NCLT Opens New Mobility Friendly Trail at Underwood Conservation Area

NCLT Opens New Mobility Friendly Trail at Underwood Conservation Area

by Robin Austin

 

On Friday, May 3rd, community members, families, local veterans, and many more gathered to celebrate the ribbon cutting and naming ceremony for North County Land Trust’s first “Mobility Friendly” trail. NCLT engaged the Hubbardston Center School to hold a trail naming contest with students. The students sent in great suggestions and presented NCLT with a beautiful collage to celebrate the trail.

Choosing a name from the many fantastic submissions was challenging.  The NCLT judges ultimately decided to combine two suggestions: “The Wild Walk”, by Keller Nally, and “The Wheelie Good Trail”, by Ellery Sylvia for a final name of “The Wild Walk: A Wheelie Good Trail”. NCLT greatly

appreciates the input from everyone at the school as well as all the help from Principal Jill Peterson and Art Teacher Andrea Ure who made this possible.

We are so grateful to everyone who has partnered with us to make this project a reality! Thank you to Keith and Debbie Bockus, Tom and Mary Robinson, and Tom Bratko for their help during the trail work; Bob Hatch and Steph Frend who made it possible to install the benches with their tractor; and North Quabbin Trails Association for constructing the trail. Thank you as well to everyone who has donated to the crowdfunding campaign- We raised just under $1,000 in support of this project!

This trail is about 5 feet wide in most areas, with a natural surface— outside materials were not brought in to resurface the trail. However, the terrain IS level with most obstructions removed. NQTA was also able to use a pine tree that had fallen across the trail to build three beautiful benches, which serve as rest stops along the trail.

This project has been in the works for a long time. NCLT has been looking into how to expand access to their conservation areas. When TerraCorps/AmeriCorps member Robin Austin joined the organization in September 2018, she was tasked with looking into the ways NCLT could expand accessibility. NCLT was then connected with Bobby Curley of North Quabbin Trails Association, a veteran-led trails organization.

NQTA has partnered with the GRIT freedom Chair to get veterans to access to rugged trail wheelchairs. They have been working to build trails in the North Quabbin region that can be used by these specialized chairs. We recognized that many of the features that expand access for these chairs also expands access for many others, including seniors, folks with mobility impairments, assistive devices, or traumatic brain injuries, families with young children, and many other groups. NCLT partnered with NQTA to build a trail that would be appropriate for these user groups.

We hope that you will all check out the trail and let us know what you think. This trail is only the beginning for North County Land Trust- we are looking to continue this project into the future, by expanding on the accessibility of this location, as well as some of our other conservation areas. Whether that means ropes and braille for folks with visual impairments or expanding nature walk signage for those unfamiliar with navigating natural spaces- we value the input and we want our trails to be a useful resource for our community. If you have thoughts on this work or other questions about NCLT, please feel free to contact us at info@northcountylandtrust.org.

 

Want to learn more about the trail? Check out our previous article and GoFundMe.


 

Robin is serving as a Community Engagement/Land Steward Coordinator at North County Land Trust for TerraCorps 2018-2019.

Want to learn more about our current members? Click here!

 

Bringing People Together to Protect the Spaces that we Love

Bringing People Together to Protect the Spaces that we Love

by Michael McGrath

As an undergraduate, I was proud of the Jesuit education that I received from my alma mater Xavier University as it instilled within me the resolve to be dedicated to the betterment of my community–both human and ecological. It was that commitment to service for the common good that led me to TerraCorps where I currently find myself serving with Mount Grace Land Trust as a Regional Collaboration Coordinator for the North Quabbin Regional Landscape Partnership (NQRLP). The NQRLP is a regional conservation partnership that serves as an informal network that convenes representatives from conservation non-profits, state agencies, academic institutions, and municipal staff and town boards who all share the same interest: protecting and stewarding open space within the Greater Quabbin Region.

When I originally chose to serve with Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust I was excited by the prospect of coordinating a powerful network of conservation professionals and dedicated volunteers who all shared the same goal of amplifying our collective impact to protect open space on a landscape scale. At the same time, I was admittedly intimidated by the prospect of facilitating a group of land conservation professionals who were experts in their field when I was only a recent college graduate who was also happened to be from out of state and knew little to nothing about the region in which I was serving.

Looking back to when my service year started I had little knowledge of the inner-working of land conservation within Massachusetts and was wrestling with what my role should be at Mount Grace and with the NQRLP considering the transient nature of my AmeriCorps position. Despite initially feeling unsure of my role within Mount Grace and the NQRLP, I was able to recognize that more than anything my role is to support our partners so that they can have access to relevant resources and timely information that helps them be more effective in their conservation, stewardship, and municipal planning activities.

