Preserved and protected sites are recreational destinations

  • The Von Dy Rowe ½ Acre Conservation Area off North Orange Road is an ideal spot for picnic or for launching a kayak or canoe. Athol Daily News/Kathy Chaisson

  • The Minnie French Conservation Area off Benton Place was named for a local conservationist who helped create the area. —Athol Daily News/Kathy Chaisson

  • The Athol Conservation Commission manages several town-owned properties throughout Athol. —Athol Daily News/Kathy Chaisson

  • The kiosk at the trailhead to the South Athol Conservation Area was built by local Eagle Scouts. Athol Daily News/Kathy Chaisson

  • The Charles Comstock Conservation Area off Byrd Avenue is a 45-acre tract of riverfront land that attracts numerous bird species that feed along the Tully River. Athol Daily News/Kathy Chaisson

  • A Viceroy butterfly, which is often mistaken for a monarch butterfly, was spotted by Conservation Commission member Dave Small at the Bearsden Conservation Area earlier this week. DaveSmall—David Small

Staff Writer
Published: 8/14/2019 9:50:19 PM

ATHOL – Just a few miles away from the aromatic sweet ferns and towers of pitch pines found in the Bearsden Conservation Area are seven additional preserved and protected sites within the town’s borders, each presenting a distinct landscape.

These town-owned properties, managed by the Athol Conservation Commission, are easy to find recreation destinations open to the public.

West of the North Quabbin Common traffic lights off South Royalston Road is Newton Reservoir, a former public water supply that ran from 1904 to 2000. The reservoir provides an excellent spot for fishing and is a favorite for ice fishermen who seek bass, pickerel and perch. A shelter at Buckman Brook on the bank of the Millers River may be reserved for overnight stays. In 2018, there were 45 nights reserved at the shelter by residents of the North Quabbin region, other Massachusetts towns and some from out-of-state.

The Minnie French Conservation Area is located off Chestnut Hill Avenue at Benton Place. Minnie French, whose former home abuts the property, was a member of the Athol Bird and Nature Club who helped create the area. Trails inside the 14-acre parcel lead to the Millers River Wildlife Management Area and South Royalston and is home to a variety of bird species.

The Cass Meadow Conservation Area is accessible at the intersection of Pequoig and Pinedale Avenue. Cass Meadow North, once the site of the 5th Massachusetts Turnpike linking Leominster to Northfield and connecting to Brattleboro, Vt. and Boston, is a habitat for wildflowers, grasses and wildlife. The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife owns 36 acres of the property and 8.5 abutting acres are town-owned with three town wells located on the flats.

The 10-acre Cass Meadow South consists of floodplains along the Millers River. The southern end is known as the starting point of the annual Athol to Orange River Rat Race. The property is owned by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, the Town of Athol and a private landowner. A boat launch on MDFW waterfront is accessible through the Alan E. Rich Environmental Park off South Main Street.

The Von Dy Rowe ½ Acre Conservation Area on North Orange Road was once part of the 5th Massachusetts Turnpike. A curved pathway bordered by high flowered bushes leads to a setting ideal for a picnic with a view of the Tully River, and an inviting spot to launch a kayak or canoe. Within sight is the confluence of the Tully River and the Millers River. According to conservation agent Dave Small, there are plans to add signage.

The Charles Comstock Conservation Area is named after the longtime Conservation Commission member described by Small as a “super-knowledgeable” woodsman. The 45-acre property known locally as “The Pines” is accessible at Byrd Avenue and has a trail that leads to Lenox Street extension along the Tully River. A bluff overlooks the river and is a popular site for brook trout fishing.

The newest property established three years ago is the South Athol Conservation Area combining 200 acres of land between South Athol Road and White Pond Road originally owned by the Stoddard and LeBlanc families. Part of the former Rabbit Run Railroad that went from Athol to Springfield passes through the area with an old cart road running east/west leading to it. Small said there is interest in resurrecting a hiking trail along Rabbit Run and that trails are still being worked on to connect from White Pond Road.

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