The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 2, 2007


Stewardship Committee studies Carlisle's Cranberry Bog

Warren Lyman and Debbie Geltner of the Land Stewardship Committee (LSC) presented the Conservation Commission with a draft copy of their 58-page "Baseline Assessment for the Cranberry Bog" at ConsCom's February 22 meeting. This is the third, and one of the most challenging of what is slated to be a series of similar compendia for each of the town's conservation parcels.

The formidable assignment has been undertaken by 12 volunteers as groundwork for subsequent man-agement plans for each of the properties involved. Once each management blueprint has been approved by the commission, implementation will be monitored by the LSC assisted by a corps of neighborhood "stewards" who will serve as the eyes and ears of the committee and ultimately the commission.

Perusal of the Table of Contents suggests the scope of the committee's research. The six sections are titled General Description of the Property, Purchase of the Cranberry Bog, History and Current Uses, Previous Planning and other Study Documents, Maintenance and Current Condition of the Property and Problems and Issues to be Addressed in the Management Planning Process, with pertinent appendices and photographs.

Varied sources sought

At the Mosquito's request, Lyman gave some insight into the committee's approach. Convinced that an accurate history of the cultural, governmental and legal background of each conservation parcel was often critical to future planning, he and Geltner had started with the one and a half drawers of documents in the ConsCom Town Hall office. One especially fortuitous discovery among the assorted reports, charts, maps, agreements and chaff was a "History of the Chelmsford Carlisle Cranberry Bog" by Chelmsford resident Susan Pickford. Also promising were three prior management plans, including one prepared by subcommittees from the towns of Chelmsford and Carlisle, another from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Soil Conservation Service and most recently a 1995 plan developed by the current farmer and Carlisle Cranberries Inc. lessee, Mark Duffy.

Other significant sources were meeting-by-meeting minutes of Conservation Commission sessions dating from the time that possible acquisition of the Bog property became a topic of discussion, as well as issues of the Mosquito on file at the Gleason Public Library. Although reliable data on historic cranberry yields were not available, yields from 1982 to 1986 were located in records kept by the state's Cranberry Marketing Committee (CMC), which has regulatory authority to manage cranberry operations statewide and keeps accurate logs, along with Duffy's handwritten records from 1988 on. Lyman said he was particularly impressed by CMC notes that reflected the tenuous nature of cranberry growing operations, which show per barrel cranberry prices from a peak of $55 to $60 a barrel to a low of $8 per barrel in a recent year. A number of charts condensing interesting data were drafted by LSC member Tim Fohl.

Chelmsford officials contacted

Lyman reported that attempts to confer with Chelmsford officials concerning their portion of the Cranberry Bog Reservation finally bore fruit after the research team's deadline for inclusion in the draft assessment had passed. Members have since met with knowledgeable representatives from that town, particularly on matters pertaining to water sources and trail connections. Trails Committee members are already working with their counterparts in Chelmsford concerning linkages and trail signage. A higher degree of cooperation between the two towns is a goal currently being pursued by the Carlisle Board of Selectmen and ConsCom, and could well be a factor in the LSC's eventual management plans. A bit of history, which is covered in considerably more detail in the assessment, will explain the connection.

History of the town's purchase

In 1986 Town Meetings in both Carlisle and Chelmsford voted to form a Regional Conservation Management District for purchase of the 309.6 acres of Cranberry Bog property to forestall its acquisition by a developer. The 150.7-acre portion in Carlisle included the 40-acre Cranberry Bog itself, and the Chelmsford portion consisted of 158.9 acres of stream-fed woodlands and wetlands that rely on Heart Pond in Chelmsford as a major water source. Both towns applied for state Self-Help Grants to pay part of the price, $1,816,540 for Carlisle and $780,000 for Chelmsford. Unfortunately, failure of negotiations between Carlisle and the state over certain aspects of the District Management Plan approved by the two towns led to cancellation of Carlisle's funding grant, but Chelmsford received theirs. Each town then went its own way, with the result that no regional management plan was adopted.

The critical matter of Carlisle's water rights, upon which the Cranberry Bog's operations depend, rests on two pillars: the first is deeded water rights apparently conveyed when the property was purchased and more importantly on state registration of water use (131.4 million gallons a year) by Carlisle Cranberries President Mark Duffy. As a requirement of obtaining a lease for operation of the Bog from 1996 to 2016, Carlisle Cranberries Inc. agreed to an in-kind payment in lieu of rent or a percentage of income. This included operation and maintenance of the Bog, its flumes, dikes and dams; rehabilitation of currently unproductive areas; and exterior renovations of the Bog House. Carlisle Cranberries also runs a composting operation on the east side of Curve Street where a mixture of manure, peat and soil is sold.

Major features catalogued

The assessment catalogues all major features of the Bog property, both natural and man-made. Geltner reports that gathering the information entailed walking the property in all seasons and at different times of the day, adding: "While doing this we serendipitously engaged in conversations with people we met to learn how people perceived and used the property and the impact of the various fauna and flora including the invasive species." Finally she said that they had taken numerous photographs "to record the aesthetics of the parcel for posterity."

With its varied landscape, the property is home to a wide diversity of plants and animals. The state's Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program has declared areas on both sides of the street to be Core Habitat for the Blue Spotted Salamander and the Spotted Turtle. Considering birds alone, former ConsCom member and expert birder Tom Brownrigg has contributed a list of 129 species observed in the Carlisle portion of the Bog reservation and 138 in the combined Carlisle Chelmsford holdings.

Although they had not yet had time to study the document as a whole carefully enough to make final comments, several commissioners indicated areas of special interest. Commissioner Kelly Stringham inquired about coverage of the Bog House, and when Lyman revealed that the building itself had received scant analysis, Chairman Roy Watson observed that it merited closer attention and recommended that some of the issues, such as consolidation of a dual lease arrangement be explored. Lyman noted that the researchers were curious about the status of a 4H mini-bog near Curve Street that dates back to a project in the early 1990s, but is now threatened by overgrowth. Commissioners were unable to shed any light on the matter.

Finally Commissioner Tricia Smith suggested that the anticipated Management Plan stress the importance of early planning for expiration of the lease in 2016, saying that an early start might offer an opportunity for joint planning between the town and Great Brook Farm. "We should think about ways to target the market," she said. Lyman agreed, noting that if Duffy were to consider investing further in the Bog operation, he would have to know well ahead how much time he might have to realize any potential return.

2007 The Carlisle Mosquito