After overcoming my initial uncertainties, I have since been able to coordinate and facilitate partnership meetings on a quarterly basis and support many of our partners on independent initiatives that they are working on. I was even able to take the lead on planning and executing a statewide conference for town boards that were concerned with protecting and stewarding open space. Along with my team of fellow TerraCorps, we were able to provide these town volunteers forum to network, share ideas, and foster peer-to-peer learning. More than anything the workshops demonstrated that a small group of thoughtful and concerned citizen scientists can make a difference within their communities. While as a TerraCorps member I likely won’t be around to see the culmination of their community organizing efforts, knowing that we are all working towards a common goal makes gives me hope that we can each do our part to protect and steward the environment.

While I am not from this bioregion and still do not consider this landscape to be my home, I have learned a great deal from serving as the Regional Collaboration Coordinator for the NQRLP and by serving alongside my fellow TerraCorps peers and colleagues at Mount Grace. With my year of service winding down to the last couple of months, I can earnestly say that I am grateful for having had the opportunity to learn on the fly and occasionally wander in the woods. If there is one lesson to be gleaned from my time at Mount Grace, it is that the behind the scenes work that goes into bringing people together makes all the difference for protecting the spaces that we love for one generation to the next.

Michael McGrath is serving as a Regional Collaboration Coordinator at Mount Grace Land Trust for TerraCorps 2018-2019.

Want to learn more about our current members? Click here!

 

Birds, Bunnies, Wild Turkeys, Oh and People Too

Birds, Bunnies, Wild Turkeys, Oh and People Too: Don’t Lose Sight of Community Engagement

by Marissa Patterson, she/her

I am serving as the Community Engagement Coordinator at New Entry Sustainable Farming Project. New Entry is a farmer training program that recently relocated from the Merrimack Valley to the North Shore. Farming is hard, and it’s challenging to start and run a viable farm business. We provide resources for new and beginning farmers to make it easier for them. As the CEC at New Entry, my service projects have focused on creative storytelling, outreach, and volunteer engagement.

New Entry’s recent relocation has been a long time coming. The organization chose to move because we have three different sites for on the ground programming- the Incubator Farm which serves as training land for aspiring farmers, the Food Hub which uses food grown by our incubator farmers and other local growers to address community food access needs, and staff offices where the nitty gritty grant and program management happens. In the Merrimack Valley, these three separate sites were located a few miles apart from each other. With the recent move, we have all three program hubs on one property: beautiful Moraine Farm!

Image description: the view up a long dirt road leading up to a big, old, red barn. To the left of the dirt road are dry fields with greenhouses and another barn in the distance. A line of coniferous and bare deciduous trees wraps behind the barns and greenhouses. The cloudless sky is an exceptionally clear blue on a sunny winter-almost-spring afternoon.

Moraine Farm is a Trustees of the Reservation property and a Frederick Law Olmstead landscape. We are extremely fortunate to be able to drive up to this beautiful land every day and explore everything it has to offer. From ponds with lots of wildlife (if you’re patient!) to forested trails and hidden yurts, we bask in the beauty and wonder of this land every day.

The transition to a new site has been a very crucial moving piece in my service projects. New Entry moved in March, but I began my service term in September. How does an organization do outreach for a community to which it has not yet moved? How do you form community partnerships and engage volunteers without yet having a local site? How do you build excitement for your programs and mission in a new community? How do you navigate community relationships with an uncertain timeline? These were tricky questions that I had to figure out how to address during my service term. I still don’t have the answers, but luckily, I have had great resources available to me.

This year, TerraCorps facilitated a Community Needs Assessment Learning Cohort for interested members, led by Angela Roell (they/them). With extensive experience in community-based projects, Angela has spent the last 6 months or so guiding some of my fellow TerraCorps members and I through conducting a Community Needs Assessment. Through this process, they have provided valuable mentoring and feedback as I have helped New Entry move forward with outreach in a new community. They have also provided guidance as I thought about how to build authentic relationships between New Entry and our surrounding community that will outlast my time here.

Though it was daunting to think about doing outreach in a new community, it was also exciting! My service this year lays an important foundation for New Entry in our new home on the North Shore. Knowing the weight of my projects, it was challenging for me to find a starting place. However, because of the Learning Cohort, I received direction and outside mentorship on addressing guiding questions and I will be leaving my service site with an Outreach and Facilitation Plan, a Project Management Plan, and a fully documented Timeline of Outreach and Engagement. On top of the value of spending 11 months doing this work, being able to leave these resources for the next person in my shoes builds capacity, enhances continuity in New Entry’s outreach, and clarifies outreach processes for other staff members.

