If you walk the miles of trails on Ben and Susie Feldman’s 321 acres of wooded land, you eventually come to a sign marking the exact point where the three towns of Athol, Petersham, and Phillipston come together. Those three towns have now joined together to protect the Feldman’s land, and 2,000 additional acres, as part of the Quabbin Heritage Landscape Project, funded in part by a $1,260,000 grant from Massachusetts' Landscape Partnership Program (LPP).
Quabbin Heritage focuses on protecting scenic and working landscapes in Athol, Petersham, Phillipston, and Barre. Partners include Mount Grace, the Towns, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation: Division of Water Supply Protection, East Quabbin Land Trust, and the landowners.
The Feldmans have created an expansive trail system for hiking, biking, and equestrian use during their years on the land. Protected portions of the land will be open for public recreation once the project is complete. Like most of the participating landowners, the Feldmans will continue to own, and live on, their land, but conservation restrictions will be held by the Towns in partnership with Mount Grace.
Further west, the Stoddard and LeBlanc families have conveyed their abutting properties to the Town of Athol, giving Athol nearly 200 new acres between White Pond and South Athol Pond to manage for timber and for public recreation, including hiking and hunting. Mount Grace will hold conservation restrictions on the properties. Ernie LeBlanc, one of five brothers raised on the LeBlanc land, says the family is “pleased to be able to protect this land for future generations to use as we did: for exploration, bird and nature study, and for our father’s favorite—blueberry picking.” Connie and Larry Blakley’s nearby forest have also been protected, connecting already-conserved land together to create a forested corridor from South Athol to the tens of thousands of acres around the Quabbin Reservoir.
In Petersham, landowner Carly Hutchinson plans to protect 168 acres abutting land conserved in 1996 by her late parents, Theodore and Beverly Hutchinson, as part of Mount Grace’s first Forest Legacy project in 1996.
In Phillipston, $70,000 of the grant has been earmarked to help create a new park on Town land next to the elementary school and ball field. “A new park is something we can really use. We don’t really have a lot of outdoor spaces where people can gather,” says Wayne Richard, of Phillipston’s Planning Board and Parks and Recreation Committee. “Now that we’ve got the grant we can move forward. We’ll start having informational meetings soon and I’d like to invite every Phillipston resident to let the Parks and Recreation Board know what they’d like to see in the new park.” Phillipston will also work with the Hakkila family to conserve 180 acres of land that will be used as matching value to help qualify for the grant.
In Barre, East Quabbin Land Trust will work with James Engel to protect land next to the Prince River Wildlife Management Area. All told, the grant will help protect more than 2,700 acres, including working forests, rare species habitat, and the headwaters of the Quabbin Reservoir while providing corridors of open land to connect 130,000 acres of protected habitat in the region.
“The LPP grant program works as a dollar-for-dollar matching grant,” explains Mount Grace Land Conservation Specialist Sarah Wells. “For each dollar LPP contributes, we need to show at least another dollar of value matching it. Luckily, this new grant can be matched by a portion of our unprecedented $7 million federal Quabbin to Wachusett Forest Legacy grant that’s already in the works. We don’t get opportunities like this very often, so we’re stretching the state and federal dollars as far as possible to help local families protect their lands and livelihoods.”