In the picturesque region of northern and central Massachusetts, there exists a trusted organization known as Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust. Like a diligent guardian of the land, Mount Grace dedicates its efforts to protecting significant agricultural, natural, and scenic lands, ensuring a sustainable future for both the environment and the generations to come.
Let us journey through the mission and philosophy of Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust. The north Quabbin region is home to diverse ecosystems, critical habitats, and scenic landscapes, making land conservation a top priority.
In the realm of land preservation, Mount Grace is driven by a focused purpose. Their primary goal is to complete meaningful land protection projects, while simultaneously nurturing and actively stewarding the conservation areas under their care.
Through collaboration, Mount Grace becomes a beacon of unity. The organization recognizes the value of working together and forms fruitful partnerships with a wide range of conservation agencies, organizations, and individuals. By sharing resources, knowledge, and expertise, they help protect more land in their region, paving the way for a stronger and more sustainable future.
Stewardship is at the heart of Mount Grace’s philosophy. Demonstrating their commitment to responsible management, Mount Grace showcases site-appropriate techniques for maintaining their conservation areas. In fact, they invite members and the public to witness the positive impact of their efforts by offering guided tours, even during and after logging operations. These conservation areas, often featuring well-maintained trail systems, are open to the public for non-motorized recreational activities, providing opportunities for people to connect with nature.
In this map created by the Mount Grace staff, the work of the organization over the past 25 years is demonstrated. In Orange and nearby towns, over that period of time Mount Grace conserved 28,837 acres of land. And a total of 63,164 acres were conserved in that area by Mount Grace and other organizations. The region is fortunate to have so much land in conservation.
Another tangible testament to this trust is their headquarters, Skyfields, a farmhouse surrounded by forty acres of forests and fields. Acquired in 1999, Skyfields epitomizes their mission, work, and the unwavering support of their community.
Now, as we shift our gaze, we encounter a place that holds deep meaning and serves as a living memorial—the Gifford Family Memorial Forest. The story behind this cherished forest and its profound impact on the community unfolds before us.
Many years ago, the Gifford family, driven by a profound love for nature and a deep-rooted commitment to land preservation, bestowed upon Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust a generous gift—a parcel of land that held immense personal significance. In their act of benevolence, the Gifford family not only honored their own connection to the land but also ensured a sustainable future for the environment they cherished.
Stepping into this forest, we are greeted by a sanctuary of majestic trees, meandering trails and enchanting wildlife. The sunlight dances through the lush canopy, casting patterns of light and shadow upon the forest floor. It is a place where solace is found, memories are cherished, and the wonders of nature are celebrated.
This is a beautifully done 14-minute movie, What The Land Is, courtesy of Mount Grace. It features conservation partnerships with local families and farms.
In addition to Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust, several other organizations are actively involved in land conservation efforts in the north Quabbin region. These organizations work tirelessly to protect and preserve the natural landscapes and biodiversity of the area. Here are a few notable examples:
Since 1970, the Millers River Watershed Council (MRWC) has been dedicated to restoring and protecting the Millers River, helping to transform it from a heavily polluted waterway into a thriving habitat supporting fish and wildlife. In addition to responding to potentially harmful projects, MRWC has conducted volunteer water quality monitoring and supported land trust projects to safeguard significant natural tracts.
One of MRWC’s notable initiatives is the creation of Blue Trails, dedicated stretches of river offering recreational opportunities such as fishing, boating and wildlife viewing. This project encourages people to explore and connect with the Millers River Watershed, benefiting both local businesses and quality of life.
The Miller River Blue Trail, launched in 2011, spans from Athol to Orange and showcases the River’s beauty and it’s natural and human history. MRWC maintains this segment through a dedicated trail stewardship team and offers a comprehensive Blue Trail Guide for visitors’ convenience. Orange Riverfront Park serves as a main access point, enabling canoe and kayak access to the Millers River, along with beautiful views and fishing opportunities.
In addition to MRWC’s efforts, the Orange Community Boathouse, managed by Billy Goat Boats, provides a range of services, including rentals for canoes, kayaks, standup paddleboards, and pedal boats, as well as repair facilities. The boathouse offers a carpeted launch area and clean restrooms, with a special focus on accessibility for disabled individuals or those facing challenges while launching their boats into the river.
The Orange Riverfront Park hosts various annual events, including the River Rat Race, The Millers River Challenge, Dinner by the River, and The Orange Solstice Riverfest.
Notably, the town of Orange has even served as a filming location for the Hulu series “Castle Rock,” based on Stephen King’s stories.
The Athol Bird & Nature Club (ABNC) is another noteworthy organization that connects and collaborate with other organizations to bring these benefits to the public. ABNC is a thriving community of individuals who share a deep appreciation for nature’s diverse wonders. Comprising birders, geologists, star watchers, and plant enthusiasts, the club offers a spectrum of interests for both beginners and seasoned observers alike. ABNC welcomes everyone to join their engaging meetings, field trips, and institutes, where they’ll encounter a friendly reception and like-minded individuals.
The club also takes pride in stewarding the Millers River Environmental Center, a valuable community resource that fosters collaboration among governmental and non-governmental agencies, as well as citizens. Through their mission, ABNC places strong emphasis on educating and training area residents to foster a deeper appreciation for, connection with, and stewardship of the region’s rich natural resources.
North Quabbin Regional Landscape Partnership (NQRLP):
This partnership brings together various stakeholders, including landowners, conservation organizations, and government agencies, to collaborate on land conservation and stewardship projects. NQRLP focuses on creating a connected network of protected lands and promoting sustainable land use practices in the region.
