Reggie and Mel Haughton have owned their land on Phillipston's Baldwin Hill Road since 1977, raising a family in the woods near Thousand Acre Brook. “We wanted to protect the land and wildlife so that future generations can enjoy nature," says Mel. "We were pleased to join with other landowners to conserve the woods, fields and wetlands of the Thousand Acre Swamp. “
The Haughtons have now sold 53 acres of the land to the Town of Phillipston to create the Baldwin Hill Conservation Area, a town forest that Phillipston may use for recreation and sustainable forestry. After selling that land at a bargain rate, the Haughtons also donated a conservation restriction (CR) on an adjoining 36 acres to the Town. All 89 acres will be open to the public in perpetuity for hiking and nature study. Speaking for the Conservation Commission, Rose Frizzell summed up the project, saying: “Thousand Acre Brook and its surrounding woods are such a beautiful part of a much larger landscape that will now be actively preserved and maintained. Through stewardship focused on education, sustainable forestry, and biodiversity, we hope to demonstrate the true goal of conservation, man and nature living in harmony.”
Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust assisted the Haughtons and the Town of Phillipston in conserving the land. Phillipston Open Space Committee member Bonnie House thanked the trust, saying "Due to the extraordinary efforts of Jay Rasku and Sarah Wells of the North Quabbin Regional Landscape Partnership and Mount Grace, the public now has access to a significant part of Thousand Acre Swamp. The Open Space Committee could only achieve this goal with the support of Mount Grace." The Haughtons sold the land to the town for half the appraised value of the land and, once federal and state grants and support from the Massachusetts Community Preservation Act matching fund are factored in, Phillipston’s expenses will be approximately $14,000. Money for outstanding town legal expenses will be raised with help from Mount Grace.
Phillipston voted to help conserve both parcels last November, and plans to establish new trails to provide easy public access for families to enjoy the natural beauty of the Thousand Acre Brook watershed. A new greenway is planned to link the land to Bearsden Conservation Area, a long-term goal of Phillipston’s Open Space Plan. Trails on the conservation restriction lead to a view of a heron rookery in the heart of Thousand Acre Swamp.
Hunters, anglers, hikers and bird watchers alike have long enjoyed Thousand Acre Swamp, which is an important habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife. One year’s sampling by the Athol Bird and Nature Club found over one hundred bird species, including breeding American black duck, wood duck, and mallard.
Project partners include the Town of Phillipston, and its Conservation Commission and Open Space Committee; the Massachusetts LAND and CPA programs; and the North Quabbin Regional Landscape Partnership, with Mount Grace taking a lead role in coordinating the conservation and fundraising efforts. Mount Grace is prepared to continue fundraising locally to cover the costs of the project. “This project was a team effort in every sense. Reggie, Mel, and each of the partners were deeply committed to saving this land. Without the generosity of the Haughtons, this project would not have happened,” explained Sarah Wells. “Mount Grace is committed to finding the remaining funds for the project’s legal expenses to help Phillipston realize the decades-long dream of protecting this land.”