 acres of land for their Adams Street Town Forest! An important addition to the overall protected landscape in the Charles River headwaters area of Holliston, Milford, and the river's source at Echo Lake in Hopkinton.  The Charles River headwaters is one of the largest protected blocks of open space between MetroWest and Boston, ensuring the source water quality of Metro Boston's river jewel.  This community conservation accomplishment was achieved by the Holliston Open Space Committee working with multiple tools including Community Preservation Funds, working tirelessly to acquire a state Municipal Self-Help grant, and working with Community Conservation Specialists at The Trustees of Reservations (TTOR) to ensure the land will be protected for public use and enjoyment for everyone, forever. A Conservation Restriction (CR) recently recorded on the land in September 2013 and held by The Trustees ensures just that. 

The protected land acquired from NSTAR sits in a much larger protected area of land around the Charles River headwaters. 
The Community Preservation Act (CPA) has provided Massachusetts municipalities with a unique funding source for community projects.  This Act allows towns to vote whether to opt in or not to the CPA, and if so the municipality institutes a nominal tax (1-3%) on real estate transactions, the funds from which are stored in a local Community Preservation Fund that opens eligibility to receive additional money from the state's Community Preservation Trust Fund.  Cities and towns may spend their CPA fund money in three areas - open space and recreation, historic preservation, or affordable housing projects to benefit their communities.  In 2001, Holliston voted to institute the CPA at Town Meeting, and so the town created its Community Preservation Committee to administer the local fund with autonomy.  Click here to learn more about the CPA, and whether your community has adopted it!

Wenakeening Woods, Protected in 1992, and a property under a Trustees conservation restriction!

Holliston's relationship with The Trustees stretches back to 1992 and the protection of the 100+ acre Wenakeening Woods with its trails and wooded wetland habitats.  At that time, TTOR worked with the town, local citizens, and the Avery Dennison Corporation to accept the corporation's back land as a gift, a process that resulted in the founding of the Upper Charles Conservation Land Trust, a successful regional land trust created in that year, to be the owner and manager of Wenakeening Woods.  The Trustees holds a conservation restriction over Wenakeening Woods and it remains open today for public use and enjoyment.

The protection of the 210-acre David R. Fairbanks Property was the 2nd cooperative project in Holliston with TTOR.
In 2002, another opportunity presented itself in Holliston - 210 acres of land south of the town forest, long beloved by its owner, the now late David Fairbanks, was offered for sale to the town.  Holliston was now well-equipped to meet the purchase price through several mechanisms, including their newly-adopted Community Preservation Fund, a decade-long relationship with The Trustees, and a talented and proactive Open Space Committee.  The million-dollar purchase was accomplished with CPA funds (the town's first open space use of the fund!), state Self-Help grant funds for municipal conservation purposes, and a contribution by The Trustees.  The David Reed Fairbanks conservation area sits just south of the town forest, and is permanently protected by a CR held by The Trustees and the MA Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). 

NSTAR Electric Company had owned these latest 86 acres in question as surplus land for decades, never having found a use for them.  In 2007, NSTAR offered the land for sale.  Like much of the recreational woodland that so many of us take for granted, no formal protection was in place at that time to prevent these lands from future development.  Furthermore, these 86 acres were directly next door to the town's existing Adams Street Town Forest, and already contained some trails enjoyed by public users, such as George Johnson, at that time the chair of the Holliston Open Space Committee, who felt "they were a natural fit for permanent protection."  Mr. Johnson and the Committee sprung into action to formulate a proposal for the town to purchase the land.  Community support for purchasing the land from NSTAR was accomplished through town meeting vote in 2007, a community vote of faith that the state Self-Help Grant (now known as LAND grant,) which the Open Space Committee applied for, would come through (it hadn't yet!) to fund it! The remainder of the $1 million-plus purchase price came from the town's Community Preservation Fund and Open Space Fund.  The Trustees came through once again to hold the CR on the 86 acres of land purchased from NSTAR, while the town owns it as an addition to their popular town forest.   

George Johnson (Holliston Open Space Committee) and Andrew Bentley (TTOR) exploring the land.
Today, hikers and nature lovers enjoy this natural area, co-existing peaceably with mountain bikers - who love this overall landscape too for its steep and challenging landscape.  In fact the New England Mountain Biking Association (NEMBA) actually owns 47 acres of protected land known as "Vietnam", adjacent to the Fairbanks land.  Hundreds of acres in the area are classified as Priority and Core Habitat by the state's Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program, attesting to the habitat value of the area.  The area's natural bedrock bluffs and abrupt depressions makes it a landscape dotted with vernal pools, and a springtime visit might serenade you with choruses of wood frogs and spring peepers, and maybe even glimpses of the secretive salamanders that breed in these fascinating, fleeting pools, while you wonder - is that the hum of 495 in the distance?  It couldn't be!

Miles of trails traverse this area, and we recommend anyone newcomer to the land to take a map (click here!) - otherwise you probably WILL get lost!  Just look at that thing!  It's an absolute maze in there!  

This most recent successful project builds on The Trustees' long tradition of directly protecting or partnering with towns and other groups to protect threatened land in the Charles River Valley.  This began with our oldest reservation, Rocky Narrows, on the shores of the river in Sherborn, in 1897, and now includes 15 reservations and 2,300 acres of protected land throughout the Charles River watershed.   