- The Trustees of Reservations: As one of the oldest land conservation organizations in Massachusetts, The Trustees of Reservations play a crucial role in preserving and managing natural and cultural resources. They own and manage several properties in the north Quabbin region, including wildlife sanctuaries, forests, and farmlands, ensuring their protection for future generations.
- Quabbin Watershed Advisory Committee (QWAC): QWAC is a collaborative effort between various organizations, including state agencies, municipalities, and conservation groups, focused on protecting the Quabbin Reservoir and its surrounding watershed. They work to maintain water quality, preserve natural habitats, and promote responsible land use practices in the region.
- Local Land Trusts: There are several local land trusts in the north Quabbin area that work to conserve land and protect natural resources. These trusts, such as the Chestnut Hill Neighborhood Conservation Project (CHNCP) is an embodiment of a successful partnership among conservation-minded landowners that originated through their collective desire to protect land in their community. Working together with the New England Forestry Foundation (NEFF), landowners in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood, located by Lake Mattawa in Orange, Massachusetts, have successfully conserved over 500 acres of land over the past several years. The neighborhood has also contributed to the creation of a continuous corridor of open land in central Massachusetts that someday could extend from the Quabbin Reservoir into southern New Hampshire. Working together has also enabled the Chestnut Hill landowners to foster a greater sense of community and encourage a local economy based on sustainable forest management for agriculture, timber, recreation and education.The CHNCP officially took shape in September 2001 with the vision and driving force of Bruce Scherer who became inspired by the success of the Tully Valley Private Forest Lands Initiative. The Tully Initiative, as it is more commonly referred, was a successful collaboration between the land trust community and state agencies to protect over 1,200 acres in the Mount Tully region, which resulted in significant de-fragmentation of forested lands in the North Quabbin region. The Chestnut Hill neighborhood landowners approached NEFF in September 2001 with the goal to protect 705 acres of their forested land across multiple parcels located on Chestnut Hill and North Ridge in the southwest corner of the Town of Orange.
- The conservation of 120 acres by Dory Forster in 2001 is of high importance. Dory worked with the Orange Conservation Commission and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to protect her land which has been in her family since 1926. The Forster Farm contains 11 acres of open fields and is one of the largest surviving farmsteads in the area. The fields are now the site of the annual North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival, which drew over 11,000 visitors in 2006.
Check out this video of Dory telling her story.
The annual North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival is a two-day event of agriculture, food, arts, crafts, music and education workshops that happen in a friendly, family atmosphere. Like the conservation project, the idea for the garlic festival germinated from informal conversations among Chestnut Hill neighbors who wanted to sell products locally. The North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival is held in the third week of September in the fields of Dory Forester’s historic land and sponsored by the Seeds of Solidarity Education Center, a 501c3 organization based at Seeds of Solidarity Farm in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood. Working in concert with NEFF’s North Quabbin Woods Project, Chestnut Hill neighbors have built the “Festival That Stinks” into a popular event that draws local craftspeople from the nine-town North Quabbin region and several thousand visitors each year. Local products are sold to support the local economy and people who come to the festival have a good time, buy locally produced products and learn more about local conservation and sustainable forest management.
Chestnut Hill neighborhood members and North Quabbin Woods also established a network of trails designed to offer recreational opportunities to the general public. Along with the Student Conservation Association and the Massachusetts Forest and Parks Program, the Chestnut Hill neighborhood has created a trail network that includes the North Pond Ridge, Chestnut Hill and Bullard Farm trails. These trails offer a scenic hike through municipal, state, private and non-profit organization-owned lands. Hikers get views of Chestnut Hill Ridge and, in some cases, a first-hand look at timber harvests in progress.
In conclusion, go forth and celebrate. Take a hike!
Some notes of interest.
- These are two scenic and ecologically diverse areas in the Tully Valley that were acquired and preserved by various organizations, such as the Army Corps of Engineers, the Trustees of Reservations, Harvard Forest, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, and MassWildlife.
- The Tully Mountain Wildlife Management Area is a 1,200-acre area that includes Tully Mountain, Tully River, Tully Meadow, and various habitats and wildlife. You can hike the Tully Trail or other trails to enjoy the views and nature.
- The Tully Lake Campground and Recreation Area is a tent-only campground set along a 200-acre lake that offers canoeing, kayaking, fishing, disc golf, hiking, biking, and more. You can also explore the nearby Long Pond, Royalston Falls, Spirit Falls, and Jacobs Hill.
Collaborated with landowners to conserve the 168-acre Chase Hill Farm, preserving productive agricultural lands and scenic vistas.
Protected the 147-acre Doane’s Falls Reservation, encompassing waterfalls, granite gorges, and woodlands, offering scenic beauty and recreational opportunities.
Preserved the 558-acre Miller’s River Wildlife Management Area, conserving riverfront forests, floodplains, and wildlife habitats.
Facilitated the conservation of the 1,156-acre Royalston Falls Reservation, safeguarding an iconic waterfall, upland forests, and a variety of wildlife species.
The East Quabbin Land Trust protected the 730-acre Hardwick Woodlands, preserving working forests, wetlands, and critical habitats for wildlife.
The Ware River Watershed Land Trust conserved the 320-acre Ruggles Hill Wildlife Sanctuary, protecting unique ecosystems, rare plant species, and scenic views.