Partnership Including Mass Audubon Saves Sibley Farm in Spencer
Michael P. O'Connor
LINCOLN, MA—The Sibley Farm Conservation Partnership, consisting of Mass Audubon, Common Ground Land Trust, and the Greater Worcester Land Trust, has announced the purchase of the Sibley and Warner Farms in Spencer from Digital Federal Credit Union (DCU) for $2.3 million.
The purchase culminates a year-long effort to preserve the 350-acre property—once slated for development—for conservation, agriculture, and recreation.
The Partnership began its work last summer when an option was negotiated with DCU, which had acquired the property by foreclosure. Help was enlisted from the state’s Agricultural Preservation Restriction Program and Landscape Partnership Program. Spencer Town Meeting voted overwhelmingly to dedicate $700,000 to the preservation effort.
The last hurdle was raising the final $650,000 from the public. As of Friday, June 1, the total stood at $624,000, with just $26,000 to go. With deadlines approaching, the partnership agreed to proceed, confident that generous donors will contribute to close the gap.
“When we started last summer, most people didn’t give us much of a chance,” Mass Audubon President Laura Johnson said. “But we were convinced this was a great opportunity, and if we could reach out to enough people, they would rally to the cause and work with us to succeed. This is a great day for Spencer and for all those who love the outdoors.”
“This beautiful piece of property is such a great community resource right in the middle of Worcester County, and is accessible to so many citizens,” Jan Parke, President of Common Ground Land Trust stated. “Common Ground Land Trust is privileged to have been a part of this partnership. “We still need funds, and hope generous people who haven’t donated yet will contribute now and help put us over the top.”
The fundraising campaign received an invaluable boost last week with a $100,000 pledge from Arthur and Martha Pappas of Auburn. Pappas, a prominent physician and Auburn native, worked summers on the Sibley Farm to help pay for his Harvard education.
“During that time, I learned to appreciate the natural beauty and environs of Sibley Farm,” Dr. Pappas recalled. “Through the donation my wife, Martha, and I are making, we hope to give future generations an opportunity similar to mine, that they, too, may come to know and appreciate the natural beauty of Sibley Farm."
The end result is that 325 acres are now owned by the Greater Worcester Land Trustand will be open for a variety of uses, including hiking, hunting, fishing, and walking dogs on leash. The Snowbirds snowmobile trail has been secured in a permanent easement.
"The Sibley Farm is an amazing public resource, with each visit revealing new treasures, and the Greater Worcester Land Trust is humbled to serve as one of the guardians of this truly singular place,” Executive Director Colin Novick said. “We are also deeply thankful to Martha and Arthur Pappas, the McDonough and Sibley families and to more than 300 other donors whose financial commitments, together with those of the Town of Spencer and the Commonwealth, have made this possible.”
Spencer Town Administrator Adam Gaudette said, “The protection of this land is a wonderful step in protecting the agricultural and environmental character of this great community. The citizens of Spencer were very fortunate that the town had very capable partners in Mass Audubon, the Greater Worcester Land Trust, and Common Ground Land Trust. Much of the success for this preservation initiative goes to those partners.”
The southern 25 acres of the property are now owned by Mass Audubon and will become the main entrance to its adjacent Burncoat Pond Wildlife Sanctuary.
Permanent restrictions guaranteeing that the entire property will never be developed and will always remain open to the public are held by the town, Common Ground Land Trust, and the state’s farmland preservation program.
Work will begin soon to prepare the property for public use. Plans this summer call for demolition of the buildings on the former Warner farm. A parking lot will be constructed; an orientation area and trailhead kiosk installed, and trails improved. A formal opening and celebration are planned for the fall.
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.