The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, July 30, 2010

Carlisle Conservation Foundation: 50 years of land preservation

CCF sponsored a sheep herding demonstration at Towle Field on September
24, 2004. (Photo by Ellen Huber)

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Carlisle Conservation Foundation (CCF), a non-profit organization dedicated to maintaining the rural character of Carlisle and to preserving its natural beauty and wildlife habitats. Beginning with its first land purchase in July of 1960, the foundation has facilitated the protection of hundreds of acres of land in Carlisle.

The CCF is an all-volunteer organization with no office and no staff. It has 18 board members, many of whom have legal or engineering backgrounds or knowledge of the local land and trails. According to CCF president Sally Swift, its main mission is to preserve open space. To do this, the group works proactively with the owners of significant or important tracts of land. Rarely does the CCF buy land outright. Instead it often provides planning, surveying and legal advice resulting in a land-preservation solution that benefits both the landowner and the town.

Unlike most other conservation organizations in town, the CCF is a private entity. For this reason it is able to respond quickly to protect land as it becomes available. Several times over the last 50 years, this ability to act quickly has allowed the foundation to exercise options on land, allowing the parcel to be held until the town can vote on its purchase at Town Meeting.

In addition to purchasing or facilitating the purchase of land, other principal activities of the CCF include managing protected land, monitoring conservation restrictions (CR), community outreach and education, public advocacy and fundraising to support these efforts.

Early history

The CCF was incorporated in July 1960 by a small group of volunteers who wished to preserve Carlisle’s natural resources. The group planned to purchase land which it would leave undeveloped to provide refuge for wildlife, to protect the local drinking water supply and to provide land for future public use. Its first action was to purchase and preserve a 25-acre parcel along the Spencer Brook. Two years later the foundation purchased a contiguous six-acre parcel. Thus the 31-acre Spencer Brook Reservation became the first of several properties owned and maintained by the CCF.

The group was modeled after the Sudbury Valley Trustees and for many years focused on the study of local natural resources, hosting educational presentations by representatives of the Audubon Society or local universities. To ensure the continued opportunity to study the local flora and fauna, the group determined that it was necessary to protect the land. According to the April 1962 newsletter, “The long range success of our organization depends on a widespread and active membership and a gradual acquisition of land.” Members were encouraged to “find new members and land.”

CCF supports education, outreach

Recognizing the importance of environmental education, each year the CCF provided funds to send several boys to the Junior Conservation Camp. By the early 1970s the foundation expanded its youth training program, sending two girls to the Audubon Society Camp.

Over the last 50 years, the CCF has partnered with other groups on a variety of outreach and education projects. In the 1990s the foundation worked with The Trustees of Reservations to create a handicapped access trail at the Malcolm Preserve. This crushed-stone trail is maintained by both CCF and The Trustees of Reservations.

Another major project took place over a four year period: the foundation, Minuteman National Park and the Carlisle Conservation Commission implemented a study to test the feasibility of using sheep grazing as a process to control poison ivy and invasive vegetation on conservation land. This project involved grazing on both the Spencer Brook Reservation and Towle Field.

Land protection

CCF protects almost 650 acres through ownership or conservation restrictions. In addition to the Spencer Brook Reservation, over the past 50 years the foundation has purchased or received 21 other parcels totaling 226 acres, including the Bates Farm field near Kimball Farm ice cream. The foundation also has been granted conservation restrictions on another 16 properties totaling 417 acres.

In many cases, the CCF does not purchase conservation land, but, through its companion organization, the Carlisle Land Trust, facilitates the purchase of land by the town. For instance, when the 55-acre Foss Farm became available, CCF raised money for the option and appraisal until the town could bring the matter to Town Meeting vote. In 1998 CCF secured a line of credit to make the purchase of the Wang-Coombs property possible. It has also been involved with purchases of the Towle Field, Davis Corridor, Macafee, Malcolm, O’Rourke, Erickson and Benfield Lands.

Swift notes that the foundation serves as a resource for land planning. To protect land in Carlisle, members of the CCF maintain contact with property owners. When landowners are ready to sell their property CCF can help, sometimes by paying for surveying or an appraisal. At other times CCF may put up money for an option to buy, or purchase the property outright. Often a purchase is done in partnership with other groups.

The Estabrook initiative

CCF members and friends took a walk on the West Street property of conservationist A.E. Benfield during their annual meeting on June 12, 2005.
(Photo by Ellen Huber)

A land protection project can span several years and involve negotiations among multiple organizations and landowners. For example, one major project undertaken by the CCF was the Estabrook initiative, the mid-1990s campaign to save the Estabrook Woods.

The Estabrook Woods is a 670+ acre tract of forest owned by the Harvard University Museum of Comparative Zoology. Approximately 69 acres of the Harvard-owned land is in Carlisle, the rest in Concord. The land had been used by Harvard for biology and ecology research, but by the early 90s the university was concerned that encroaching development around the Woods had begun to degrade the wildlife habitat to the point where it would no longer be useful as a research station.

At the time, 30-year conservation restrictions on land in the Concord section of Estabrook Woods were about to lapse and Harvard was not ready to guarantee permanent protection of the land. With the housing industry booming and the possibility that Harvard would divest itself of the land, the threat of major development seemed imminent.

In a powerful example of two towns working together, the Concord Land Conservation Trust, the Carlisle Conservation Foundation and citizens from both towns mobilized to convince Harvard to save the Estabrook Woods. According to Jay Luby, who was active in the movement to save the Woods and is now a member of the CCF, it took people from both towns to make it work.“It was a team effort. We knew we had to dovetail our efforts to make this work and fortunately, at the time, the folks at Harvard were amenable.” In February 1994, in response to a proposal by the Concord and Carlisle Land Trusts, Harvard agreed to permanently protect Estabrook Woods if the two towns would also permanently protect at least 400 acres of land buffering Harvard’s holdings.

Conservation groups in both towns rallied, brainstormed, and worked together to meet the 400-acre challenge. Luby recalls a period of intensive work by Ken Harte and by members of the CCF, encouraging and helping owners of abutting land in Carlisle to place their property under conservation restriction to help the towns meet the challenge.

In January of 1997 Harvard officially filed notice with the state that Estabrook Woods would be preserved permanently for instruction, field research and specified recreational activities. This obligation by Harvard was specifically based on the understanding that a 34-acre tract which included the Malcolm Preserve and the town-owned Malcolm Land would be permanently protected with conservation restrictions, thus completing the 400-acre buffer requirement.

It would be several years and take considerable work before the CR was finally granted on the Malcolm Land. Several additional parcels were added to the Malcolm Land in what would be a 67.6 acre CR, including the Carr Land, the Deacon Land, the Sachs Greenway, the Rockstrom Open-Space Parcel and the Buttrick Woods Open Space parcel. At the same time, the Carlisle Selectmen approved a separate CR on the Malcolm Preserve and one on the CCF-owned Poole Swamp, exceeding the 400-acre requirement. ∆

[Ed note: Part 2, a look at the CCF today, will appear in an upcoming issue.]

© 2010 The Carlisle Mosquito