The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 27, 2008

Land Stewards help ConsCom maintain Carlisle’s landscape

Carlisle residents are blessed with beautiful surroundings and many admit to moving to town for its rural character. Open spaces, trails and conservation land contribute to this rural feel. According to the town web site,, over 30% of the 15.4 square miles of land in Carlisle is under some sort of conservation protection. Who maintains this land? Who determines the ways in which it can be used and who can use it? Who inspects the property and makes plans for its protection or improvement? Although some large tracts such as Great Brook Farm State Park (roughly 1,000 acres managed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts), Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge (321 acres in Carlisle managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) and Estabrook Woods (95 acres in Carlisle owned by Harvard University) are managed by outside groups, much of the other protected acreage is the responsibility of the Conservation Commission (ConsCom).


In 2004, the ConsCom appointed an ad-hoc Land Stewardship Planning Committee to determine the most effective way to maintain conservation parcels. At the time, the town owned conservation restrictions on 29 parcels of conservation land totaling 1,068 acres. After surveying the methods used in neighboring towns, the planning group determined that maintenance of these properties presented a significant challenge to the ConsCom in light of its many other responsibilities. In October of 2005 the ConsCom established the Land Stewardship Committee (LSC) as a subcommittee to assist the ConsCom in managing town-owned conservation land.


According to its web site, the purpose of the LSC is “to protect and maintain the natural and cultural resources being preserved on these parcels, including wildlife habitat, water and forest resources, scenic vistas, as well as historic structures and their related cultural values.”

Among its many responsibilities, the LSC is tasked with providing a baseline assessment and a management plan for each of the conservation parcels owned by the town. In addition, the LSC actively encourages townspeople to become involved in protecting conservation properties by becoming land stewards.

Baseline Assessments

A baseline assessment is a collection of information about each land parcel. This includes the history of the parcel, how it was acquired, its current use and its natural and cultural features. According to Conservation Administrator Sylvia Willard, “The baseline is a chance to gather all of the information on a particular property in one place. The research is done by members of the LSC. They go through files here in the Town Hall, read town histories, do library research and talk to neighbors and former residents – anyone who knows anything about the parcel. A lot of people who know about these properties are retiring and moving out of town. We need to get this information before it’s gone.”

Baseline surveys are compiled by members of the LSC, and then presented to the entire committee for comments and approval. The baseline assessment is then sent to the ConsCom. Willard notes that many of the assessments are long. “LSC members are hard-working people. They do a great job. This is really a lot of work. Information about the Cranberry Bog alone fills 1 ½ file drawers in the ConsCom office.” Once the ConsCom reviews and approves the baseline assessment, copies are made available at the Town Hall, the library and on the LSC section of the town web site. The baseline is then used to develop a management plan for the parcel.

Management plans

Using the approved baseline document, the LSC, with input from other town committees and the public, drafts a plan to manage the parcel. The management plan outlines methods for maintaining the property and proposals for improvements. The proposed plan is then presented at a public hearing for approval.

Once the plan is approved, the LSC asks for townspeople to become stewards of that property. This is usually done by posting a notice on the wooden kiosk at the particular property. Interested residents contact the LSC. Once officially appointed by the committee, stewards serve in a variety of ways, such as monitoring for invasive species, cleaning and maintaining birdhouses, cleaning trash and keeping the LSC apprised of any changes or problems on the land.

Status of conservation parcels

According to Willard, the LSC has begun its work by concentrating on larger parcels. The Fox Hill parcel was assessed during the LSPC planning period, and was used as an example to understand how the process would work. Baseline assessments are also complete for the Davis Corridor/Malcolm Land, Cranberry Bog, Towle Land and Foss Farm (see Carlisle Mosquito, June 20). Drafts are in process for the Town Forest and for the Greenough Land. Baseline work has just begun on the Benfield Land/Bisbee Land. Management Plans are in place for Fox Hill and for the Davis Corridor/Malcolm Land.

Residents who would like to help preserve Carlisle’s rural character by protecting conservation land can contact members of the LSC to volunteer as land stewards.

Willard also notes, “If there is anyone out there who would like to provide information about any parcel of conservation land, please contact the LSC.” Willard recounted a situation that came up during the baseline assessment of the Towle Land. “LSC members were trying to find out about rows of maple trees on the land. It was later determined, during an unrelated conversation with a town resident (George Bishop), that the Boy Scouts had planted the trees. Any information about any conservation parcel, particularly concerning the history or prior use, would be very helpful.” ∆

© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito