Mount Grace's Fox Valley Conservation Area has always been a spot for young people to encounter, and be inspired by, the natural world. Originally named by students of the Phillipston Elementary School in 1990, the 100-acre property has more recently hosted stewardship projects involving Phillipston Scouts.
This spring, as part of his Eagle Scout project, Thomas Rose designed, cleared, and blazed a new incarnation of the one-mile loop trail that heads north from the parking area on Phillipston's Lincoln Road. Advised by Davis Brush, a MassLIFT-AmeriCorps volunteer who coordinates Mount Grace's Service Learning Program, Rose also recruited volunteers Augie Carra, Peter Niemi, and Al Rose to help re-grade the parking area and install a stone retaining wall and kiosk.
Fellow members of Troop 39 provided the rest of the manpower for the trail project, which was officially completed on June 3, with a walk-through attended by staff and board members of Mount Grace. The trail is now open for the public, and offers an interesting series of contrasting landscapes, including six open acres near the trailhead that provide prime songbird habitat, a wet, fern-filled valley sloping down to the banks of Popple Camp Brook, and a drier upland forest where the trail passes old stone walls.
During the hike, Mount Grace Stewardship Biologist Tom Wansleben recounted almost stepping on a turkey hen while monitoring the property after the 2010 timber harvest. Hikers at Fox Valley consistently report sighting moose or moose sign as well, and the young beeches along the upland forest portion of the trail show considerable scarring from the hungry ungulates. "We could almost change the name of the refuge to Moose Alley," Wansleben added.
The 1990 dedication ceremony marked the creation of the Fox Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, then a 50-acre parcel donated by Helvi Frilander in memory of her husband Toivo. No hunting is allowed in the sanctuary, following the wishes of the Frilanders. In 1998, the neighboring Hazeltine family donated an additional 50 acres of land behind the Frilander parcel. Hunting is permitted on the Hazeltine parcel.
In 2009, Mount Grace received a federal grant to manage the property to provide songbird habitat. The following year, Wansleben and forester Glenn Freden designed a timber harvest to create a six-acre clearcut at the front of the property that would retain single trees and clusters of trees of varying ages and species to attract diverse species of birds and mammals. The harvest also involved a thinning cut in the upland forest.
Mount Grace was assisted during that timber harvest by Phillipston's Junior and Cadette Girl Scouts, who walked the property and posted the riparian boundary of Popple Camp Brook, keeping the most delicate habitat secure. Now, thanks to Thomas Rose's energy and organizing, Boy Scout Troop 39 and Mount Grace can offer the public a better way to encounter these two properties, one that may inspire young people in Phillipston for generations to come.
A pdf of the Fox Valley trail map is below.