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Muddy Pond: Conserving A Beloved Community Space

Posted Monday, August 2, 2021

Len Engman was born and raised in Westminster, MA, and has always loved the farmland and open spaces in his town. When he and his wife, Amy Engman, moved to Muddy Pond, they came to realize fewer and fewer places like it remained across the state, and made the decision to try to prevent it from ever being developed. Working in conjunction with Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust and the Town of Westminster, they successfully placed a conservation restriction (CR) on the pond and western shoreline in 2014.

Only 16 feet deep at its lowest point, Muddy Pond has 32 acres of surface area. Len and his wife regularly spot beavers (there are currently 4 beaver lodges in the pond) and birds such as blue heron. Birch trees surround the great pond, and pickerel swim in the water. “I go down two or three times a day and see a lot of activity,” Len said. A cranberry bog means fresh cranberries are available to pick each September.

It’s easy for the nearby community to access this beautiful public outdoors space. A 3.2-mile hiking trail, Nate’s Run (named after Len and Amy’s grandson, who regularly spent hours in the woods) encircles the pond, and connects to the longer Midstate Trail, which runs along the eastern shore of the pond. Len regularly encounters hikers (even more than normal during the COVID pandemic). A publicly accessible dock juts out into the water, with a rowboat and canoe visitors can use to go out into the pond’s center. A lean-to, constructed in the mid 1970’s by Boy Scouts, sometimes serves as shelter for passing hikers, and the Boy Scouts themselves still use it each summer for an overnight backpacking trip.

The Westminster and neighboring Ashburnham communities were enthusiastic about the Muddy Pond conservation project from its earliest days. The town of Westminster had already permanently protected most of the pond’s shore, and many wanted to see Len and Amy’s land conserved as well, to prevent future development in a naturally sensitive area. Once the land had been conserved, the official ceremony opening the hiking trail drew residents and even state officials to the dedication ceremony. “Most of the townspeople were very happy to see that happen,” said Len. “I appreciate the town – growing up here; the way it’s been governed.”

The strong community support for conserving the pond, combined with its rich natural resources and recreation potential, helped the project secure a Local Acquisitions for Natural Diversity (LAND) grant from the state. The grant was used to place the CR on the property, preventing development into perpetuity. Recalling the process, Len described it as relatively straightforward. He encouraged other landowners to think about their unique situation and do what’s best for them – every project will be different.

Reflecting on Muddy Brook and his many memories of it since moving there in 1978, what stood out most to Len was his simple enjoyment of this natural space over the years. “My wife and I were out in the rowboat the other night,” said Len. “It’s just peaceful.”

“My wife and I were out in the rowboat the other night,” said Len. “It’s just peaceful.”