Mass Audubon, Conservation Partners Team Up to Protect Central Massachusetts Treasure
Michael P. O'Connor
LINCOLN, MA—Three conservation organizations have announced the launch of a $650,000 fundraising campaign to complete the purchase and protection of the 352-acre Sibley and Warner farms in Spencer.
The Central Massachusetts gem has been the focus of a sustained effort involving the local Common Ground Land Trust, the Greater Worcester Land Trust, and Mass Audubon, as well as the town of Spencer and several state agencies and grant programs. Once threatened by development plans that included a shopping center and 300-unit condo development, the property is now just one step away from permanent conservation and enjoyment by the public.
In December, the town of Spencer voted to invest $700,000 in the property’s protection. The Massachusetts Agricultural Preservation Restriction Program, which buys development rights on farmland, committed $350,000. Just before Christmas, the state awarded a $1.21 million Landscape Partnership grant to the project.
The $2.26 million in commitments leave supporters just $650,000 short of the $2.91 million needed to acquire and protect the property. The group has until May 1 to raise the funds; its option to purchase the property expires in June.
“This is a fabulous property and a terrific opportunity,” said Laura Johnson, President of Mass Audubon, New England’s largest conservation organization. “Farm fields, upland forests, streams, ponds, and marshes –this land has everything. To have the opportunity to protect a property of this size and character for this price is a bargain, and we’re all hoping it’s an opportunity we can seize.”
“The Sibley and Warner farms are identified in Spencer’s Open Space and Recreation Plan as the highest priority Heritage Landscape property needing preservation,” noted Ginny Scarlet, Treasurer of Common Ground Land Trust. “This opportunity is not one to pass up and, thanks to the partnership, we have a real chance at success. For land like this and for the good of the community, you can’t not go for it!”
If the campaign is successful, most of the property will be owned and managed by the Greater Worcester Land Trust.
Colin Novick, executive director of the nonprofit organization that protects conservation land in the greater Worcester area, added, “The Sibley and Warner Farms, and protecting them forever, are simply too important for us as a community to let slip by. These forests and fields are not just critical locally or even regionally, but they are of statewide importance. This project is ‘all hands on deck’ and we need individuals, businesses, and organizations to step forward to ensure that we do not miss this once in a lifetime opportunity."
The remainder of the property, approximately 25 acres, will be added to Mass Audubon’s adjacent Burncoat Pond Wildlife Sanctuary. Burncoat Pond features two miles of mostly wooded trails, ranging from easy to moderate, allowing for a wide range of wildlife viewing.
A new parking lot and trails for visitors will be created to provide access to both properties. The land will be open for a variety of public uses that may include hiking, nature study, hunting, and fishing.
Two long-distance trails cross the property: the Mid-State Trail, a footpath extending from Rhode Island to New Hampshire; and the main loop trail of the Snowbirds Snowmobile Club, which passes north of Mass Audubon’s acreage. The farm fields will be leased to a local farmer who has been haying them for many years.
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.