How a Community Came Together to Protect 700 Acres
Mass Audubon recently partnered with Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust and 12 landowners to protect over 700 acres in the Greater Gales Brook Conservation Project. This project shows the success of a collaborative, locally-driven community effort to conserve the landscapes of Massachusetts.
A Community Coming Together
The Greater Gales Brook Conservation Project started in 2020 when longtime Warwick resident Alan Berman suggested applying for a state Landscape Partnership grant that requires a minimum of 500 acres, even offering some of his own land to start the process.
Mary Williamson, a resident of Warwick and a member of the Conservation Commission and the Forest Committee, was also familiar with the Landscape Partnership grant and agreed with Alan’s suggestion that we apply. Mary knows much about unprotected open space in Warwick and she has worked closely with Mount Grace for many years.
Mass Audubon reached out to Sarah Wells at Mount Grace, who had prior experience with Landscape Partnership grants and extensive local knowledge of potential parcels and landowners. Alan and Mary met regularly with Mount Grace and Mass Audubon for more than a year to identify properties and landowners who might participate.
Among the people brought into the project are Leanne and Timothy Limoges, who were excited to protect the land that they loved and cherished for their children and future generations, and Lisa Freitag, who was drawn to the idea of knowing that bobcats, like the ones in her backyard, would always be able to live and roam there.
Why Protecting This Land Matters
Once called “the best trout stream in Massachusetts” by famous Boston Red Sox player Ted Williams, the Millers River is a 52.1-mile-long river that runs through the Greater Gales Brook landscape and joins the Connecticut River just downstream from Millers Falls, Massachusetts.
Yet, decades of polluted run-off from industrial waste made the river un-fishable and un-swimmable into the 1970s. In the years since, a concerted restoration effort brought back an array of wildlife including an insect population that sustains and fortifies the fishery (Rainbow and brown trout).
Protection of these undeveloped acres in Western Massachusetts conserves important natural resources and helps the towns of Orange, Warwick, and Royalston meet their goals of protecting open space. Specifically, this conservation project will:
- Protect vital waterways and habitats
- Expand wildlife corridors and increase climate resilience
- Safeguard flood water storage areas
- Ensure continued carbon storage
Creating More Access to Nature
One of Mass Audubon’s goals outlined in our Action Agenda is protecting and restoring resilient landscapes, and the Greater Gales project does just that. Almost every property proposed in this initiative will feature some level of public access, with new potential parking available on at least four properties.
Three new trails, ranging between 0.3 and 2.1 miles each, have been planned by a dedicated local trails group that is committed to creating and stewarding these trails now that the land is protected. There is also potential to develop spur trails or new access points to the New England Scenic Trail and the 22-mile Tully Trail.
The Town of Warwick was ready to pitch in as a partner in the project. They accepted ownership of 53 acres at a special Town Meeting, agreeing to conserve the property in perpetuity and dedicate it as a town forest. These 53 acres sit adjacent to Mass Audubon’s Brush Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, which is currently not prepared for the public to visit. Thanks to the Town of Warwick’s action, we can create parking, trails, and access to this sanctuary.
All 13 parcels in the Greater Gales Brook Conservation Project abut existing conserved land and directly enhances the contiguity and ecological function of their biodiverse ecosystems. They provide protection of multiple streams and rivers, conservation of habitats for plants and animals, a continuation of carbon storage areas to fight climate change, and preservation of natural spaces during extreme weather events.
This success story was made possible by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the participation of both public and private partners, the generosity of donors, and the interest of the landowners in conserving their property. Thank you to everyone involved as well as all of Mass Audubon’s members and donors—without you, initiatives like the Greater Gales Conservation Project wouldn’t happen.