In the late 1980s, several landowners with property in Thousand Acre Swamp, in Athol and Phillipston, worked with Mount Grace to apply for a state grant to conserve their land. Their proposal was ranked first in Massachusetts because of the enormous habitat value of the Thousand Acre Swamp-Bearsden Woods area, and was in line for conservation money until funding was pulled at the last minute.
Local interest in protecting the wetlands never waned however. In the 1990s, a survey conducted by local nature photographer and tracker Paul Rezendes and William Kuriger found 226 plant, 37 mammal, and 108 bird species in the swamp.
In 2007, encouraged by Bill Rose, one of the original landowners, Jay Rasku at the North Quabbin Regional Landscape Partnership applied to the North American Wetland Conservation Act Small Grants program (NAWCA) for money to restart the project by helping the Brouillet and MacCombie families conserve their land.
Since NAWCA grants require a match from state or local funding sources, Rasku joined with the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game (DFG) which was already working to buy 350 acres in the swamp from the Town of Athol. Succesful completion of that project would more than make up for the NAWCA grant match requirements. The project was also funded by a grant from the Massachusetts Conservation Partnership and by the Town of Phillipston, which voted to appropriate $18,000 from town Community Preservation Act money.
Since March, two projects have closed, protecting 95 acres in Athol and Phillipston. Conserving the Brouillet land, which has frontage on Route 2A, protects nearly 1,800 feet of streambank along Thousand Acre Brook. The MacCombie land also includes the northeast bank of the brook, which flows into the Millers River. On August 5, 2010, Governor Patrick signed a bill sponsored by Senator Stephen M. Brewer which authorized the purchase of 350 acres from the Town of Athol. When that sale closes, the vision of protecting the brook’s watershed will be well on its way to completion.
The project moved forward with support from Mount Grace’s Local Landscape Collateral Fund, which allows conservation supporters to purchase a certificate of deposit at Greenfield Savings Bank which the bank uses as collateral for the loans it makes to Mount Grace. “It was great to be able to use such an innovative conservation strategy,” says Rasku, “local people were able to come forward to help this neighborhood achieve a longstanding neighborhood goal: protecting the headwaters of Thousand Acre Brook, guarranteeing future access to hikers and birders in perpetuity.”
Thousand Acre Swamp can be reached by a trail which begins at Red Apple Farm.