Athol Open Space Committee approves application for trails grant

  • Athol Assistant Town Planner Heidi Murphy speaks to the Open Space and Recreation Commission about an application for a $69,000 grant from MassTrails which would fund improvements to the Bearsden Conservation Area. At right is commission Vice Chair David Small. PHOTO BY GREG VINE

  • Clear cutting near Duck Pond at Bearsden Conservation Area has introduced new bird species to the area.  FILE PHOTO

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 1/26/2023 4:23:51 PM
Modified: 1/26/2023 4:23:25 PM

ATHOL – Athol’s Open Space and Recreation Commission voted to support an application submitted by the town’s Planning Department for a MassTrails grant to fund improvements to the Bearsden Conservation Area.

A draft of the letter was provided by Assistant Town Planner Heidi Murphy. The commission was also provided with a list of seven items to be funded by the grants which, if approved, would provide $59,600 for the work, with another $19,000 coming from the town. MassTrails is overseen by the state Dept. of Conservation and Recreation.

Murphy said that, in her opinion, the most important item of those presented would be the construction of a new trail, approximately 800 feet by 5 feet, which would run from the Pipeline Trail at Buchman Brook to the Deep Cut Trail. It would also include gravel improvements to the Deep Cut Bypass Trail.

“I feel like the strongest asset of this grant – and we’ve been through so many iterations – is its ability to connect trails regionally, once this project is completed, if the grant were to be awarded,” said Murphy at the meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 24.

Murphy said she had already received a letter of support for the grant from the Montachusett Regional Planning Commission and commitments from state Rep. Susannah Whipps and state Sen. Jo Comerford.

Other aspects of the work proposed include improvements to parking areas and a minor expansion of the Newton Reservoir parking area to accommodate horse trails for equestrian access; vista pruning at Round Top and improvement in Bearsden Conservation Area signage; trail clearing and pruning along all 14.5 miles of trails at Bearsden; installation of wayfinding signage; preparations for future work on the Bearsden observation platform; and remediation of erosion on sections of the one-mile Deep Cut Bypass Trail and changes to rain runoff from Bemis Hill.

“The basic idea is similar to what we did in South Athol; getting the trails cleaned up in different places and connecting trails together. And also, looking at the top of Round Top to re-create the vista that was there in my youth,” said Commission Vice Chair David Small. “From up there, you used to be able to see Mondanock, Wachusett, and Watatic real easily from on top of Round Top. Recreating that is about a quarter of that budget.”

Small said there are also plans for the Boy Scouts to construct some sort of platform on Round Top once the pruning work is done.

The letter being sent to Lewis states: “It cannot be emphasized enough how this project will have vast regional significance.”

It goes on to explain that, in 2022, Bearsden was visited by hikers and campers from Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and New York and 53 cities and towns throughout Massachusetts. The grant, the letter also argues, would help in meeting several goals enumerated in Athol’s Open Space and Recreation Plan, including enhancing, protecting, and promoting Athol’s unique attributes; expanding and improving parks and open space areas with an eye toward creating new recreational opportunities; and remaining cognizant of emerging recreational interests, needs and opportunities.

According to the Town of Athol website, “Since the 1970s, the 950-acre Bearsden Conservation Area has provided the core of an extensive interior forest reserve from South Royalston and Phillipston to Athol along a remote section of the Millers River. The area is composed of 14 parcels in excess of 951 acres permanently protected and under the control of the Athol Conservation Commission. This project is an outgrowth of a larger planning process undertaken by the Athol Conservation Commission, under Commission Chair Bob Muzzy, beginning with a Forest Stewardship Plan developed in 2011.”

The commission ultimately voted without dissent to endorse the letter of support as presented by Murphy.

Greg Vine can be reached at

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