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Foxborough: Planning Help for Towns

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Allison Gillum is the Regional Conservationist with the Wildlands Trust for the 2010-2011 service year.

As a Regional Conservationist in Duxbury, Massachusetts, my goal is to increase the pace of land protection in Southeastern Massachusetts by strengthening the land conservation efforts of volunteer community leaders and municipal commissions. However, as I began my year of service at Wildlands Trust, my first challenge was finding a town that wanted my help.

I have to admit this first obstacle was a bit of a surprise. I had expected towns to jump at the chance to utilize a free volunteer. But in reality, I spent the first several weeks sending out emails and making phone calls to different conservation commissions and open space committees trying to convince them that they wanted my help. Nevertheless, I kept at it, and my perseverance paid off when I got in touch with the Town of Foxborough Conservation Commission. The Conservation Agent informed me that Foxborough is currently in the middle of working on its open space and recreation plan (OSRP) and could definitely use some assistance. Finally, a town that wanted my help! I scheduled a meeting with the Open Space Committee for the next week.

The day of our first meeting, I was very excited to get started. At long last, I was going to help a town identify and facilitate land conservation projects! At the meeting I learned that Foxborough has actually been working on its OSRP for the past 17 years. I heard many different reasons for why the plan has taken so long to be completed: budget cuts, employee turnover, lack of volunteers, archaic GIS mapping software, not to mention the ever changing and complicated state-requirements. However, despite these challenges, Foxborough has continued to work on the plan because the town realizes how incredibly important it is to have an OSRP in place. An OSRP not only helps a community identify land and recreational areas to protect and enhance, but if the plan is approved by the state, it allows the town to be eligible for grant money to put the plan into action. The absence of an OSRP has restricted Foxborough’s ability to effectively identify and fund land protection projects.

The issues raised in that first meeting gave me even greater insight into why the AmeriCorps Regional Conservationist position is so important. Land conservation takes a lot of time and money. And, many of the local municipalities in Massachusetts are severely underfunded and understaffed. There’s too much to do and not enough time or money to do it all. That’s where I come in. I am a free resource that can enable towns to complete their plans and as a result increase the region’s ability to protect important habitats and landscapes.

Since that first meeting I’ve been hard at work helping Foxborough edit its OSRP, create maps, and research current and potential conservation properties. We are making serious progress and it’s looking like in the near future, Foxborough’s 17-year-long planning process will come to an end and the town will finally be able to move forward to put its plan into action.