Pawtucket Farm: From Christmas Tree Farm to Wildlife Sanctuary
January 12, 2024
It sounds a little like the plot of a Hallmark movie, only this love affair is between a community and nature.
A historic Christmas tree farm was officially saved from development over the holidays by a group of local partners who wouldn’t rest until Lowell had a green space residents can be involved with forever. The property, formerly known as Rollie’s Farm, is now Pawtucket Farm Wildlife Sanctuary thanks to a $15 million joint initiative including Mass Audubon, the City of Lowell, Lowell Parks & Conservation Trust, and Mill City Grows.
Those partners and a handful of special guests celebrated the official acquisition and name change at a January 11 event on the 20-acre property, gathering on the spot that will eventually house an education center, community farm, and farmstand.
The chill in the air belied the warm smiles all around as project partners, elected officials, and others stood in the pine forest and reviewed the design and plans for the property.
Renata Pomponi, Mass Audubon’s Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives, welcomed the crowd while Mass Audubon Board Chair Beth Kressley Goldstein highlighted the importance of the project by calling access to nature a “fundamental underpinning of an equitable society.” Ali Jacobs, Co-Executive Director of Mill City Grows, said the community gardens planned for the site will help Lowellians with food insecurity.
State Representatives Rodney Elliott and Vanna Howard spoke of the important role green space plays in the community and credited Jane Calvin, Executive Director of the Lowell Parks & Conservation Trust, with being a guiding force that brought this project to fruition. Lowell City Manager Thomas Golden was the final speaker before tours of the property began.
People were able to walk much of the 20 acres and some folks even came with telescopes for birding purposes and were rewarded when a hawk flew overhead.
Providing Access to Nature
In a densely populated area like Lowell, increasing access to nature and connecting people to nature in their city is a challenging but crucial opportunity.
The City used Lowell’s Community Preservation Fund to help defray the purchase price. Mass Audubon will own the property and manage it, subject to a conservation restriction granted jointly to the City of Lowell and Lowell Parks & Conservation Trust. Mill City Grows will establish a variety of programs including urban agriculture, community gardens, a food forest, farm stand, and more.
Although fundraising is still ongoing for the development of trails and facilities with a public opening slated for late-2024, the community has been instrumental in the design process from the beginning, providing input via nine community meetings offered in four languages.
That feedback helped inspire a plan to prioritize working farmland and restore much of the property to its natural, forested landscape. It also includes a nature center, farm stand, universally accessible All Persons Trail, nature play area, and public programs that could include summer camps, gardening and cooking classes, and bird and nature walks.
The environmental benefits of this conserved land overlooking the Merrimack River include expanding the tree canopy to absorb greenhouses gases and minimizing the urban heat island effect, reducing stormwater runoff, preserving a crucial wildlife corridor, and restoring habitat for birds and other wildlife.
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