Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust marks 35th year with hike, multi-million dollar campaign

  • Maureen Conte, co-owner of Tully Meadow Farm in Orange, stops during the hike on Saturday to show some berries growing on the forest floor. The hike was part of a celebration of Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust’s 35th anniversary. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • Bob Busby, co-owner of Tully Meadow Farm in Orange, speaks to a hiking group on Saturday about the natural history of Tully River. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust’s 35th anniversary celebration featured a hike at Tully Meadow Farm in Orange on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust’s 35th anniversary celebration was held at Tully Meadow Farm in Orange on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • The Inside/Out Dance Company performed in the shadow of Tully Mountain for attendees of Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust’s 35th anniversary celebration on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer
Published: 6/27/2021 3:46:54 PM
Modified: 6/27/2021 3:46:56 PM

ORANGE — To celebrate its 35th anniversary, the Mount Grace Land Conversation Trust brought people to its workplace — nature — in an effort to tie in old conservation projects with the organization’s future.

The land conservation trust, based in Athol, invited attendees to Tully Meadow Farm in the shadow of Tully Mountain in Orange on Saturday to hike nature trails and celebrate the organization’s recently retired Executive Director Leigh Youngblood, along with Mount Grace’s longevity and success on a property it helped purchase and protect in 2008.

After leading people on a hiking tour, attendees were invited to socialize and dine on the property. Soon after, Youngblood announced a $3.5 million initiative titled The Land Forever Campaign, which will provide funds to protect currently conserved land, acquire endangered properties and renovate Mount Grace’s headquarters in an energy-efficient manner.

“This is a first for Mount Grace,” Youngblood said. “Over the decades, Mount Grace has secured tens of millions of dollars to protect land. Now these ambitions and necessary work will ensure we can continue that work.”

Current Executive Director Emma Ellsworth said the initiative is a step to ensure Mount Grace’s continued success in protecting natural regions across Franklin and Worcester counties.

“The Land Forever Campaign is about honoring and taking care of the lands we have protected and the successes of our first 35 years,” Ellsworth said, “while also boldly launching our next 35. The land and our region needs us to keep moving forward.”

Ellsworth added the coming decades will be the most difficult yet, but those who have donated and worked for Mount Grace can help meet the challenge.

“We have unique challenges ahead of us, including tremendous urgency to enhance the resiliency of our region in the face of climate change as well as new development pressures,” Ellsworth said. “With your support and willingness to come together around our shared love of the land, we will be successful protecting these fields and forests.”

Maureen Conte, co-owner of Tully Meadow Farm, led one of two hiking groups through the nature trails on the property. She said the hiking aspect of the event was a chance to show off Mount Grace’s work in person.

“There’s a wide group of people interested in preserving natural land. … These kinds of hikes introduce people to all the nooks and crannies,” Conte said. “It’s absolutely wonderful to host this event.”

During the hike, Conte talked about some of the property’s history and her philosophy behind conserving it. Between Tully Meadow Farm and two adjacent properties, more than 700 acres of protected land are connected.

“We try to make a big, contiguous piece of land, which is good for forestry and wildlife,” Conte said. “We’re interested in science and wanted to make it accessible to scientific research; it’s very important.”

The trails behind Tully Meadow Farm are under conservation restrictions, but Conte said the public is more than welcome to hike, hunt or ski on the trails and land as long as they respect the environment. The only things not allowed are motor vehicles.

Tully Meadow Farm is not only a natural site, but a historical one as well. All along the trail there is historical evidence of how the land was never a forest to begin with. There’s an old stone bridge retaken by nature, barbed wire indicating the land was once a pasture and remains of old buildings like a spring house.

Conte added acquiring the land and protecting it was only possible with the help of Mount Grace.

“It’s complicated (to buy and conserve land),” she said. “That’s why it’s nice to have the expertise of the land trust.”

State Sen. Anne Gobi, D-Spencer, who attended Saturday’s event, said Mount Grace’s work in both the public and private sectors over the past 35 years has been essential to conservation.

“This land trust has been extremely important,” Gobi said. “They preserve forests, fields and farms. It’s incredible.”

Julia Blyth, the Northfield Open Space Committee chair, said the event was a chance to explore how natural land is protected.

“I care a lot about land conservation,” she said. “I loved the hike. This is very special land.”

Blyth also said Mount Grace’s technical expertise is appreciated when it comes to conserving land.

“They’ve been super effective,” Blyth said. “It’s been a delight to have them here for 35 years.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.


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