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View of Maple Farm Field
Maple Farm in Mendon

New $75M Catalyst Fund Helps Permanently Protect 116 Acres in Mendon

June 28, 2024

For decades, Jim and Cheri Vandersluis have been saving abused and abandoned animals at their Maple Farm property in Mendon. But now, with the help of several partners, they’ve ensured their 116 acres are permanently protected and able to be enjoyed by future generations. 

“This farm has been in Jim’s family for three generations and it’s been our dream for years to make sure it’s protected,” said Cheri, while gently petting a Chinese goose named Romeo in the couple’s front yard. “It would’ve been really easy to sell to a developer, but land preservation is so important to us. Now the next generation of nature lovers can come and learn about the outdoors.” 

Collaboration Leads to Conservation 

The farm is a beautiful mix of open fields, tranquil forest, three vernal pools, a pond and Muddy Brook that serves as habitat for state-listed threatened species like the American Brook Lamprey. Sloping hayfields give way to dense forest areas while Great Blue Herons and Red-tailed Hawks patrol the pond and perch in the trees overlooking the water. 

from L-R: Jim Vandersluis; Cheri Vandersluis; Lisa Mosczynski; Anne Mazar; Megan Gordon, Mass Audubon Land Protection Specialist
from L-R: Jim Vandersluis; Cheri Vandersluis; Lisa Mosczynski; Anne Mazar; Megan Gordon, Mass Audubon Land Protection Specialist

While the Vandersluis’ will continue to own the property and run their farm on 8.5 acres, Metacomet Land Trust (MLT) and the Town of Mendon now co-hold a conservation restriction on the remaining acres. This acquisition also connects open space that is privately owned but preserved with a conservation restriction held by the Town of Mendon on one side, and conservation land owned by the Town of Hopedale on the opposite boundary. The public will have access to these properties through trails with the VanderSluis property being the missing link to connect them. 

Land Conservation Can Span Decades 

Anne Mazar, Chairwoman of the Mendon Community Preservation Commission, and Lisa Mosczynski, president of MLT, have been working towards this outcome for more than two decades. 

In 2005, Jim and Cheri reached out to discuss placing a conservation restriction on the property to protect it from development. Despite near constant changes and various plans for the property that didn’t pan out over the years, both Mazar and Mosczynski maintained solid relationships with the couple and never gave up on their dream of working with Jim and Cheri to see the land protected. 

By 2022, developers were beating down the Vandersluis’ door with seven-figure offers. Although they could’ve cashed out, the couple decided to work with the Town and MLT on a discounted sale price that would see the land protected instead of clear cut and developed. However, despite MLT securing a Conservation Partnership grant from the Commonwealth, and the Town contributing Community Preservation Act funds towards purchase of the land, there was still a substantial financial gap preventing the finalization of the deal. 

Enter Mass Audubon and its new 30x30 Catalyst Fund

This $75 million initiative to accelerate the pace of land conservation in New England is tailor-made to assist with land deals like this one. Mass Audubon was not only able to use $175,000 as a bridge loan to the town that will eventually be repaid by a state grant, but also contributed a $200,000 gift to complete the deal. 

“Mass Audubon’s Catalyst Fund helped put us over the finish line,” Mazar said. “This could’ve easily been another subdivision, but instead we were able to close a deal that was 25 years in the making. We can’t thank Jim and Cheri, as well as all of our partners, enough.” 

Mosczynski agreed and said a deal like this often has a positive ripple effect. 

“When people see highly visible frontage lots saved after being in danger of disappearing, it reinforces the importance of the outdoors and the environment and makes land conservation a priority,” Mosczynski said. 

The Vandersluises, MLT, and the Town of Mendon volunteered copious amounts of time and effort over the past 25 years to make this deal happen. Without their hard work and enduring relationships, saving these 116 acres wouldn’t have been possible. Mass Audubon is proud to have played a role in this land conservation success story and fortunate to help leverage our 30x30 Catalyst Fund to act nimbly and make a positive and lasting impact. 

“This work cannot be done without partnership and collaboration from a multitude of sources, and we thank everyone from the landowners to our conservation partners for this important win,” said Mass Audubon’s President and CEO David O’Neill. “Ensuring municipalities and local land trusts can bring money to the table in a timely fashion is often the difference between conserving land and watching it be clear-cut or developed, and we will similarly deploy the Catalyst Fund across the Commonwealth to meet the state’s ambitious climate goals.” 

Interested in Conserving Land? 

Mass Audubon created the 30x30 Catalyst Fund to enable us to move quickly in protecting 30% of Massachusetts' land, in particular the most biodiverse and carbon-rich lands that are also at risk of development. Land trusts, cities or towns, or agencies can partner with us to leverage land protection opportunities via the Catalyst Fund.

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