The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 7, 2006


Hard work pays off for Carlisle's OS&R committee

The seven members of Carlisle's Open Space and Recreation (OS&R) Committee can heave a sigh of relief; the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has given "preliminary approval" to the committee's 150-page OS&R Plan. This action qualifies the town to receive matching funds for acquisition of land earmarked for conservation, recreation or agriculture.

As important as it is to satisfy state funding requirements, the Carlisle team's hefty compilation of data, accomplishments and community goals also serves as an invaluable resource for town boards and reinforces their determination to fulfill declared goals. Finally, it is a treasure trove for citizens wanting to participate in community activities or just get to know their town a little bit better.

Although, as anticipated, the communication from the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs contained suggestions for additional items to be included in the final version, the letter was highly complimentary to the Carlisle team. To quote Self-Help Coordinator Melissa Cryan, "This plan was particularly thoroughand will allow the town to participate in Division of Conservation Services rounds through March 2011The town has done a great job."

The purpose of the Plan as stated in the introduction is "to help Carlisle identify its current resources, both physical and cultural, and to enable it to clarify its goals in the areas of open space, conservation, and active and passive recreation." To accomplish that purpose, it first presents a snapshot of the town as it exists today and identifies the growth and development patterns that have characterized Carlisle's past as well as the pressures, internal and external, that are shaping its future. As the title suggests, the primary goals it seeks to facilitate are fourfold: 1) to maintain the rural aspect of Carlisle; 2) to protect the town's natural environment; 3) to meet the population's recreational needs; 4) to manage land use proactively.

Carlisle has long history of conservation

Of interest to newcomers are the sections that indicate how these overall goals, together with a number of complementary objectives for implementing them, have evolved over the past 85 years. The story begins with a salute to our forbears, who as early as 1923 to 1925 had the foresight to reserve 81 acres of what had been the Town Poor Farm as a Town Forest.

From 1968 to 1986, town officials and other community leaders headed a consistent effort, supported by two-thirds majorities at a series of Town Meetings, to acquire and protect hundreds of acres of open space. Then and later, governmental and private organizations cooperated to encourage and facilitate decisions by private landowners to put portions of their holdings into permanent Conservation Restrictions (CRs). This legal process enabled them to retain ownership of their properties, enjoy a number of tax advantages and protect treasured vistas for posterity. That impetus has been maintained, though at a slowing pace as the price of land has escalated. The total protected open space has been supplemented by large commonwealth and federal reservations until, at present, it comprises 33 percent of Carlisle's 9913 acres. The Plan inventories and briefly describes each town property and then in striking appendices offers trail guides and ten historical and natural resource maps that use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology to define our natural resources. As Plan Committee Chair Steve Spang emphasizes, "We owe a tremendous debt to our predecessors for the natural wealth Carlisleans enjoy today."

The committee credits the town's sustained effort to solicit community input from 1974 to the present. During the 20 years starting in 1974, four questionnaires were sent out asking about the kind of community townspeople envisioned. In 1992 and 1993, the Planning Board held Community Planning Days at which consultants facilitated group discussions, and a summary of the results was accepted at the 1993 Town Meeting. In 1995 the recommendations were codified in a Study Plan for the Town of Carlisle, followed in March 2003 by a Community Planning Day where attendees were asked to choose seven priorities from approximately 90 topics. When the specific priorities were grouped into six general categories, the majority of votes went to open space, rural and agricultural aspects and water quality.

First OS&R Plan in 1979

As for the OS&R document itself, it has a parallel history. The first version was prepared in 1979 under the direction of the late Carlisle resident and professional planner, Kay Kulmala. It was revised in 1987, 1994 and 2000 to fulfill the changing requirements of the Commonwealth's specifications for OS&R compendia. The present version notes a rather subtle change of emphasis, i.e.: "The argument needs to be reframed from protecting each parcel against development at all costs (each parcel having its own supporting interest groups led by abutters) to what is the best way to manage a town's assets as a whole, to direct growth most effectively for the overall environmental and social health of the town." In pursuit of that approach, the document presents enhanced goals and objectives as the town moves into 2006 as follows:

The current OS&R team expended considerable effort toward strengthening regional cooperation for
attainment of common objectives. Spang reports "very positive exchanges" with commissions in neighboring towns that are eager to explore ways in which they might assist each other. "We can make a far larger footprint if we work together on such projects as a Carlisle/Bedford/Billerica river loop along both sides of the Concord River," projected an enthusiastic OS&R chairman. Other possibilities might include linkage of trails in the Benfield lands with those through bordering lands in Acton, or continued cooperation with Concord in protection of the Greater Estabrook Woods. On an even larger scale, Carlisle might become a more active member of the Middlesex Advisory Group on Interlocal Coordination (MAGIC), a group that meets monthly to discuss issues of common concern. Open space protection has been a major focus of that sub-region..

This summary of the broad historical, social and environmental aspects of the OS&R report is only half the story. The second half will be covered in terms of long-range project priorities and in concrete five-year action plans submitted by the Conservation Commission, Recreation Commission, Planning Board,, Board of Health, Trails Committee, Council on Aging, Pedestrian and Bike Safety Committee and, yes, Finance Committee. This is the assignment for next week's issue of the newspaper, but first it is high time to credit the dramatis personae of the two-year project:

· Chairman — Steve Spang

· Demographics and document format — Dave Freedman

· Overall editor — Mary Zoll

· General writing and editing — ConsCom member Diane Troppoli

· Advisor on land protection legislation — ConsCom member Roy Watson

· Portfolio artiste extraordinaire — Phyllis Hughes (pen and ink drawings for cover and 18 dividers)

· Administrative advisor — Conservation Administrator Sylvia Willard.

· And Susan Emmons, who with Betsy Fell authored the 1994 and 2000 OS&R Plans, helped the year 2005 team get their bearings.

2006 The Carlisle Mosquito