Mount Grace has reached an agreement with a local landowner and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) to permanently conserve nearly 200 acres of land comprising the southeastern bank of Tully Lake. Mount Grace is now raising the rest of the funding needed to protect the land.
“We are ecstatic that Mount Grace stepped in to facilitate the final steps in protecting this integral piece of the landscape,” says neighbor Darlene Lawlor Moore. “Living up here surrounded by the so many gems like Tully Lake and Mountain, our three local waterfalls and the hundreds of acres of conserved land at our doorstep is a true blessing!”
Every visitor to Tully Lake—and there are tens of thousands of visitors each year—sees the 207-acre Vento property—a forested lot that rises along the steep southeast bank of the lake. It’s a familiar sight, and a familiar topic of conversation, to people in Athol, Orange, and Royalston who have been discussing the possible fate of this land for almost 20 years.
In 2003, then-owner Gregg Duquette proposed filling this scenic hillside with a 42-lot subdivision, to be named “Grand View Acres.” Over the years, as the subdivision plan grew to 55 homes, neighbors in Athol, Royalston, and Orange formed the Friends of Tully Lake and mobilized to raise public awareness about the proposal’s environmental risks. The Athol Planning Board ultimately denied the project its permits.
Over the years, other owners, and other proposals, followed with plans floated for a gravel pit and then a massive commercial solar array. As neighbor Johanna Lawlor Moore says “It has been a long uphill challenge to safeguard such an important natural resource. It is a relief to know not only the views from Tully Lake and Tully Mountain will be conserved, but also that the Tully Lake watershed and the immense variety of wildlife it harbors has been protected. So many neighbors, friends, and organizations worked together for so many years to make this possible.”
Eventually, the land was bought by Paul and Jill Vento, who began to discuss protecting the land with Mount Grace in 2020. The trust has a long history in this neighborhood, having helped protect 9,000 acres around nearby Tully Mountain during the 2001-2002 Tully Initiative. Mount Grace has also been working on a 700-acre collaborative project in Orange, Royalston, and Warwick with landowners, conservation commissions, DCR, the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game, and Mass Audubon. DCR’s role as the eventual owner of the Vento property means that Tully Lake will be connected to the Lawton State Forest by woodland that will be forever undeveloped and open to the public.
The trust’s Executive Director Emma Ellsworth summed up the new project saying “Mount Grace is honored to be part of this decades long effort to conserve the Eastern shore of Tully Lake. Every time I put my canoe in at Tully Lake and enjoy the eagles and herons, or paddle out to an island to pick blueberries, I will be grateful to the generations of neighbors and community that contributed to the protection of this unique spot.”
The property includes a house on one 18-acre lot and a second lot consisting of 189 wooded acres. After meeting with Mount Grace in 2021, DCR agreed to purchase the 189 acres in full pending an agreement between the Ventos and Mount Grace. After transferring the larger lot, Paul and Jill Vento will live on the remaining 18 acres, which is considered a single lot with further development precluded. “Jill and I are so happy to have moved to such a gorgeous part of Massachusetts,” Vento explains, “and we are honored to be part of this community’s long effort to protect the beauty of Tully Lake. We are thrilled that these acres will be conserved for perpetuity.”
This project has also received a grant from the Community Foundtion of North Central Massachusetts. Protecting this spot will bring to a close a 20-year quest to prevent the degradation of Tully Lake’s bucolic view and ensure the continued integrity of the lake’s setting as both a habitat for native species and as a recreational destination for tens of thousands of boaters, campers, hikers, and swimmers every year.
You can support projects like this by supporting the ongoing work of Mount Grace.