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Winchendon Forest: Next Steps in Perpetuity

Posted Wednesday, March 6, 2024

In late February, Mass Audubon successfully closed on the purchase of 1,365 acres of forested land in Winchendon and Ashburnham which was the subject of impassioned public meetings in December. Mount Grace worked with community members in both Winchendon and Ashburnham to encourage supporters of the land to attend and speak in favor of protecting the land.  The decisions made by Winchendon Board of Selectmen and Ashburnham Select Board to assign the right to purchase the land, which was enrolled in Chapter 61, to Mass Audubon were a monumental victory for wildlife, the climate, and clean water.

The preacquisition groundwork is now laid for these parcels to be sold to the state and other conservation organizations that will steward the now-protected land in perpetuity. Conserving land is a first and very important step.  It is followed by a commitment to care for that land and provide the highest quality habitat possible for the wildlife that calls it home. 

The newly purchased land is directly connected to another 1,500 acres that are already protected, creating a contiguous forest corridor that reaches past Lake Monomonac to connect with protected lands in New Hampshire. This connectivity is what makes the forest so important for conservation.

Climate change is degrading many habitats and negatively impacting biodiversity, but large interconnected sites with diverse topography are more likely to support a wide array of native plants and animals. As a result, the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program considers two-thirds of these woods to be among the most critical land in Massachusetts for sustaining wildlife and biodiversity.

Multiple parcels in this project that are abutting public land will be acquired by the Commonwealth to extend existing Wildlife Management Areas. One parcel is abutting Mount Grace’s Fern Glenn Conservation Area, 130 acres containing two rare and contrasting natural community types: an extensive boreal swamp, and a woodland on steep talus slopes with huge old sugar maples, ash trees, and red oaks. Plant enthusiasts will find much to marvel at here, particularly along the fringes of the spruce-tamarack swamp where rose pogonia orchids bloom profusely in the summer.

As the next phase of ownership is settled for these vast networks of diverse forests, one thing is assured - bird watchers, bike path enthusiasts, hunters, anglers, and hikers in Winchendon & Ashburnham will be able to enjoy these forests and streams for generations to come.