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Norcross Hill: Beauty and History in Templeton

Land is potent. Some landscapes are especially provocative, catching us off-guard with a visceral reaction. Maybe it’s a short, sharp inhale or the sudden presence of goosebumps. Norcross Hill in Templeton is that type of place.

The weight of its beauty and history is palpable. There’s a long, complicated story living here, and everyone who is familiar with the former Fernald School and its expansive, scenic vistas is bound to have an opinion about the place. Attorney Thomas J. Frain of the Fernald Corporation, a non-profit committed to the care of intellectually disabled people, is keenly aware of the Fernald School’s painful history and the corporation’s own evolution. For decades, Attorney Frain and his fellow Fernald Corporation board members have been committed to conserving the Norcross Hill land. For Frain, it’s a way of honoring the Corporation’s legacy of serving society’s most vulnerable - the forgotten voiceless. Last fall, with the help of Keith Ross — a LandVest senior advisor and Mount Grace founder — the Fernald Corporation began talking with MassWildlife in earnest. 

With 465 acres of pristine woods and fields along Norcross Hill and Brook (separate from surrounding state property known as the Templeton Development Center), the land was a perfect prospect for the state’s Landscape Partnership Program (LPP) grant, and a slam-dunk for meeting MassWildlife’s regional wildlife habitat conservation goals.

The LPP grant provides significant funding, but in order to apply, 500 contiguous acres and multiple partners are required. This challenge was right up Mount Grace’s alley. With the Fernald Corporation, Mount Grace worked with MassWildlife and the North County Land Trust (NCLT) to create a viable project. The Town of Templeton, the MA Department of Conservation and Recreation, Fields Pond Foundation, and private landowners Jo-Anne and Danny Burdin enthusiastically agreed to participate in this ambitious land conservation effort.

March brought happy news of an LPP award from the state. MassWildlife hit the ground running and successfully purchased the Fernald Corporation land, which will be known as the Norcross Hill Wildlife Management Area. The remainder of the projects will be completed by spring of 2020, with the Burdin project being Mount Grace’s very first CR in Templeton (to be co-held with NCLT). The protection of the 465-acre Fernald Corporation land is the culmination of many years of effort by Attorney Frain and his incredibly dedicated fellow board members. Mount Grace is grateful to have played a part in turning the long-held vision for conservation into a reality.

Images courtesy of LandVest.