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Phillipston: Thousand Acre Brook

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Sarah Wells was the Regional Conservationist with the North Quabbin Regional Landscape Partnership for the 2011-2012 service year.  She now works at Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust as a Land Conservation Associate.


Beaver Tree at Thousand Acre SwampMy decision to apply for a second year of AmeriCorps was primarily based on three factors: 1) my awesome supervisor from whom I still had things to learn, 2) wanting to continue my involvement with the Quabbin to Wachusett Forest Legacy initiative, and 3) the Haughton project. Since embarking on my second term, I’ve been completely satisfied with that decision. My supervisor is still great, Quabbin to Wachusett was ranked #2 nationally and stands a very high likelihood of being funded somewhere near the $5 million dollar mark, and I have near daily learning experiences through the Haughton project.

Shoreline at Thousand Acre SwampAlthough the project is happening relatively quickly in the realm of conservation deals, one Selectman involved recently joked with me that “the Louisiana Purchase took less time to figure out.” In reality, this project has been incredibly well-suited to my time with the AmeriCorps program. It’s the only opportunity I’ve had to be involved with one project throughout its entire lifecycle.

The first landowners I met with to discuss conservation were the Haughtons. My first site visit was on their property. The first town board members I engaged with were a direct result of this project. The first conservation restriction I read, the first grant I helped with, the first deeds I researched…all for Haughton. Next month, hopefully I’ll be attending my first closing. Beyond the crash course in due diligence and “legalese” this project provided me, this is also the first one I feel truly invested in.

The Haughton property gets a lot of points on the conservation values scorecard. It has BioMap habitat, is adjacent to protected land, contains the shoreline of an incredibly important wetland system, and even has an interesting history as an apple orchard. I could recite the book and page numbers of the deeds associated with the project, and the project budget is perhaps permanently engrained in my memory. I also know the name of the family dog (Buffy) and have watched her grow up from an adorably floppy puppy into a rambunctious young dog. I know her favorite stick to play fetch with, and I’ve been regaled with stories about salmon fishing on family trips to Alaska. I’ve heard Reggie and Mel gush about their grandchildren, and their daughter’s penchant for painting detailed scenes on large apples. I know that Mel is quite the cook, and that Reggie gets a big kick out of setting up wildlife cameras in the orchard and seeing which critters show up. When I stopped by last week to have them sign some forms, they asked if I wanted to come in for dinner.

Serving for a second year was the best choice I could have made. I have had the privilege of learning first-hand that conservation is about relationships. I’ve gained practical experience in realizing that conservation is not just about land, it’s also about trust and mutual investment in reaching the landowner’s goals. Five, ten, twenty years from now, I hope to stop by Baldwin Hill, wave to Reggie, Mel and Buffy, and take a walk down to the Thousand Acre Brook for a picnic by the water. Maybe the herons will still be there, and I’ll hear the occasional slap of a beaver tail on the water’s surface. I hope I’ll still be able to find the patch of big beech trees with smooth bark and hear the sharp cry of a red-tailed hawk soaring overhead. Even if I don’t, I’m comforted today by the idea that once this project closes, the herons, beaver, beech trees, and hawks will forever be welcome on this land.