The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 8, 2001


Gateway to Estabrook Woods protected Middlesex School trustees, graduates disagree on Estabrook expansion

For the many Carlisleans and Concordians to whom the Estabrook Woods are an historical, environmental and cultural treasure, the past month has brought heartening news on one front and growing unease on another. The good news concerns a most generous conservation restriction that will protect Carlisle's major gateway to Harvard University's 670-acre Biological Research Preserve in The Woods. The anxiety stems from the apparent determination of the Middlesex School board of trustees to move forward with plans to expand the campus deep into Estabrook Country, if and when their motion to dismiss a citizen adjudicatory appeal against the project is successful.

Minutemen path protected

To take the good tidings first, Carlisle residents Nina Nielsen and John Baker have granted a ten-and-a-quarter acre conservation restriction (CR) on property located in both Carlisle and Concord, at the Carlisle end of the Estabrook Trail. The restriction extends to the legal center of the colonial road taken by the Carlisle Minutemen on their march to "the rude bridge that arched the flood" on April 19, 1775, and still used by their descendants to reach that bridge each Patriots Day.

This CR will correct an unanticipated problem caused in the 1970s when the Town of Carlisle voted to discontinue the ancient dirt road as a "public way." As a result, ownership of the redesignated "private way" passed to the landowners on both sides of the path up to the Carlisle/Concord town line, where it enters Harvard University territory. Since then the center of the road has marked the property line between two owners who could legally have blocked public access to The Woods at any time. This danger has now been removed by terms of the CR, which specifically state that public access to The Woods shall be maintained in perpetuity on their portion of the trail.

Two towns create legal maze

Because the CR covers three quarters of an acre in Carlisle and nine-and-a-half in Concord, the complex legal document had to be approved by the boards of selectmen in both towns following positive recommendations from their respective conservation commissions. Next it traveled to the state Department of Environmental Protection for their okay and finally was recorded at the Registries of Deeds for both North and South Middlesex. Surveying costs were borne by the Carlisle Conservation Foundation, while paperwork was shepherded through the legal maze by the non-profit Trustees of Reservations, who hold the CR, Sarah Brophy and the volunteer expediter of Estabrook Country CRs, Ken Harte.

The Nielsen/Baker donation covers two lots, one of which fronts on Kibbe Place, across the street from a 4.2-acre CR recorded by Art and Lee Milliken in 1998. The lot would have been eminently buildable had the donors chosen to leave that option open. The other part of the parcel includes the existing residence, barn and pond, and shares a short boundary with land held by Middlesex School.

Sculpture in the woods

Although a landowner granting this type of CR retains ownership of the property, but precludes further development by himself or future owners, most CRs contain a few specified exemptions. In this case the donors, who own an art gallery on Newbury Street in Boston and display massive outdoor sculpture on the property, have reserved the right to add new items to the collection and to build a sauna at the pond. It is also clear that the public access clause applies to the Estabrook Trail only and not to the remainder of the property.

Athletic fields now, more later

In juxtaposition to the welcome news about the Estabrook trailhead is concern among Middlesex School students, faculty members and alumni groups, as well as local and state environmentalists, about the immediate future of 70 acres of undeveloped woodland where the school's Trustees are planning to develop soccer fields, tennis courts and a sports shelter, all to be reached by a 300-foot bridge, 30 feet wide, with an eight-inch sewer pipe "for possible future development." This final clause could eventually apply to an additional 49-acre upland that the school agreed to leave undeveloped for 20 years, in a 1997 mediated agreement with a reluctant Concord Natural Resources Commission.

Graduates side with salamander

Carlisle graduates from this centennial year class at Middlesex report that over 90 percent of their class signed a "Save the Estabrook Woods" petition calling on the Trustees to reconsider their announced plans. The class later entered the graduation ceremonies wearing green pins decoratedwith salamanders, and the valedictorian Alex Padilla of New Haven, Connecticut began his speech by explaining the significance of the pins with their obvious reference to the endangered blue-spotted salamanders recently added to the list of rare species present in the wetland slated to be spanned by the bridge.

Aroused by the fact that the school has scheduled a panel discussion on the Trustee's plans during this weekend's centennial celebrations without including representatives of organizations opposed to them, members of an alumni organization identified as "Middlesex Graduates for Estabrook"and drawn from classes going back to 1948, E-mailed nearly 2000 fellow graduates asking them to help convince the Trustees that "The Estabrook Woods are one of the school's most important educational and recreational assets."

In a June 2 meeting at the Emerson Umbrella in Concord attended by Bonnie and Gabor Miskolczy, as parents of a Middlesex graduate, local members of the alumni group laid final plans for a strong presence at the centennial celebration, where they will lead guided tours and hand out materials explaining both the Trustee's plans and what they regard as reasonable alternatives. Heavily quoted by both students and opposition alumni is a recently found quote in an Alumni Bulletin signed by former Middlesex headmaster Lawrence (Monk) Terry in the early 1960's when Harvard University, Middlesex, the Concord town fathers, environmental organizations and many area residents united to raise the money for Harvard to buy land in Estabrook and establish a biological research area while protecting the largest tract of undeveloped land within Route 495. Wrote Terry:

"Of tremendous interest to biologists and laymen alike is the exciting proposal to establish the woodland on the other side of the pond [Bateman's Pond] as a wildlife sanctuary The Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology and the Town Conservation Commission of Concord are working with the School to try to make this dream come true, and in the studio at the top of Eliot we are preparing a contour map of the whole 1400 acres under consideration. In time we hope to see our older students helping college graduates with research projects centered on these woods. Surely the grandsons of boys now in School will rejoice to live beside this quiet, protected area."

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