Dan Cheever: The Power of One

Dan Cheever

Dan Cheever fondly remembers spending summers at his grandparents’ house on Great Neck in Wareham, exploring the forest and swimming in the ocean. “This is where I spent the summers as a child, and it was the same for my grandfather, my father, and my own children.” As an adult, he moved around the country quite a bit. But when he longed for home, he thought back to summers at Great Neck. After decades of being far from Wareham, he and his wife, Sue, moved back to Great Neck to live on the land that has been in his family for generations.

(Sacred) Hearts in the right place

Sacred Hearts Healing Center, a religious retreat center on Great Neck, owns 110 acres adjacent to land owned by Mass Audubon on one side and the Cheever family on the other. The Healing Center, which uses their land as a place for people to connect with nature physically and spiritually, began talking with Mass Audubon to explore conservation options in 2006.

When a developer unexpectedly appeared with an offer to buy a portion of the Sacred Hearts land at a price that could likely never be matched by conservation interests, the urgency of the conservation initiative was jolted to a new level. While Sacred Hearts had a true interest in permanently protecting their beautiful property, the value of their land–and the very real opportunities before them–could no longer be ignored.

The Great Neck Conservation Partnership–comprised of Mass Audubon, the Wareham Land Trust, The State Department of Conservation and Recreation, and the Town of Wareham–was formed and a conservation proposal to Sacred Hearts was laid on the table. The price offered was considerable, but fell far short of the developer’s offer. The reality became quite clear: the developer would prevail unless significant additional funds could be directed to the conservation effort.

In walks Dan Cheever

The need for prompt and aggressive private fundraising was discussed by Bob Wilber, Mass Audubon’s Director of Land Protection, and Dan Cheever, Great Neck resident and Sacred Hearts’ neighbor. The two also discussed the possibility of Dan and his neighbors donating CRs on their land if the Sacred Hearts property was protected–both to encourage that outcome, and to enhance the odds of obtaining a large federal grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA).

Ten days after Bob and Dan spoke, Dan called Bob to relay the amazing news: he had successfully led the charge with his neighbors to raise more than $1.5 million, as well as securing pledges to conserve their own lands as part of a broader, more compelling conservation outcome.

The grant proposal submitted to NOAA was ranked the number one new project in the U.S., and those funds, combined with Dan’s fundraising, were sufficient to finally protect the beautiful and diverse Sacred Hearts land.

Obsessive, compulsive, and very focused

Great Neck Ribbon Cutting

When I asked Dan what enabled him to play such an active role in leading his neighbors, he stifled a laugh before saying: “some would say I’m obsessive, compulsive, and control-driven. I’d prefer to say that I’m very, very focused. I look at a complicated problem and I see where we need to be in a year from now. Then I work toward that.” Dan Cheever’s focus, energy, and wonderfully positive attitude made a difference, and thanks to his help the conservation of nearly 300 acres fronting on Buzzards Bay is becoming a reality.

Culminating several years of effort, on November 21st, 2010, Dan Cheever stood beside representatives of the organizations of the Great Neck Conservation Partnership at the ribbon cutting for Mass Audubon’s 50th wildlife sanctuary prepared for public visitation–the Great Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, a landscape cherished by the Cheever family since 1870.