Warwick joins Mount Grace, Mass Audubon to conserve 750 acres

  • The Greater Gales Brook Conservation Project will span Warwick, Royalston and Orange. CONTRIBUTED

Staff Writer
Published: 4/15/2021 1:17:09 PM
Modified: 4/15/2021 1:17:06 PM

WARWICK — Through a partnership with the Mount Grace Land Conversation Trust and Mass Audubon that was approved by the Selectboard this week, the town will seek state grant funding of up to $1.25 million to conserve 750 acres.

Mount Grace Conservation Director Sarah Wells, speaking alongside Mass Audubon Land Conservation Specialist Kate Buttolph on Monday, said they have assembled 11 landowners — through partnerships with towns and independent property owners — totaling 750 acres in Warwick, Royalston and Orange. The overall project is titled “The Greater Gales Brook Conservation Project” because the majority of the participating properties include a tributary of Gales Brook or are located in the Gales Brook watershed.

The competitive Landscape Partnership Grant Program is funded by the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. As a “partnership grant,” it requires the participation of at least two nonprofits, municipalities or state agencies to conserve a minimum of 500 acres. Mount Grace and Mass Audubon are the primary partners in the application, which will be submitted by May 10. Grants will be announced this summer, with the goal of completing all projects by June 2022.

Mary Williamson, a member of Warwick’s Town Forest Committee, Conservation Commission and Open Space Committee, said she and fellow Town Forest Committee member Alan Berman learned about the grant opportunity, which would also fund Warwick acquiring an additional town woodlot, in December 2019.

“We (The Warwick Forest Committee) worked over the last year to make it possible for the town to participate in the grant application, which will enable the town to acquire a 59-acre woodlot, with no expenditure on the part of the town,” Williamson said.

This woodlot would enhance the Town Forest Committee’s objective to generate long-term timber revenue for the town. The 59-acre woodlot is on the east side of Beech Hill Road and was owned by the Littlewood family, who decided to sell the land to Mass Audubon. If the grant is received, Mass Audubon has agreed to transfer ownership of the property to Warwick.

Warwick currently owns seven parcels of town forest, which total 375 acres. The Town Forest Committee, a five-member group, actively manages the woodlots in consultation with a professional forester. Over the decades, the town has benefited financially from timber harvests, and residents benefit from the recreational value of the land.

The long-range timber income generated from town-owned woodlots is considerably greater than the real estate tax revenue that would accrue if the parcel would have remained in private ownership under Chapter 61, Forest Committee member Keith Ross and Williamson said. According to Ross, who is also on the Warwick Board of Assessors, the town made $86,124 in timber sales from 2000 to 2017. It also has two timber sales planned for 2022, with the potential to generate $50,000.

In addition to the forest management potential, the woodlot could provide recreational opportunities. The existing logging land on Beech Hill Road provides good trailhead parking, Williamson said. The topography, which includes the peak of Beech Hill, lends itself to creating an interesting trail system, and Warwick’s active Trails Group has already been investigating potential routes.

Mass Audubon owns a property in Gales Brook Valley that abuts the Littlewood lot. This property has no practical access from Route 78, so in return for Mass Audubon transferring ownership of the 59-acre Littlewood lot to Warwick, it has requested an easement through the Littlewood lot for access to its property in Gales Brook Valley.

If the Landscape Partnership Grant is awarded, either Mount Grace or Mass Audubon will become the “lead partner” and enter a contract with the state to fulfill financial responsibilities and other obligations. The grant funds 50 percent of the total costs of the project, and Mount Grace and Mass Audubon have committed to raising the additional 50 percent match through other grants and private fundraising. Warwick will have no financial obligations under the grant contract.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.

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