Every now and then, one has the good fortune to cross paths with someone truly special, someone with an unwavering commitment to do all that they can to make this world a better place – both for wildlife and for people. Such is the case in Otis, Massachusetts, where we have collaborated closely for several decades with a very generous private individual with a deep and genuine conservation ethic. What has resulted is nothing short of amazing – the future Cold Brook Wildlife Sanctuary, more than 1,000 acres of diverse habitats and intact forest located on both the east and west sides of the beautiful Farmington River.
While the accomplishments to date in knitting together this future sanctuary are indeed impressive, that progress was threatened recently when a regional landmark – Old Baldy Mountain – was scheduled to be publicly auctioned off to the highest bidder. The alarm bells went off, for conservationists and for those who reside for miles around this property. Being the highest point along this section of the river, possessing spectacular 360 degree views, and with a dirt roadway already constructed to the summit, the future of Old Baldy was suddenly quite uncertain. There was a real possibility this majestic mountain top would soon become the site of a massive trophy home, or an intensive residential subdivision.
The current edition of our own Losing Ground (Beyond the Footprint) helped us understand that such a development would have significant negative impact on in this previously highly intact natural setting – well beyond the foundations of buildings constructed on this land.
Due to the tremendous visibility of this highpoint abutting our future sanctuary, development would also permanently alter the bucolic vista from our future sanctuary – while also marring the view of this beautiful Berkshires for many miles in all directions. With a daunting projected price tag of nearly $500,000, and with very little advance notice of the auction, the quality of life of plants, animals, and humans in a wide area appeared destined to take a hit.
It has long been observed that trying times bring out the best in special people. All of us have seen that happen in different settings, and this case was no different. With the intensity ratcheting up quickly, and the stakes so very high, the amazing individual that we’ve been working with moved boldly forward to confront this threat. Working in close consultation with Mass Audubon, and with the considerable assistance of very talented legal counsel, this individual moved swiftly to acquire the property directly, preempting the dreaded public auction that was only a few days off. As if that were not enough, our partner then made the very generous decision to donate this beautiful tract to Mass Audubon – what an amazing outcome!
Clearly, this was a powerful demonstration of how one individual can make a real and lasting difference – we are all so very deeply indebted.