The 365-acre Lawton Tree Farm was the first Mount Grace project. The tree farm is now the Lawton State Forest, a mix of woods and wetlands owned by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. The property is also adjacent to Mount Grace’s headquarters at the Skyfields Arboretum on Old Keene Road in Athol.
No motorized recreation allowed.
MA Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR)
The 365-acre Lawton Tree Farm was the first Mount Grace project. In 1986, the Lawton Tree Farm in the northeastern section of Athol was slated to be sold to a developer who planned to create 200 residential lots. Townspeople wanted to protect this special area from development and the subsequent overburdening of the town’s services with the influx of 200 more families. The property was enrolled in the Chapter 61 Current Use Enrollment Program, which allows landowners to benefit from reduced local property tax assessments in exchange for keeping their land in forestry, agriculture, or as open space. If a landowner tries to sell the land or change the land use, the town is granted a “right of first refusal” to purchase the land and keep it in a natural state. The town can also assign this right to a conservation entity, like Mount Grace. In this case, the town of Athol assigned their “right of first refusal” to Mount Grace. With support from Peter Gerry and others, Mount Grace purchased the Lawton Tree Farm from Robert Lawton and resold the land to the Department of Environmental Management (now DCR). The land is now permanently protected, owned and managed by DCR as a State Forest.
For historic articles on the Lawton Forest see here