Efforts to protect 188 acres around the Northfield route of the New England National Scenic Trail were formally completed at the Franklin County Registry of Deeds this June. Selectwoman Bonnie L’Etoile described the agreement as “a perfect example of how team work with a common goal can reach results that we can all be proud of. This is a successful culmination of years of work to protect lands in Northfield for the future of our town.”
The signing permanently protected three separate pieces of land. Two—the 123-acre Coombs parcel that makes up the western slope of Brush Mountain, and the abutting 27-acre Fowler property—have been joined together as the Northfield Town Forest. The third, a 38-acre property owned by Sam and Barbara Richardson, will continue under private ownership with a permanent conservation restriction held by the Northfield Conservation Commission to insure that the land will be protected and open to the public. The properties are connected by the two mile stretch of the New England National Scenic Trail, formerly the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail, which crosses Gulf Road on the east side of town.
Also at the signing was Leigh Youngblood, Executive Director of the Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust, which worked to protect the properties as part of the Metacomet-Monadnock Forest Legacy Project, a conservation effort three years in the making that will protect 1,180 acres in six towns. The trust has been a pioneer in creating multi-town, multi-landowner projects which allow smaller Massachusetts landowners to qualify for federal Forest Legacy funds. “Being a Forest Legacy Area Sponsor is one more way Mount Grace can help landowners conserve their land,” said Youngblood. “Because our region already has significant blocks and corridors of conserved land, we can make great strides in conservation by grouping landowners together across the region to achieve important landscape-scale results. The projects we completed locally today are in a priority area of the 100-mile extent of the Quabbin to Cardigan Partnership, a collaborative effort of 27 organizations working toward common goals in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.”
Partners in the project include Mount Grace, the Bureau of Forestry at the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, the towns of Ashburnham, Erving, Northfield, Royalston, Warwick, and Wendell, the Greater Northfield Watershed Association, which will assist the town in monitoring the protected land, and the United States Forest Service, which provided a $1,400,000 grant to conserve the land. “I would like to congratulate Mount Grace in being successful in securing the funds to protect these parcels,” commented Congressman John Olver. “I have hiked every mile of the trail through Massachusetts, and I can attest to how special the lands around it are.”
Each year, as part of its Forest Legacy Program, the United States Forest Service conducts a nationwide search for worthwhile forest conservation projects. Forest Legacy money can be used to purchase either land or conservation restrictions on privately owned land. Under the terms of a conservation restriction, the landowner continues to own and use the land which is permanently protected from development.
Mount Grace purchased the Coombs property, which abuts Northfield’s 46-acre Brush Mountain Conservation Area, in 2005 with a loan from the Open Space Institute. The trust hoped to resell the land to a conservation-minded buyer.
Protecting the land was strongly supported by both the Northfield Conservation Commission and the Open Space Committee, and in 2010 Northfield Town Meeting voted to use approved federal Forest Legacy Funds to purchase the land as a town forest, to be used for both recreation and forestry. The acquisition of the Fowler property was also approved at that meeting, and the Select Board voted to protect the Richardson property in May of 2011. "This land, with its wide variety of wildlife and its two scenic outlooks, is a special place,” said co-owner Sam Richardson. “We want to share it with hikers on the New England National Scenic Trail as well as local hikers, snowshoers, and cross country skiers.” “This Conservation Restriction will ensure that our land will always be accessible for responsible use by our neighbors,” added Barbara Richardson. “For us it is the perfect legacy.”