Woman holding binoculars Join today and get outside at one of our 60+ wildlife sanctuaries.
Woman holding binoculars Join today and get outside at one of our 60+ wildlife sanctuaries.
Trees in a field at Pawtucket Farm

Protecting Pawtucket Farm in Lowell

January 11, 2024

When Rollie Perron and his family decided it was time to sell their 20-acre Christmas tree farm—the last one in Lowell—they hoped it might be possible to benefit the community.

Others hoped so, too, and now that hope is well on the way to being a reality.

In December 2023, Mass Audubon completed its purchase of the former Rollie’s Farm property in Lowell, protecting the farm in perpetuity for the public to enjoy.

The project to create the Pawtucket Farm Wildlife Sanctuary is a driven by a partnership between Mass Audubon, the City of Lowell, Lowell Parks & Conservation Trust, and Mill City Grows. Now that the land acquisition is final, the property will become a wildlife sanctuary and education center that brings the benefits of nature and community farming to an urban setting.  

Pawtucket Farm is one the first open space projects to use funds from Lowell’s Community Preservation Fund, created in 2019. Mass Audubon will own the property and manage it collaboratively with the three partner organizations, subject to a conservation restriction granted jointly to the City of Lowell and Lowell Parks & Conservation Trust. Mill City Grows, a city-based food justice organization, plans to establish a variety of community agriculture and food access programs at the farm.

Pawtucketville Farm aerial plan with building labels

Community Engagement

Centering the needs and desires of the surrounding community in the design process for Pawtucket Farm has been a priority from the start: we hosted nine community meetings in four languages, providing a forum for Lowell residents and organizations to shape the programming and research to come. That is, if we are successful in raising the funds necessary to open the property to the public. 

What Makes This Land Special

Open greenspace is increasingly a rare commodity in Massachusetts’ urban cities; Lowell ranks 304 out of 351 towns in Massachusetts in percentage of protected open space. The opportunity to add a parcel of this size is unlikely to come around again. Preserving this land resonates strongly with the goals of Mass Audubon’s Action Agenda through our through our Nature in the City initiative. It will: 

  • Restore a natural forested landscape, significantly expanding the tree canopy and the amount of greenhouse gases it can absorb and cooling it can provide. 
  • Reduce stormwater runoff to the neighborhood and the Merrimack River (less than 1,000 feet away) in the future. If not preserved, the land would likely have been developed with extensive pavement and impervious surfaces that make the surrounding area more vulnerable to the impacts of extreme weather events, such as flooding.
  • Preserve a functional wildlife corridor between the adjacent 1,100-acre state forest and the river. 
  • Increase access to nature by creating an ADA-accessible All Persons Trail featuring multi-sensory interpretive materials. 
  • Expand farm and environmental education programs, as well as recreational opportunities such as gardening and wildlife viewing. 

Vision for the Future

The partners’ plan for Pawtucket Farm includes ecological restoration of the former Christmas tree farm; establishing a working farmland that includes a farm stand, food forest, and community gardens; and building a nature center that offers educational programming. Together, we will create a vibrant neighborhood destination accessible by bike, car, and city bus.

By protecting and managing Pawtucket Farm, we will broaden the ways we are able to connect people to nature in the city: accessible trails, a summer camp, field research opportunities for high school and college-aged students, and programs for families and adults.

Making an Investment

We have a lot of exciting work ahead of us!  The three partners have committed, together, to raise the resources for Pawtucket Farm. In addition, Mass Audubon has committed to providing a team that facilitates our programming, makes the Nature Center available for community use, and ensures a sustainable relationship to Lowell for decades to come. The required investment is as follows. 

  • $4,500,000 - land acquisition Complete
  • $2,500,000 - restoration plan, trail improvements, parking area and signage, technical and design support
  • $6,000,000 – Building a shared Discovery Center and improving current facilities
  • $2,000,000 - seed support for staff (across all three partner organizations)
  • $15,000,000 - TOTAL

Mass Audubon has committed to raising at least $9 million of this total. Now that the land acquisition is complete, our most immediate goal is to raise the $2.5 million required to open the property to the public by late 2024. We’re excited (and hope you are too!) about the opportunity to increase equitable and inclusive access to nature in Lowell. You can help make this happen with a gift today. To learn more about our project, please email us.