The Trustees have fifteen reservations in the Charles River valley, and have protected much more than just those Special Places with land protection tools like Conservation Restrictions. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Boxborough Celebrates Steele Farm conservation success with Local Heroes, with Legislators, and The Trustees!

Beautiful autumn colors at Steele Farm in Boxborough.
Last week, Boxborough residents and a lineup of special guests came together at Boxborough Town Hall to celebrate the permanent protection of town-owned Steele Farm, through a Conservation Restriction (CR) to The Trustees of Reservations (TTOR) and Historic Preservation Restriction (HPR) to The Boxborough Historical Society (BHSI), a project completed in close partnership with the Boxborough Conservation Trust (BCT) and the Town of Boxborough. This celebration was well-earned, to recognize the hard work of local heroes in Boxborough to complete a six-year cooperative conservation project that was twenty years in the making!  The 36 acres at Steele Farm protect beautiful meadows that host grass-nesting birds, three National Registry historic buildings that reflect the agricultural history of Boxborough including the Levi Wetherbee farmhouse dating to 1784, and offer hiking trails that meander through fields and woods on Steele Farm and connect to other conservation areas next door.  For our earlier exciting news and description of Steele Farm, see our August blog post by clicking here!

The Trustees provided a 'Protected Forever' sign which will be adapted to commemorate the collaboration that led to the property's permanent protection. 
From L, Bruce Hager (SFAC) & John Fallon (VP of BHSI & Town Moderator), Alan Rohwer (BHSI & Historical Commission), State Senator Jamie Eldridge, Representative Jen Benson, and Duncan Browne (BHSI). 

The guests of honor were the members of groups like the Steele Farm Advisory Committee (SFAC), the Boxborough Historical Society (BHSI), Boxborough Conservation Trust (BCT), the members of the Board of Selectmen and Town Administrator, and so many supportive local citizens, who all came together to make this project possible.  These dedicated groups saw this project through years of complex negotiation at the town level, to muster support for the farm's permanent protection - a process driven by passionate local citizens like Alan Rohwer of the Boxborough Historical Society, whose patience and dedication have paid off, despite what he described as a process sometimes feeling like "dragging a battleship across the desert!" 

Alan Rohwer (L) & Bruce Hager (R) accept commemorative hiking sticks, awarded to commemorate their roles as two of the Steele Farm "SF 3"! (not present was Arden Veley) 

Boxborough acquired Steele Farm in 1994 - however, the land was not donated to the town as protected conservation land, as it would have been if it was donated to the town's Conservation Commission, and therefore qualify for the substantial protections of town-owned conservation land under Article 97 of the Massachusetts constitution.  Municipal land in Massachusetts, even if it functions as conservation land, is not securely protected if it is not owned under the care of the Conservation Commission or other such protection-oriented municipal body such as a parks department, or unless there is a conservation restriction on the land - in other words, such surplus land can be converted to other uses.  The committee was faced with finding a solution to how the land would be conserved - and to muster local support!  The negotiated solution garnered citizens' and Board of Selectmen support through an annual town meeting vote, and the conservation solution was to donate a conservation restriction to The Trustees and HPR to the Historical Society that now ensures Steele Farm's permanent protection.  Such restrictions are permanent and this one ensures that the conservation and historic values of Steele Farm will not be lost to other uses of the land.  
At the celebration, Committee members were joined by TTOR CR Program staff, and even the talented former staff member, Chris Rodstrom, who drove the project forward for The Trustees from the beginning of TTOR's involvement in 2007 until his departure from TTOR in May of 2013.  State representatives attended as well - Jen Benson of the 37th Middlesex District, and State Senator Jamie Eldridge as well, to add congratulatory remarks.  Senator Eldridge had this to say about the success, "The conservation and historic preservation restrictions placed on Steele Farm represent a 20-year effort to protect this special property for Boxborough residents for generations to come. I congratulate all of the stakeholders involved."

Senator Jamie Eldridge and Representative Jen Benson came to praise the successful conservation project.

Boxborough was also host to a very special guest, Irene Del-Bono of the MA Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA), Division of Conservation Services, the governmental body which reviews and approves all conservation restrictions at the state level.  Ms. Del-Bono is the EOEEA staff member who conducts legal review of every single CR document from all corners of Massachusetts, and her reviews ensure a gold standard that each CR be legally sound to protect land forever.  Irene expressed her appreciation for the invitation to get out of her office and into a community to celebrate their conservation victory, and loved the opportunity to meet with some of the local heroes who make successful conservation efforts happen! 

Alan Rohwer poses with Irene Del-Bono, the EOEEA's Conservation Restriction reviewer.

Special thanks is reserved for the local groups who worked together to make this happen!  Duncan Browne, John Fallon, and Alan Rohwer of the Boxborough Historical Society; Rita Gibes Grossman of the Boxborough Conservation Trust; Bruce Hager, Jeanne Steele Kangas, Judi Resnick, Ed Whitcomb, and among former members David Birt, Eric Tornstrom, and John Skinner of the Steele Farm Advisory Committee; and Town Administrator Selina Shaw, are among the local heroes who saw this project through to completion!  On The Trustees of Reservations's end, Chris Rodstrom negotiated the project, Andrew Bentley saw this project through to completion, and the CR Program staff will visit annually and advise Boxborough on protecting its conservation values - sealing TTOR's collaborative promise that Steele Farm will be protected for everyone, forever. 

Steele Farm Advisory Committee celebrates their conservation victory! 
From L, Jeanne Steele Kangas, Ed Whitcomb, Judi Resnick, Bruce Hager.