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Open Space Institute launches new conservation finance program and announces first loan in western Massachusetts

NEW YORK, NY - November 10, 2005 - The Open Space Institute today announced the first loan made by its newly created Conservation Loan Program for western Massachusetts. The $250,000 loan will assist the Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust in its acquisition of a 123-acre parcel of forested land near Brush Mountain in Northfield, Massachusetts. 

OSI's new revolving loan fund for conservation projects was established as a result of OSI's report Western Massachusetts: Assessing the Conservation Opportunity, completed for the Kohlberg Foundation. The $2 million fund, created with an initial contribution from the Kohlberg Foundation, will provide short-term, low-interest loans to land trusts and other conservation organizations working to permanently protect working farms and forests, as well as other ecologically sensitive landscapes in the region west of Worcester. The fund, administered by OSI, will provide interim financing for transactions where there is insufficient capital at the time of closing. 

The project announced today, dubbed “Brush Mountain II,” is part of a larger block of land within the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail corridor which Mount Grace is working to protect. The Trust's goal, supported by town residents and the Northfield Open Space Plan priorities, is to protect the forest of this important greenway corridor, while connecting protected state forest lands. This extended ridge, a large undeveloped block of forest, is just north of the popular Crag Mountain overlook on the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail. 

Mount Grace has already pre-acquired for the Town of Northfield an adjacent 46-acre parcel (“Brush Mountain I”) just to the south of this parcel which contains a key section of the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail. That parcel is of historic interest because it was the farmstead of Calvin T. Swan, a prominent 19th century African-American carpenter and sawmill owner. Another nearby parcel, called “Brush Mountain III,” is being eyed for protection. 

Brush Mountain II Project includes an extensive existing recreational trail system used for hiking, biking and cross-country skiing; access to a southwesterly facing viewing area and other scenic features; and a variety of natural resources including watershed land vital to the town's water supply, Roaring Brook, streams which feed a cascading waterfall downstream, natural upland forests, vernal pools, mature hemlock forests, and wildlife habitat identified by the state as significant. 

Under the loan agreement Mount Grace is required to repay its $250,000 loan in two years. The trust is working to raise the full cost of the project. "Now that we have pre-acquired the Brush Mountain II parcel the real work has just begun," said Pam Kimball-Smith Development Director for Mount Grace. "We'll be seeking donations from the Northfield community, foundations and others that will benefit from the protection of this important parcel." If Mount Grace is unable to raise the full amount of the money in the allotted time, the Trust will sell the land subject to a permanent conservation restriction that ensures public access allowing only a minimal number of houses. 

The town of Northfield, which developed its Open Space Plan this past year, has worked with Mount Grace as residents have clearly indicated they desire protection of farms and forests. Joanne McGee, Chair of the Open Space Committee, has been leading hikes to explore the Brush Mountain Area and has stated that “People are excited to know that Brush Mountain Area will be protected including the hiking trails and overlook”. 

The town's Open Space Plan targets land used for passive recreational activities including hiking, cross-country skiing, and bicycling; land containing natural vistas; and land preserving natural habitat as highest priorities for protection. 

In response to a town survey, 83.8 percent of the respondents cited the preservation of existing scenic viewing areas as important, 82.1 percent said that the preservation of hiking trails is important, and 88.7 percent declared the preservation of wildlife habitat to be important. 

In addition to Kimball-Smith, work on this project is being undertaken by Dan Laroche, Mount Grace's Director of Land Protection, and Leigh Youngblood, the Trust's Executive Director. 

The mission of the Open Space Institute is to protect scenic, natural, and historic landscapes to ensure public enjoyment, conserve habitats, and sustain community character. OSI achieves its goals through land acquisition, conservation easements, special loan programs, and creative partnerships. 

Through its Northern Forest Protection Fund and Conservation Loan Program, The Open Space Institute has assisted in the protection of 1.4 million acres in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey and North Carolina. 

Mount Grace, now in its 19th year, serves a 23-town area stretching from the Gardner area in the east to the Greenfield area in the west. The Trust, a non-profit membership organization, has participated in projects protecting nearly 20,000 acres of forest and farm land.

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