NEW YORK, NY -July 6, 2007 - Last year, the Open Space Institute (OSI) provided a loan to Mass Audubon at a critical time, leading to the eventual protection of 900 acres in the southern Berkshires from development. Yesterday, Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Ian Bowles announced the state’s purchase of the land, the Commonwealth’s largest conservation land purchase in more than five years.
The parcel, which contains some of the last remaining old growth hemlock forests in the state, will be conserved and managed within the State Forest and Parks system. Mass Audubon, which worked in partnership with the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) to protect the land, used the $500,000 OSI loan to acquire an interest in the parcel during a long property dispute in which developers and conservationist vied for the fate of the unique piece of land.
The property, located in Sandisfield in western Massachusetts, had been owned by descendents of the Rowley/Hawley family for nearly two centuries and more recently held in fractional interests by individuals representing two sides of the family. More than 15 years ago, the DCR had identified the property as one of the most significant land protection opportunities remaining in the state. The land is included in the state’s BioMap and Living Waters plans as being of statewide ecological significance. The $5.2 million purchase protects land that contains a 400-year old eastern hemlock old growth forest, rare plant and animal species, historical sites, mature deciduous woodlands, rolling meadows, and the 62-acre Lower Spectacle Pond. This marks the first time in more than two decades that the Commonwealth has purchased land containing woods that have remained uncut and undisturbed since before European settlers arrived. Once covering most of the state’s 5.2 million acres, fewer than 1,200 acres of old growth forest remain in Massachusetts
“Great conservation requires ingenuity and resourcefulness. In bringing this transaction to a successful close, Mass Audubon exhibited abundant amounts of both,” said Peter Howell, OSI’s executive vice president. “We are proud and pleased to have helped this great organization consummate this important transaction, and applaud the State of Massachusetts for its vision and funding, without which nothing here would have been possible.”
Since 2005, OSI has provided six loans totaling $2.8 million in western Massachusetts to protect 2,100 acres of open space including two working farms, a segment of the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail, part of the Quabbin Reservoir Watershed, and The Great Meadow, listed as one of the state’s “Ten Most Endangered Historic Resources.” OSI’s loan for the interest in the Sandisfield property came at a crucial juncture, essentially keeping the imminent development of the land at bay until a complete conservation plan and funding came through from the State of Massachusetts and Mass Audubon.
“The state’s purchase of this spectacular property ensures its lasting protection and is an example of our prudent investment in the Commonwealth’s rare and irreplaceable natural resources,” said Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.
“Large blocks of protected land are increasingly challenging to stitch together, but they pay enormous dividends to the citizens of the Commonwealth in terms of the ecological services like clean water they provide and in terms of the recreational opportunities they create,” said Bowles.
Approximately five years ago, family members announced their intent to finally sell the property, and expressed strong interest in exploring a sale for conservation. The 900-acre parcel is adjacent to thousands of acres of existing conserved land, including the Sandisfield State Forest, Flood Control holdings, and land protected by Mass Audubon. Following extensive negotiations between the seven owners and Mass Audubon and DCR, an agreement to protect the land seemed within reach.
“Protecting this significant treasure has been an extraordinary effort, involving considerable risk and complexity,” said Mass Audubon President Laura Johnson. “We’re extremely pleased that this wonderful land will remain intact for traditional public uses and wildlife in perpetuity. A sincere thanks to the Open Space Institute for their part in helping to bring this outstanding land protection story to a positive conclusion.”
The Sandisfield purchase is significant in terms of protecting natural and historic resources, and enhancing outdoor recreational opportunities. The 900 acres are part of the New Marlborough Forest Block an 82,000-acre, largely roadless region. Interior wooded areas such as this, with few nearby roads or non-forest uses, are known as “core forests,” and only 45 of them are left between Maine and Virginia.
The land also contains an excellent system of hiking and cross-country skiing trails, and has potential for other recreational uses including canoeing, kayaking, primitive camping, mountain biking, horseback riding, fishing, and hunting.