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 is the largest nature-based conservation organization in New England. Founded in 1896 by two women who fought for the protection of birds, Mass Audubon carries on their legacy by focusing on the greatest challenges facing the environment today: the loss of biodiversity, inequitable access to nature, and climate change. With the help of our 140,000 members and supporters, we protect wildlife, conserve and restore resilient land, advocate for impactful environmental policies, offer nationally recognized education programs for adults and children, and provide endless opportunities to experience the outdoors at our wildlife sanctuaries. Explore, find inspiration, and take action at www.massaudubon.org.