Moraine Farm is beautiful land and we’re excited to establish roots here. It is relatively easy to put our heads down and get caught up in getting the fields and our farmers-in-training ready for the growing season but losing sight of community engagement can be very counterproductive. I am thrilled to be able to use my service to enhance and maintain that vision for New Entry. As I consider my professional future, knowing I bring these valuable skills and experiences to future workplaces gives me confidence and makes me grateful for the professional development opportunities I’ve had during my service year. I hope to continue to center my time around engaging communities and forming meaningful, trusting relationships that build equity and justice into environmental movements.

Marissa is serving as a Community Engagement Coordinator at New Entry for TerraCorps 2018-2019

Want to learn more about our current members? Click here!

 

Totally Tubular

Totally Tubular

by Haley Hewitt

At the beginning of my service term at the East Quabbin Land Trust, my supervisor Cynthia Henshaw expressed an interest in placing art installations at the Land Trust properties. From then on, the cogs in my head started turning.

At the Mandell Hill Preserve we have a beautiful sixteen-foot tall birding platform, from which you have clear views of Mount Wachusett and of the grassland birds living on the property.

In one of the EQLT barns I found a pile of old PVC pipes. Inspiration struck! I brought them home. I built a scale miniature version of the platform to test out designs.

I cut the PVC pipes lengthwise on a table saw.

I scrubbed the pipes of their spider webs and farm grime, then I spray painted each piece a different color.

Then I loaded the pipes into my Mini Cooper to take them down to Mandell Hill!

I attached the pipes to the birding platform using a creative array of clamps and bungee cords to hold them in place while I attached the struts.

With the pipes on, I installed a bucket-and-pulley system, several baseballs, and a small step for little feet.

And the project is complete! Since putting this up, many families have told me they make a trip to this preserve just to play with the ball drop. The installation is free and open to the public at Mandell Hill Preserve on 645 Barre Road in Hardwick MA. Now we just need to think of a good name for it!

Haley is serving as a Youth Education Coordinator at East Quabbin Land Trust for TerraCorps 2018-2019

Want to learn more about our current members? Click here!

 

Fighting the Good Fight, One Feast at a Time

Fighting the Good Fight, One Feast at a Time

by Megan Saraceno

Hello, it’s me, Megan! I wanted to share a very special project from my year of service at the non-profit Just Roots. Located in the humble, vibrant, town of Greenfield, Massachusetts, I have been aligning work and play through their mission, “increasing access to healthy, local food by connection people, land, resources and know-how”.

As Just Roots’ “Community Engagement Coordinator”, I have had plenty of amazing stories worth sharing, from navigating blossoming partnerships, including the farm and a local community health center, to engaging with our community through food demos and recipe sharing. These diverse experiences have come with cherished memories, challenges, and breadth of professional skill development.

This winter, I have had the pleasure of organizing monthly community meals at two local housing developments through a grant-funded program, The Local Food Clinic. The Local Food Clinic provides community members with an easily accessible, welcoming environment to learn about food access and health resources available in Franklin County. Acknowledging the power of sharing a meal, we decided to rebrand our event to “Feastival”. The events are intended to create a celebratory and community-oriented environment, with food security services and support seamlessly integrated through conversation over the meal, activities, and resources available on the dining tables and throughout the space. We feature a meal with local seasonal vegetables and provide recipes for participants to take home, replicate, alter, and enjoy. Our community members are invited to contribute to the meal prep, 30 minutes before the service time, if they’re interested. Aimed to build the skills and interests around healthy food, while providing resources to accessing them.

Through this program, I have been able to combine and showcase many of Just Roots values and talents. We bring JOY, we bring FUN, we show community members that veggies are delicious and can be used in so many fun and simple recipes! We build relationships and create systems with community members who face many barriers to food access, and stand as allies in the fight to make good nutritious food a human right!

Megan is serving as a Community Engagement Coordinator at Just Roots for TerraCorps 2018-2019

Want to learn more about our current members? Click here!

 

Confronting Food Insecurity through Farmers Markets

Confronting Food Insecurity through Farmers Markets

by Tracey Wingate

This year, I am serving as the Regional Collaboration Coordinator at Growing Places, a small nonprofit working to increase acc ess to healthy food in North Central Massachusetts. In this region, 1 out of every 3 people is food insecure, meaning they do not have reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. In working to address this issue, at Growing Places, we focus on the five most undeserved communities in our region: Clinton, Fitchburg, Gardner, Leominster and Winchendon. In these communities we have a variety of programs, including farmers markets, youth education and community gardens.

