Cascades East is 30.86 acres of woodland that had an interesting history long before GWLT was founded. To make sense of it, you need to look at the park that wraps around it: Worcester’s Cascades Park. Cascades Park is shaped like an “L” but started out as the rectangle making up the base of the “L.” This contained the falls that have been an attraction for as long as they have been known.
During the mid-1900s the upright rectangle was purchased by the City of Worcester. The area was on a long list of sites to be considered for a City landfill by the City Council, but it was at the bottom of the list. As the night wore on and site after site was rejected, they came to the end of the list and approved the site as a new City Landfill because they had no other options left. By the time the dawn broke and the paper was delivered, the neighborhood was already organized. A petition was circulating and calls were being made. This activism beat back the landfill proposal within the week. The park was protected and time moved forward.
In the 1990s, a development was proposed for what is presently Cascades East, progressing so far as to have built a driveway, parking lot, and a model home on the site. The site was also listed as a “Top Ten” critical open space for Worcester. When approached about purchasing the site for preservation, the developer’s price could not be met. Interestingly, the model home seems to have been built under a temporary permission or no permission at all. The utility lines weren’t approved and the development didn’t progress. The building was found in violation of Worcester city rules and its removal was ordered. This was as far as site development got. The developer of the proposal was incarcerated for unknown reasons, and a new window opened to preserve the land in cooperation with the owner. This, however, was only half of the problem.
While Cascades East was identified as a “Top Ten” open space priority, the City of Worcester and GWLT would have to apply for a state self-help grant three times to secure the property. Each time, the state overseer of the grant program looked at the land, acreage and location and found the project to be lacking merit. Each time the City and GWLT would refine their arguments, write a new proposal, and resubmit. On the third submission, the state overseer was convinced that this site was undoubtedly a priority for the people of Worcester, the Trust, and the City Administration whatever he thought of its merits. Forswearing other projects to continue to pursue this one and explicitly calling out this parcel as a community “Top Ten” open space priority prevailed.
This is a lucky outcome. Cascades East contains a state-certified vernal pool, a trailhead directly on Olean Street with a small parking area, a trail loop of modest length for people not looking to hike the length of the Cascades, and it secures the Eastern block of the Cascades as unbroken natural territory and wildlife habitat. The preservation of Cascades East and the Western side of Cataract Street also preserves the northern length of Cataract Street as a rustic cart path for walking. The Worcester Conservation Commission holds Cascades East and GWLT holds the Conservation Restriction on the property.