The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 26, 2010

State gathers feedback to enhance Great Brook Farm experience

With a new barn in place and robotic milking gear about to be delivered, Great Brook Farm will soon be among the most modern dairy operations in the country (see Mosquito June 19, 2009 “New Barn Takes Shape at Great Brook Farm”). On Tuesday, November 16, the Department of Conservation and Recreation held a feedback session regarding a Comprehensive Interpretive Plan for Great Brook Farm, which is part of the state park system. The plan will ensure that visitors get the most out of the farm’s new technology and facilities, as well as from the park’s natural and historic elements.

Representatives of local conservation, historic, equestrian, biking and birding groups, as well as abutters, gathered in the Hart Barn to hear plans and suggest ideas for maintaining and improving the park experience. The forum was directed by Northeast Education Coordinator Tim Rayworth and Northeast Regional Interpretive Coordinator Barbara Buls. They were joined by Great Brook farmers Mark and Tamma Duffy, Supervisor Steve Carlin, Regional Director Susan Hamilton, District Manager Katherine Garcia, and representatives of Premier Dairy Service, installers of the new milking robots. After another meeting in December, public forums will be held in January on a new plan that may include informational tours, events, publications, signage, and other elements.

Unique opportunity to showcase technology

Buls explained that at Great Brook Farm, “You can see with your own eyes how a dairy farm is operated.” The 160 Holstein cows were all born at Great Brook and they, along with the goats, pigs and rabbits, “give the feeling of a real farm.” She noted there is only one other state park in the U.S. that includes a working farm, and pointed to the need to educate the community on farming practice. “It’s shocking kids have never been that close to a cow, so some don’t know milk comes from a cow.”

The new barn, which replaces a 1940s tie stall barn, will allow the cows to wander freely inside. It includes inflatable walls for climate control and allows visitors to get close to the cows. “This is a Cadillac barn,” she summarized. ”It will be a very, very different operation.” She anticipates that the robotic milking machine, a technology new in the U.S. although more common in Europe, will offer “a real boon to visitation to the park.”

Mark Duffy said the new barn was necessary to “make the farm viable, so there’ll be a farmer here for the next 50 years.” He noted that other local farmers are interested in seeing it in operation, “This will be the most technologically advanced (farm) of this size.” He later said it was important to him that the farm is based on “real science-based practices” that do not seem strange to visiting farmers, adding, “This is how a commercial dairy farm operates.”

Rayworth noted that one of the unique opportunities the new farm provides is a view of the future. “We have many parks that celebrate the past,” he said. “This will show current trends, moving into the future.” He pointed to a number of interpretive potentials on the site, including:

• New Farm – modern agriculture

• Hart Barn – past agriculture

• Turtle Rock - native culture

• Colonial Village, 1840s school house – regional history

• Natural ecosystems

He noted there are other opportunities. For example, the unused machinery on site could be organized into an exhibit.

Keep popular activities, improve communication

The ensuing discussion advocated retaining the many activities that are currently part of the park. A long list was developed that includes dog walking off leash, cross country skiing, biking, equestrian activities, picnicking, fishing, canoeing and kayaking, birding, wildlife viewing, mushrooming, photography, star gazing, geocaching/letterboxing, group outings, farm tours, and enjoying ice cream. There were a few suggestions regarding park maintenance, including grooming pond areas for better access, breaking up ice on trails after the cross-country season ends, and discouraging short-cut trails that disrupt wildlife habitat.

A few new ideas were forthcoming. One attendee suggested information be posted on recently seen animals and plants. Carlin noted that he would like to see maps that would allow visitors to take self-directed walks and be informed of points of interest along the way. Another audience member suggested a historic tour which could include the schoolhouse, Turtle Rock and a granite quarry from the mid-1600s. Duffy said that he has frequently been asked to allow grilling on the premises.

Asked about goals for the park, several pointed to raising visitation and visibility. Suggestions included better signage on Route 3 and improved communication of programs and activities via website, brochures and media. A donor group might be established. A “Friends of Great Brook Farm” was once active, but has fallen by the wayside. More volunteerism could be encouraged to remove invasive species or organize activities and outings. In sum it was felt that visitors should come away with a greater appreciation for the outdoors and a renewed awareness of the vitality of dairy farming in New England.

Plan to cover next five to 10 years

Carlin said that a survey of visititation was done in 2008 and an analysis will be part of the plan. He said that visits are up, and word has spread, with guests now from as far away as Watertown, Brookline and Cambridge. Many special-interest and school groups are regulars. After a slow-down when parking fees were initiated, season passes are up. Carlin will also gather data on cross-country skiing ticket sales. According to cross-country ski concession operator Stuart Johnstone, there were 9,201 tickets sold last winter (see “Changes coming to Great Brook Ski Center,” November 19).

Rayworth reported that the state intends to develop a five- to 10-year plan with annual implementation goals. He cautioned that too often in a planning process “we jump from identification of a need to ‘I know what we ought to do!’” It is important to consider all elements, including the purpose and significance of the park, management goals, visitor profiles, definition of the desired visitor experience and potential conflicts or issues. Personnel services, communications vehicles, potential partnerships, research findings and costs should all be included, and the plan should be regularly evaluated after implementation. Buls agreed, noting that in the past there was often no plan for interpretation; “In the absence of careful planning, programs too often miss the mark.” ∆

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