Tucked between thousands of acres of Otter River State Forest and Route 68, the Burdin family’s backyard is dappled with vernal pools, trees, and pockets of burgeoning pastureland for raising goats. Jo-Anne and Danny Burdin have also raised their two girls here, with their youngest daughter graduating in the 2020 class of Narragansett Regional High School.
Jo-Anne is a lifelong conservationist, member of the Athol Bird and Nature Club, and Treasurer of the Millers River Watershed Council. “For years, I hoped to see the 465 acres of the former Fernald School property permanently conserved in my hometown of Templeton,” said Jo-Anne. MassWildlife, North County Land Trust, and Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust have long shared this goal, along with countless other residents of the region. In 2018, the Walter E. Fernald Corporation, working with LandVest, was enthusiastically prepared to sell their land to MassWildlife, but partners needed to cobble together the funding to make the deal successful.
The groups sought a grant from the MA Landscape Partnership Program, but that program only funds initiatives that protect a minimum of 500 acres. Jo-Anne was ready to help, pouring her time and heart into helping to reach out to other landowners to assemble a group that would protect their land together to meet the 500-acre threshold. When a key project fell through in the final phase of the application, Jo-Anne found a solution in her own backyard. Jo-Anne and Danny offered to protect 17 acres of their own land to help bridge the acreage gap and rescue the application.
The Norcross Hill Conservation Project ultimately conserved 506 acres after winning a grant from the MA Landscape Partnership Program. “The entire project area is critical wildlife habitat” said Jassy Bratko, Director of Land Protection for North County Land Trust. MassWildlife purchased the Fernald land (which has now become the Norcross Hill Wildlife Management Area and is open to the public for recreation). The Department of Conservation and Recreation also purchased 24 acres of land with grant funding. Jo-Anne and Danny then worked closely with North County and Mount Grace to craft a conservation restriction (CR) that met their needs. The Burdin CR was completed this June. The land trusts jointly hold the CR, and Jo-Anne and Danny will continue to own and manage the land itself. The Town of Templeton, the MA Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Fields Pond Foundation, the Bafflin Foundation, and the Wharton Trust all contributed to this initiative.
The Burdin family’s choice made it possible for public and private partners to connect the dots in this regionally significant project. “Without their dedication, this initiative would have fallen shy of success,” said Mount Grace Conservation Director Sarah Wells.