In early 2018, Lauren Gordon—Sanctuary Director at our Oak Knoll Wildlife Sanctuary in Attleboro—asked our Director of Land Conservation, Bob Wilber, to join her for a meeting with members of the Dorrance family.
It turned out that they wanted to discuss Mass Audubon's interest in acquiring 25 acres of land they owned abutting the sanctuary.
Given that this represented an opportunity to expand a popular urban sanctuary’s footprint by more than 50%—and would likely be the last such opportunity we'd ever see—Bob was happy to join her to fully explore the possibility.
The 25-acre property was owned by Norma E. Dorrance, matriarch of the Dorrance family. She became the property’s owner upon the passing of her husband, Howard M. Dorrance, in 2014. Mrs. Dorrance was 88 years old and attended that Mass Audubon meeting with one of her sons, Steve, and one of her daughters, Susan.
She made it clear that, while she was not in a position to donate the property, she fully understood how it would so greatly enhance Oak Knoll forever. And it was quite important to her that the sanctuary have the first opportunity to purchase it.
In addition to its location abutting the sanctuary and its sizeable acreage, the property is comprised of mature, mixed deciduous forest and more than eight acres of wetlands.
Importantly, it also includes a spectacular knoll dominated by oak trees—almost certainly the geographic landscape feature for which Oak Knoll Wildlife Sanctuary is named. New England Bluet, a species of special concern in Massachusetts, is found on the property, along with several other species of conservation interest.
We commissioned an independent real estate appraisal, and Mrs. Dorrance and her family agreed to sell it to Mass Audubon for less than offers they had received from those seeking to develop the beautiful property. She signed a Purchase & Sale contract with Mass Audubon in early June 2018.
Sadly, Norma died less than a month later. While she did not live to see her property become such an important addition to Oak Knoll, her wishes were carried out by virtue of her signature on the binding real estate contract.
We—and the 20,000 people who reside within a 2-mile radius of the sanctuary—are forever indebted to her, and to the many individuals and foundations whose combined generosity made this important acquisition possible.