Mass. Cultural Council Grant Supports Project to Enhance Visitor Experience at Ipswich River
Michael P. O'Connor
LINCOLN, MA—The Massachusetts Cultural Council recently awarded Mass Audubon’s Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary in Topsfield a $119,000 grant that will ensure the completion of the first phase of a renovation/expansion program to enhance the visitor experience at one of Essex County’s most popular destinations.
Mass Audubon is confident that the state’s commitment will also jump-start the second phase of the $900,000 project by demonstrating success in bringing the vision of a new, accessible Visitor Center to reality.
The state funding and individual donations will support the completion of a bright and airy center that will include a larger, more attractive, and fully accessible reception and welcome area. The renovated building will also feature a small gift shop full of engaging naturerelated items such as field guides, bird feeders, and children’s books.
As visitors approach the center along a redesigned walkway, they’ll see the attractive custom-built canoe kiosk. This will serve as the new staging area for river trips where visitors can pick out their paddles and life jackets, view a map of the Ipswich River, and get prepared for a memorable trip on one of the region’s loveliest waterways.
Phase II construction, anticipated to begin this year, will focus on much-needed work space for the sanctuary’s teacher-naturalists and conservation staff. There is also a clear need for a Conservation Barn, which will consolidate stewardship and maintenance materials from three disconnected buildings into a single facility.
“The overall goal is to provide infrastructure and resources that help staff meet the program needs of an ever-growing visitor base,” noted Liz Albert, campaign manager for the project.
“Ipswich River has become a true community center—a place for families, individuals, and groups to experience nature and appreciate their surroundings,” Albert explained. “With such tremendous growth in participation over the last 10 to 20 years, the need for improved and expanded spaces for visitors, educators, and conservation staff is abundantly clear.”
“This campaign and the generous donors who contribute to its success are determined to meet these goals,” she stressed, “thus improving our ability to enrich our visitors’ experiences.”
Jim Brown, a longtime sanctuary volunteer and docent, said that the people he meets regularly at Ipswich River—especially families—seem to discover new experiences on each visit. “When I see young kids and their parents, I ask them what they like to do, ask them what they’ve found or discovered that’s interesting,” said Brown, a retired Boxford physician.
“A person or family can come here not knowing much about nature and leave having learned a lot,” he noted.
Sanctuary Director Carol Decker noted that these needed renovations “are providing a wonderful opportunity for Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary to connect more deeply with members of the North Shore community and let them know we want them to be part of our future.”
The enhanced visitor experience should also attract new people of all backgrounds to the sanctuary. “We need to welcome more people and encourage a love of nature through education and exciting activities that connect them to wildlife,” Decker said.
“The finished project will allow us to be even more engaged with our visitors and ignite so many sparks that people are really going to feel inspired,” she added. “We truly hope that the community will support us as we move into Phase II of our capital campaign, because we really cannot do it alone.”
Mass Audubon protects more than 38,000 acres of land throughout Massachusetts, saving birds and other wildlife, and making nature accessible to all. As Massachusetts' largest nature conservation nonprofit, we welcome more than a half million visitors a year to our wildlife sanctuaries and 20 nature centers. From inspiring hilltop views to breathtaking coastal landscapes, serene woods, and working farms, we believe in protecting our state's natural treasures for wildlife and for all people's vision shared in 1896 by our founders, two extraordinary Boston women.
Today, Mass Audubon is a nationally recognized environmental education leader, offering thousands of camp, school, and adult programs that get over 225,000 kids and adults outdoors every year. With more than 135,000 members and supporters, we advocate on Beacon Hill and beyond, and conduct conservation research to preserve the natural heritage of our beautiful state for today's and future generations. We welcome you to explore a nearby sanctuary, find inspiration, and get involved. Learn how at www.massaudubon.org.