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Category Archives: GWLT History

Bits of GWLT lore and history.

A Bit of GWLT History: A Week of Anniversaries

flower at Worcester Hospital State Farm CR

Photo by Jackie Lynn

It was a busy week in GWLT History!

On December 6, 1995, the Trust acquired the Brigham Road Parcels, expanded in November of 1997.

On December 7, 2006, the Candlewood MidState Easement was recorded.

On December 9, 2013, the Worcester Hospital Farm conservation restriction was granted.

A Bit of GWLT History: Granger Woods

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.

A Bit of GWLT History: Cascades East

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.

A Bit of GWLT History: Cascades West

September 16, 1991:

Cascades West, a large property on the southern edge of Holden, adjoins Worcester’s Boynton Park on the west (in Paxton) and Worcester’s Cascades Park on the east (in Worcester). In the early 1900’s Cascades West operated as a farm, as did the areas atop the hill to the east of Howard Street (a.k.a. Silver Spring Road).

Previous to GWLT’s acquisition, the land was owned by three partners: Jones, Briel, and Whiting. They intended to develop the property and had intermittently looked into the costs and restrictions of installing required infrastructure in this remote location. They logged the property and allowed firewood cutting. When Mr. Whiting died, his surviving spouse Joan proposed that the two remaining partners either donate the property for conservation or finally develop it. Thankfully, they decided on the former.

This belt of open space, now known as “The Cascades”, was established as a GWLT property in September 1991. It ran from Cataract Street in Worcester to Mower Street in Paxton and totaled over 250 acres of forest, wetland, trail, and overgrown pasture. Working from the original linchpin of Cascades West, this belt of open space has expanded to run from Marshall Street in Leicester to Moreland Green Drive in Worcester. It now totals over 800 acres of open space.

A Bit of GWLT History: Parson’s Cider Mill

September 5, 2000:

Four years after the recording of the adjacent Marois 28 deed, and more than four years after the City first purchased the 43.08 acres of Parson’s Cider Mill, the Conservation Restriction to the Greater Worcester Land Trust was finally recorded. This required special “home-rule” legislation from the Massachusetts state legislature.

Parson’s Cider Mill is one of the original Worcester “Open Space Top Ten” list properties. The property itself was significant as the former site of a cider press in Worcester. It features an ornamental pond and plantings, an old retired City of Worcester Reservoir, a red pine stand, a cart road, and a brook flowing across the site. Unfortunately, the ornamental stonework wall just off of Apricot Drive has since been demolished by the City of Worcester DPW in a project to address dam safety concerns.

On a more positive note, the site itself has also become the home of a memorial to former neighborhood resident Dr. Robert Goddard, the father of American rocketry. The memorial now stands at the corner of Apricot and Goddard Memorial Drive. The property also hosts a section of the Tetasset Ridge Trail that spans the west side of the City of Worcester.

The preservation effort was a partnership between GWLT and the City of Worcester. Additionally, a state grant was utilized, with federal funding from the National Park Service through the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF.) This complex mix of partners and government agencies made for a complex set of requirements.

As this was the first joint preservation project using such a state grant, a small glitch occurred in the Council approval votes, and instead of the purchase of the property being where the story ends it became where the story begins. The state wanted the CR recorded before the transfer occurred and instead the property was transferred to the City before the CR was recorded. The chain of records meant that GWLT could not be given a CR on the property without special legislation as it would constitute a change of use. This special legislation needed to go through a complex approval process meant to dissuade municipalities from converting open space to another use, but in this case it became a burden to the project partners to protecting it further.

The assistance of multiple legislators, numerous phone calls, many letters, and a mix of patience and impatience, finally resulted in the CR that ensures that this property remains a municipal open space for all time.

A Bit of GWLT History: Worcester’s Top 10 Conservation Targets

 1987
PROPERTY ACRES STATUS
Cascades Park East/West 60.56 Saved
Coal Mine Brook 71.15 Partially Saved, Lost & Outstanding
Stratton Hill 126.80 Lost
Nick Chase Estate 59.30 Saved
Broggard Farm & Higgins Estate 319.86 Lost
Poor Farm Brook North 85.43 Patially Lost & Outstanding
Parson’s Estate 28.00 Saved
God’s Acre 17.15 Saved
Broad Meadow Brook +/- 245.05 Saved
Crow Hill 42.25 Saved (57.46 acres)

 

 1996
PROPERTY ACRES STATUS
Cascades Park East 41.26 Saved (30.86 acres)
Catholic Charities (Parcel K)(AKA Broad Meadow Brook Savannah) 85.00 Saved
Coes Reservoir Abutters 100.26 Saved
Crow Hill 33.65 Saved (57.46 acres)
Higgins Estate 115.17 Lost
Kettle Brook North 29.60 Saved
Laurel Mountain (AKA Bovenzi) 126.57 Saved
Poor Farm Brook North 46.73 Patially Lost & Outstanding
Stoddard Estate/Brooks 43.62 Outstanding
Wigwam Hill and Coal Mine Brook 47.70 Partially Saved, Lost & Outstanding

 

 1998
PROPERTY ACRES STATUS
Cascades Park East 41.26 Saved (30.86 acres)
Catholic Charities (Parcel K) (AKA Broad Meadow Brook Savannah) 85.00 Saved
Crow Hill 33.65 Saved (57.46 acres)
Higgins Estate 115.17 Lost
Kettle Brook North 29.60 Saved
Laurel Mountain (AKA Bovenzi) 126.57 Saved
Logan Field Extension (AKA Fowler Brook Gorge) 31.03 Partially Lost & Partially Saved
Poor Farm Brook North 46.73 Partially Lost & Outstanding
Stoddard Estate/Brooks 43.62 Outstanding
Wigwam Hill and Coal Mine Brook 47.70 Partially Saved, Lost & Outstanding

A Bit of GWLT History: Nick’s Woods

The sign for Nick's Woods with a group of volunteers

On October 4, 1990 & August 27, 2005:

The Greater Worcester Land Trust was formed in 1987 in response to a development boom. One of its guiding documents was the City of Worcester’s “Top Ten List” of critical unprotected properties. List in hand, the members of GWLT’s board of directors met with various landowners. Typically, their responses boiled down to, “if you have a million dollars we can talk, otherwise…”

Nick Chase was an exception.

Nick’s Woods runs along the east side of Grove Street (122A) from the power lines on the northern edge to the timber frame property sign on the southern edge. Mr. Chase had already registered his property as an official “Tree Farm” and had enrolled the forest in a tax incentive program for owners of managed woodlands (Chapter 61). He viewed a conservation restriction that permanently kept the forest, trout brook, cart road, and ancient cellar holes as compatible with his vision for the property. Mr. Chase offered to donate a CR on the majority of his forest jointly to the City of Worcester and GWLT. On October 4th, 1990 GWLT’s first CR was recorded.

In 2005, Mr. Chase approached GWLT with a new proposal for additional forest property that was not covered by the existing CR. While GWLT’s CR protected the forest from development, the land was private property with a number of rights reserved. Mr. Chase asked if GWLT would be interested in purchasing the entirety of the forest for conservation.

CRs cannot be held by a landowner. As GWLT already held a CR on most of the property, they needed another organization to hold its CR in order for GWLT to purchase it. The Green Hill Park Coalition agreed to serve as an interim holder. CR secured, Mr. Chase and GWLT were able to expand and preserve Nick’s Woods as a 59.76-acre public forest.

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