The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 5, 1999


O'Rourke Farm Preservation: Cause for Celebration

Themes of thanksgiving, community and partnership warmed the spirits of the 300 to 400 people gathered on a misty Saturday morning to mark the transfer of O'Rourke Farm from the town of Carlisle to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. Preservation of the Maple Street parcel is a prime example of private organizations, such as the Carlisle Land Trust and The Trust for Public Lands, working with local and federal officials to conserve increasingly rare open space. The national symbolism of the event was recognized in the presence of two distinguished guests, Senator Edward M. Kennedy and Representative Marty Meehan; the spiritual quality was suggested in literary references quoted by the three main speakers.

Kennedy remarks on partnership

In his opening remarks, Kennedy ingratiated himself with parents and other proud taxpayers by asking the Carlisle School Band and Director Tom O'Halloran to rise and take a bow for the impressive musicianship that did justice to the occasion. Later, the Senator thanked the Carlisle community for its foresight in recognizing the value of the 129 acres along the Concord River, voting the funding necessary to withhold them from development and relentlessly pursuing a cooperative solution to protect the tract in perpetuity. He contrasted the environmental situation in this part of the country with the vast expanses and natural resources of the West, saying, "We here know how precious just a few acres can be and are ready to fight to sustain them."

Referring obliquely to the current budget negotiations in Washington, Kennedy urged reinvestment in the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which was the source of the appropriations used by the Fish and Wildlife Service to purchase O'Rourke Farm. In fact, as pointed out by Carlisle keynote speaker Greg Peterson, the LWCF has been the source of "an astounding 87 percent of the combined purchase price of the Greenough Land, Foss Farm and O'Rourke Farm." Said Kennedy of the LWCF's role here, "This kind of partnership [between local and federal government] must be there for future Carlisles." He assessed the day's festivities as "a tribute to all of you here today," and confided, "It's a pleasure to represent you in the U.S. Senate."

Meehan thanks selectmen

Meehan, who is co-chairman of the Sustainable Resources Caucus in the House of Representatives, and along with Kennedy kept the O'Rourke appropriation monies moving through the congressional budget mill, thanked the selectmen and all others who helped to make "this great day" possible. He quoted the works of philosopher Wendell Berry, which celebrate the link between the soil and a sense of community. Noting, "We here are a community deeply committed to retaining the land," he found the day's events to be "much more than a dedication, but truly a celebration of community and neighborliness."

Congratulating the voters of Carlisle for their willingness to take the financial risk, Meehan recalled how "we sweated together for 18 months" as the congressional committees slowly worked toward the $1.9 million goal for purchase of O'Rourke Farm from the town. Closing with an agricultural metaphor he declared, "Today we reaped what we sowed. I'm proud to be part of this community."

Fish and Wildlife hosts

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, hosts for the festivities, were represented by geographical assistant regional director, north, Sherry Morgan. She recognized the many officers of the service, including but not limited to, resource manager Bob Oliveira and the Nicely family who now reside in the former O'Rourke farmhouse. While echoing the congratulatory themes of the other speakers, she stressed the cooperative role played by the service. Explaining that "Today we are celebrating partnerships," the kind that have resulted in a network of saved resources that stretch from Maine to Hawaii and from Florida to Alaska, she also noted the crucial role of the LWCF.

The honor of thanking all those Carlisleans who had made the joyous day possible fell to chair of the board of selectmen Doug Stevenson. After a bow to his 1997-1998 colleagues, selectmen Vivian Chaput and Michael FitzGerald, he turned to former landowners Tom and Wendy O'Rourke, who were visiting here from their new home in South Fork, Colorado"a town like Carlisle was 20 years ago," according to Tom. Stevenson thanked them for their "cooperation and patience" through the long negotiations. Singled out, among many others, were Steve Tobin and Louise Hara, who together with a crew of volunteers had laid out the six-mile trail network that was dedicated that day. Also mentioned was Tony Mariano, Sr. "who helped to save a potential water resource for the town of Carlisle." Finally, Stevenson gave special kudos to the Carlisle Land Trust and many other citizens "who put their trust in their public officials." Of the next speaker, Greg Peterson, who had spearheaded the relentless research and negotiating effort, he observed, "His name will be forever synonymous with O'Rourke Farm."

Thanks from Peterson

Peterson, in turn, reminded his audience of the unique quality of the two- by one-half-mile stretch of conservation land that comprises the Greenough property, Foss Farm and now, uniting it all, O'Rourke Farm." Asking how this dream came to be, he quoted poet Emily Dickinson:

"To make a prairie, it takes a clover

And one bee.

One clover, and a bee

And reverie."

He commented, "Thankfully, there were many bees working these fields." He started with the planning board of 1959 that included the late Farnham Smith, father of Great Brook State Park, Charles Evans', long-time planning board member, and Jack Valentine, who still farms his land on Acton Street. These were the first to articulate the dream of a great River Meadows Reservation. Remembering Carlisleans who were inspired by the same dream, he credited Ben Benfield, Will Bangs, Ken Harte, Arthur Taylor, George Bishop and Bonnie Miskolczy, "who led the town's purchase of the Greenough Land and Foss Farm in 1970." Peterson concluded, "Where so many contributed for so long to the success we celebrate here today, congratulations seem somehow inadequate. Let us simply give thanks."

At the final ceremonial scene in which Kennedy wielded the clippers to cut the tape for the new trail system, the selectmen presented the senator and congressman with a token of the town's appreciation for their "relentless work" in its behalf. Handing each of them a jar of golden Cranberry Bog honey, he invited them to "enjoy the sweet taste of success from your labors."

But perhaps after all the words of tribute, the most intriguing phrases came when Kennedy quoted a prophecy from Henry David Thoreau's book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimac Rivers:

"The road runs up to Carlisle, City of the Woods, which if it is less civil, is more the natural. It does well hold the earth together. It is a place where great men may be born any day."

1999 The Carlisle Mosquito