During my service year so far, I have been most involved with our farmers markets in Fitchburg and Leominster. Attending these markets has helped me build connections in our communities and given me a lot to think about in terms of how our food systems operate. For many individuals in Massachusetts, thanks to the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) that gives SNAP customers $1 for each dollar they spend on fresh, local produce up to a monthly limit, farmers markets are important food access points. HIP has drastically increased our SNAP market sales. In 2016, before HIP was implemented, Growing Places started managing the Fitchburg Farmers Market and recorded $392 in SNAP sales. In 2017, after HIP was implemented, there was over $6,000 in SNAP sales at the market, which increased again in 2018 to over $9,500. These numbers show that HIP has been a very effective program in making fresh, local food more accessible in our region, but there is still a lot of outreach and promotion that needs to be done encouraging everyone to buy local.

This winter, I have represented Growing Places at the majority of our Fitchburg and Leominster markets and dealt with promoting them. Despite free advertising tools like Facebook that help me spread the word, actually getting someone, or a family, to show up at the market on a specific day, during a brief window of time, is quite a task. First of all, I’m trying to challenge a general assumption that there is no produce available during the Massachusetts winter. While many farmers chose to take the winter off, there are some who employ a few simple technologies to continue growing despite the cold and snow. Second, I’m dealing with this issue of convenience, if someone is already shopping at a supermarket or box store for some of their weekly needs, it’s so easy to just grab produce at the same time and avoid making another trip to the farmers market. Third, transportation is also an issue for many residents in North Central Mass, meaning that people who may want to come to the market simply can’t because they have no way to get there. While I have spent many Saturdays sitting at markets with very low attendance feeling frustrated, I have to remind myself that these are important events for the people who are able to attend. Additionally, farmers markets are only part of the solution to food insecurity in this region and implementing more solutions takes time. Looking ahead to the last couple months of my service year, my goal is to continue working with Growing Places’ partners to envision system changes and action steps towards making food more accessible for everyone living in this region.

Tracey is serving as a Regional Collaboration Coordinator at Growing Places for TerraCorps 2018-2019

Want to learn more about our current members? Click here!

Discovering What Makes the Hilltowns, the Hilltowns

Discovering What Makes the Hilltowns, the Hilltowns

by Brigid Ryan

I am serving at Hilltown Land Trust, which serves 13 towns in Western Massachusetts, and within these 13 towns is my hometown of Chesterfield. I am thrilled I earned this position because I am doing what I love in the place that I love. At the same time, I’m able to learn more about the ecology, the history and the community around me.

As a Land Stewardship Coordinator, the largest task I have is to monitor properties that have conservation restrictions (CR). A conservation restriction is a legally binding agreement between a landowner and land trust to permanently protect property. In the fall I visited almost 20 CR properties and I realized that every single property was different from one another. Each week I was able to learn more about the world I’ve grown up. I felt as if I had a behind the scenes, all access pass to the hilltowns. I visited a property with beautiful and large old legacy trees, which are trees that were spared by the axe of settlers or survived a windstorm event. I crawled in and out of some of the steepest ravines down to rivers that cut through the landscape. I walked through pasture land while Scottish Highland cattle grazed around me. I followed stone walls and barbed wire along property boundaries that reminded me these forests were once fields. I stumbled upon a brook with flooding waterfalls at every dip in the earth. I listened to a landowner tell stories about how they used to play in the foundation of their ancestor’s house on the property. I found signs of moose, deer, bear, rabbit and other wildlife exploring the forest.

I was not always the most graceful while maneuvering through the woods to experience all of this. I have gotten my foot stuck in mud. I have been shocked by electric fencing. I have had my eye poked out by branches. I have gotten caught in prickers. But it was all worth it.

I chose this career path because I love to be outdoors and to connect with others in nature. The best part about monitoring is that sometimes you should be taking the road less traveled, and that is where I found the most joy. During each visit I was able to share these moments of awe and wonder with volunteers and landowners. My sense of connection with the community and nature has grown deeper through this position. I am proud to be apart of the efforts in conserving these properties that make the hilltowns, the hilltowns.

Brigid is serving as a Land Stewardship Coordinator at Hilltown Land Trust for TerraCorps 2018-2019

Want to learn more about our current members? Click here!

Land for the People (of Holyoke)

Land for the People (of Holyoke)

by Lee Halasz

The City of Holyoke recently adopted the Community Preservation Act (CPA). This surcharge on property taxes provides a fantastic source of funds for municipalities to support the conservation of open space.

