It has been an amazing year for the Ashby Land Trust. We accomplished a task that no one thought possible. We preserved Mt. Watatic as protected open space. We exceeded our goal of protecting 100 acres for 2002 and made steady progress towards our long-term goals of public education and recreation, land stewardship, and building the organization.
During the calendar year 2002, the Land Trust supported and facilitated the purchase of Mt. Watatic. The Board of Directors voted to expend $5,000 for an appraisal of the property in March for which the Land Trust would be reimbursed following the sale. The Land Trust Board understood that purchase of Mt. Watatic from Industrial Communications and Electronics represented the final opportunity to preserve the mountain in its natural state. Once the State negotiator and Industrial Communications agreed on a price, the Land Trust Board worked tirelessly to fashion a successful purchase strategy. This entailed hours of negotiation and project management. We deeply appreciate the diligent legal work of Judith Pickett and Thomas Harrington of Pickett, Miyares, and Harrington, LLP. The purchase was finalized on July 10, 2002.
The sources of money for the purchase of the land were as follows:
The Ashby Land Trust portion was raised through a $300,000 donation and $600,000 in bridge loans. In August, the Board authorized the formation of the Campaign for Watatic to cover repayment of the Land Trust’s loans and other associated costs.
The Board engaged the services of Martin Novom, CFRE, as campaign consultant. The resulting campaign fundraising strategy includes soliciting and receiving donations from private individuals, businesses and foundations. It also includes working with the Towns of Ashby and Ashbumham to purchase a share of the property. A small core of dedicated volunteers, the Campaign Cabinet, have continued working with the consultant and developed written materials, researched prospective donors, applied for grants and trained other volunteers.
The Campaign has also conducted six public events: a plant sale in July, a race on the Wapack Trail in July, a chicken barbecue at the base of Mt. . Watatic on August 6, and a Columbus Day weekend extravaganza of three events. The weekend included a round trip trail ride from the Stock farm to the summit of Mt. Watatic, a ‘poker run’ up the mountain, and a contra dance in Ashbumham. Many more events are planned for the spring and summer of 2003.
As of December 31, 2002, we have received $335,077.53 in donations. In addition, we were notified in December that we were awarded a $12,000 grant from the Fields Pond Foundation, and a $28,000 forgivable loan from Sweet Water Trust.
We appreciate the support and enthusiasm of the Board of Directors and the community, and we are confident that we will reach our goals. Keep track of our progress on the web at http://www.Watatic.org
In 2002, the Land Trust was contacted by several property owners interested in conserving several large parcels of property in Ashby. Each of these tracts was close to 100 acres. Members of the Land Trust Board researched the properties in the Town’s records and walked the land to note their conservation values. With the consent of owners, some of this information was made available to potential buyers from State government and other land conservation groups. The Land Trust facilitated communication throughout the lengthy process of negotiation.
At the close of 2002, the protection of two properties through acquisition by Conservation agencies had been successfully negotiated, but both are currently delayed due to the State’s fiscal troubles. The Land Trust has gained important experience in the process of these projects and we look forward to other opportunities where we can play a similar role.
Although the Board and other volunteers had their time consumed with the Watatic project and resulting fundraising activities, we did manage to meet some of our goals towards public education.
Our Annual Meeting, held in March, featured guest speaker John Mitchell, author of Ceremonial Times, Walking Towards Walden and several other books.
In August, more than 150 people hiked and were driven to the top of Mt. Watatic to join state officials and dignitaries in celebration of the acquisition of the property. The speeches were followed by a barbeque picnic at the site of the former ski lodge at the base of the mountain.
Once again, the Land Trust manned a booth at Ashby’s annual Pumpkin Festival in October, where we provided information on the Land Trust in general, as well information on specific projects.
The Land Trust only conducted one hike during the year: a December hike on the Wiita property. Hikers braved cold weather and wicked winds on the trail up Blood Hill. They eventually left the beaten path in search of more inviting adventures than a windy summit. All agreed that they had a better sense of the property size, bounds, attributes and diversity as a result of leaving the trail most traveled.
In 2003 we hope to lead many more hikes. We have yet to get out to the Indian caves, and the trail from the Stock Farm to Watatic is a lovely hike.
The Land Trust is legally obligated to protect lands on which it holds a Conservation Restriction (CR). The CR is a legal document created by the landowner and the Land Trust and approved by the State of Massachusetts. It details the allowed uses and activities for the property that will ensure the preservation of the property’s conservation values.
The Ashby Land Trust currently holds CR’s on three properties; the South Road Fields (12 acres), the Morrison property (3 acres), and the Wiita Conservation Area (171 acres).
After the CR is recorded, the Land Trust prepares a base line report on each property. This documents the condition of the property at the time responsibility for the CR is assumed. The baseline is used throughout the rest of the lifetime of the property to assess changes in the property and its conservation values.
The Land Trust walks each property annually with the current owner to monitor changes. The monitoring team for each property is responsible for documenting what they see through standardized monitoring reports, photographs and map notations. The changes are discussed with the owner and compared with the baseline and the CR to determine whether actions need to be taken to limit any further change, or correct damages caused by the changes.
So far, the Ashby Land Trust’s diligence has been rewarded. Current owners and abutters have been aware of the protection and abided by the restrictions. The Land Trust plans to clearly mark the boundaries of these protected lands during the coming year to increase the visibility of their protected state.
With the Watatic purchase and the partial ownership of the property by the Ashby Land Trust, we enter into a new realm. Each owner of the property will have a representative on the management committee. As a result, the Land Trust will take an active role in managing the future of Mt Watatic.
During 2002, seventy-one individuals and families paid membership dues ranging in value from $5.00 to $250.00. This money from memberships is the major source of income for the Land Trust, bringing in approximately 90% of the yearly income. The other 10% comes from contributions, book and calendar sales, and interest income.
The Board of Directors has established two special funds to ensure our ability to meet our goals and obligations into the future.
Source: Donations and occasional allocations from the general fund by the Board.
Purpose: to enable the Ashby Land Trust to purchase lands or easements
Note: $2,500 of $5,000 expended on the Watatic appraisal was not reimbursed as of 12/31/02.
Source: Donations and occasional allocations from the general fund by the Board
Purpose: to enable the Ashby Land Trust to continue to monitor lands in perpetuity
As of 12/31/02, the assets of the Ashby Land Trust were as follows:
Early in the summer, the Directors of the Land Trust undertook the task of joining with the State of Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management and Division of Fisheries and Wildlife and the Ashbumham Conservation Trust to purchase Mt.Watatic. The Land Trusts were responsible for raising $900,000 towards the purchase price of the mountain and $100,000 in associated expenses. Loans had to be taken out to meet the purchase deadline and a year long fundraising effort, the Campaign for Watatic, was initiated to raise the money to repay the loans. As of 12/31/02, the sum of $335,077.53 had been raised from individuals, organizations, and events sponsored by the two Land Trusts.