Conservation begets conservation, and in the case of Granger Woods, twice over! Mr. Granger, being one of the most senior members of the community of Auburn had been thinking about his beloved family woods. Every winter the ice and snow knock down limbs and a few trees. Every spring he would head out on his converted Model T tractor to cut up the downed wood as firewood for the next winter.
One day Mr. Granger read about a land conservation deal that MassAudubon had recently completed in the paper and reached out to MassAudubon about his 29.5-acre woods. While the woods are a model of forest stewardship and the land is nearby to other conserved lands, this didn’t fit the model of a new sanctuary and they reached out to GWLT. Together Deb Cary of MassAudubon and GWLT, and Colin Novick, of GWLT headed out to Granger Woods to meet with Cliff, talk to him about his family land, and see if he might be willing to consider working with a local land trust as MassAudubon was unable to hold the land.
In that meeting, we learned that there had been conservation two generations earlier in the Granger family. Cliff’s grandmother had donated land to the Town of Auburn for conservation, now known as Granger Cliffs, just to the west of I-395 and south of Rte. 20. For a time the land was beloved, with cart paths, trails, a plaque, and local scout camping out around the cliffs. Over time the land lost its local access point to neglect, and the land faded into the memory of older townies. Cliff wanted to ensure that if there were conservation of his woods that it would not meet the same fate: forgotten and inaccessible. Still, the gift of his grandmother was a source of pride and an inspiration to him.
GWLT’s directors and staff walked around on Cliff’s woodland. The Trust’s directors and staff walked around on the nearby Granger Cliffs. The compelling appeal to the public of being able to combine Cliff’s stewarded wood lot with the cliffs and work with the Town of Auburn to link the two together via trail, thereby reopening the cliffs, was hard to miss. GWLT reached out to the Town of Auburn through its Town Manager and Town Planner to see if the properties being combined for access and connections with the Town’s active participation through a trail easement might be possible. They were enthused by the prospect of being able to provide a conservation and recreation amenity for its citizens and being able to utilize the cliffs that had fallen out of memory and use. They issued a letter of support for the combined project.
Thus fortified, the Trust returned to Cliff with a plan to connect the three pieces together. He was interested and supportive, but wanted assurance that his woods would be secure as conservation land. A conservation restriction might ordinarily achieve this assurance, but a conservation restriction involves seeking the approval of the town’s Conservation Commission and Select Board, and requires some months to put all of the pieces together. Another option would be welcome, if there were one.
As fate would have it, GWLT had a recent visitor, a Mr. Marc Robinson for the Cape Cod Compact of Trusts to discuss another conservation tool, the declaration of a Public Trust under the Public Trust Doctrine. In short Mr. Granger could grant the land to the Trust to be held as conservation land to benefit the public and to be held in Trust. This holding of a public benefit has the benefit of serving as a legally recognized way for a non-profit to hold a public asset in a way that is not easily altered or revoked. More particularly to this case, the public trust does not require a lengthy town approval or involvement and does not require a formal state approval process to draw the matters out.
While Cliff wanted the land preserved, he was still the steward of the land and wanted to continue to be that steward. He wanted to continue to log the forested lot and to retain the privacy he had grown to know. The public’s use of the land would be for after he had passed. Cliff Granger’s other concern was to ensure that he, his son, and his son’s partner, had the benefit of the land and the house on it while they were alive. Thus a life estate was established for the property benefiting Cliff, his son, and his son’s partner for their life, or for as long as they desired it.
The final deal is a series of circuits set to click in a succession of acts with trails and public access to come in time, with ownership and management by the Trust to come in time, but for the land to be preserved for conservation effective immediately. Those circuits are now set and running. At some point in the future, GWLT’s first holding in Auburn will come to be a conservation belt connecting a series of properties for the general access and enjoyment of the public and the wildlife thereupon. In the meantime the family rests secure in the knowledge that the future of the land is safe and its preservation has been addressed.