The Town of Athol is creating a new town forest in partnership withMount Grace Land Conservation Trust and local landowners Ralph and Gloria Stoddard co-own and Ralph’s sister, Gloria Meuse.
In 2014, the family joined with Mount Grace and a group of local landowners to protect their land together in the Quabbin Heritage Landscape Project. In 2015, the Stoddard project became the first of the Quabbin Heritage properties to be permanently protected. The land—along with the LeBlanc property next door, also a Quabbin Heritage project—is now the South Athol Conservation Area.
The Stoddard land runs from South Athol Pond north to White Pond and is knit together by logging trails and discontinued historical roads that wind up and down past cellar holes and wetlands teeming with wildlife. The Nature Conservancy’s analysis of resilient landscapes considers about half this property to be crucial for survival of native species in a changing climate.Abutting the 330 acres already protected around the old Morgan Memorial Fresh Air Camp, the new conservation area offers a destination for hikers and hunters, as well as opportunities for forestry.
The family knows all these opportunities well. Ralph can show several stands where he has cut cordwood on the land, which has been enrolled in Massachusetts’ Chapter 61 forestry program for decades. Gloria tells the story of the Stoddards’ great-grandfather Zenas Stoddard, who would always hide his gun under a boulder near the train stop on the old Rabbit Line of the Athol & Enfield Railway before taking the train to school so that he could walk back across the land hunting on his way home.
Ralph Stoddard and Gloria Meuse summed up the family’s thoughts in an email: “We are proud to have this land protected forever for all generations to enjoy the quiet solitude and beauty. Our land has been part of the Stoddard heritage for as long as we can remember. It has been handed down from our Great Grandfather Zenas, to our Grandfather Harry S. Stoddard, to his sons Clyde and Earl in the 1950’s. So it was very important for us to try and protect this land.”
Andrea Buglione, Athol’s Planning and Economic Development Director, summed up the Town's role:“When it comes to protecting land and biodiversity for the enjoyment of future generations, Athol is ahead of the curve. This awe-inspiring landscape of conserved wetlands and forests will be a huge asset for the town."