Kestrel Land Trust (my service site) was asked by the City of Holyoke to assist with an application to permanently conserve a 50-acre parcel of forested land, and Lucky Lee has been able to work on the project from the beginning. Should it be successful, it will be the first land conservation project in Holyoke using CPA, with hopefully many to follow.

The parcel (which we named Gloutak Woods after the owner) had recently been placed on the market, with the owner needing to realize its financial value. However, she had always wanted to conserve the parcel but was never quite sure how it could happen. Enter CPA. Now, with a possible route to provide funds to buy the parcel, the City of Holyoke approached Kestrel to help with the process, given Kestrel regularly works with other municipalities to conserve land under the CPA process.

In my service with Kestrel I had dabbled in the land conservation process through assisting several projects in various ways, but the Gloutak Woods project was the first time I had been tasked with a full project from the beginning. I coordinated the application through working with the landowner and her attorney and real estate agent, several local community members, and various people at Kestrel and the City of Holyoke.

After the CPA Committee reviewed the application, Kestrel was asked to meet with the Committee and to make a presentation on the project at a public meeting (attached photo). The committee is now back to deliberating and will soon vote on whether to fund this project.

It has been fantastic to be fully immersed in a land conservation project, and to now more fully comprehend just how much coordination and work is involved. Having invested plenty of energy into the process, I really, really, really hope the application is successful! It would be amazing to know that I helped conserve one of the largest remaining parcels of privately-owned land in Holyoke, so that it can be important wildlife habitat, beautiful open space, and a public recreational resource forever more.

After I have completed my TerraCorps service, I would love to be able to continue to help conserve land and can see land trusts and land conservation in one version of my future!

Lee is serving as a Regional Conservation Coordinator at Kestrel Land Trust for TerraCorps 2018-2019

Want to learn more about our current members? Click here!

The Support of the Community: Couldn’t do it without them

The Support of the Community: Couldn’t do it without them

by KimLynn Nguyen

Since moving here from Florida, I’ve experience and learned so many new things. The biggest change is the weather change; the fluffy, pure white snow and the changing leaves in autumn are always enjoyable to see. Apart from trying to get use to the extreme temperature changes, I’m getting to learn that the folks in Massachusetts are very hardy and very kind.

With being a second-year member, I am able to continue to build a relationship with the people within the Mount Grace region. I am always amazed by the compassion and dedication that the community has towards land conservation, stewardship, and connecting with Mount Grace. As a non-local, I can really appreciate their kindness and knowledge when I’m unfamiliar with the local hotspots, celebrities, and traditions. Such as the little insider knowledge not found on-line on like where the best places to swim, visit, go hiking in, or the best person to contact for a particular project idea.

Without the support of the community, we could not have complete half the projects that we did. Their expertise has led to the designs, construction, and ideas of trails, bridges, platforms, kiosks, signs, and so much more. I am so grateful my transition to a new region led me to such a wonderful community helping me along the way. I can’t wait to see what we come up with next!

KimLynn is serving as a Land Stewardship Coordinator at Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust for TerraCorps 2018-2019

Want to learn more about our current members? Click here!

The Change

The Change

by Nicole Wilhelmi

When I first came across the TerraCops position on Indeed. I had no idea what AmeriCorps was. I quickly began researching into the program, and what the position of Youth Education Coordinator consisted of. As I continued to read, I began getting more & more excited at the opportunity to help get children involved more with nature. Nature has always been a huge influence on my life. Especially in my most recent years, spending time outside with my dog, and finding new cool spots to hike with friends. When I noticed Mass Audubon’s Broad Meadow Brook, the largest in city wildlife sanctuary as one of the service sites I thought how cool it would be to serve there! I could really help impact children who don’t get the opportunity to explore nature as much living in a city.

Well that opportunity became a reality! I was so excited to jump right into a completely new industry. I came from a 9-5 cubical job to being able to walk trails and teach children about the nature that surrounds them. My first time teaching alone I was extremely nervous, and I felt like the children could sense that and didn’t pay all that much attention to what I was saying. But one girl asked me multiple questions and really seemed interested in what I was trying to teach them, and honestly that was good enough for me. I was proud of myself for stepping out of my comfort zone and trying something completely new! 6 months later I feel like I have grown and learned so much. Not only about the industry but about myself. This opportunity has impacted my life in such a positive way! I am thankful that I decided to take a risk and try something new.

Nicole is serving as a Youth Education Coordinator at Mass Audubon Broad Meadow Brook for TerraCorps 2018-2019

Want to learn more about our current members? Click here!

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