ASHBURNHAM, Mass. — As the Commonwealth continues to recognize Climate Week, the Baker-Polito Administration today joined with stakeholders, and state and local officials at the base of Mount Watatic to celebrate a public-private partnership that conserved more than 200 acres of land in the Towns of Ashby and Ashburnham, including 186 acres purchased by the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) that will be managed by the agency’s Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) as part of the 1,036-acre Ashby Wildlife Management Area. The property is centrally located within an extensive landscape of more than 3,650 acres of conservation land, including the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s (DCR) 2,200-acre Ashburnham State Forest, the 280-acre Mount Watatic Reservation, and DFG’s 140-acre Watatic Mountain Sanctuary.
“The Baker-Polito Administration prioritizes the fostering and strengthening of partnerships with key stakeholders in an effort to achieve goals that directly benefit the public, such as permanently conserving environmental resources, protecting diverse wildlife habitats, and increasing public access to the natural world,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Beth Card. “While we continue to celebrate Climate Week, it’s important to note that this Mount Watatic acquisition protects land that is critical for climate change adaptation and resiliency. The forested landscape and topography of the property provide water filtration, carbon sequestration, and opportunities for local species to migrate to higher elevations.”
DFG acquired the 186 acres of land from the North County Land Trust (NCLT) for $995,000 in July 2022, with half of the funding from state open space bond funds and half from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund grant program. In 2020, with an imminent threat of sale and development of the property, the NCLT coordinated fundraising and agreed to pre-acquire the property to allow DFG time to identify state and federal funding sources. In January 2021, NCLT purchased 201 acres for $1.3 million from the Thomas L. Mikes Family Trust. This included the 186-acre property and 15 acres of adjacent land with an existing farmhouse. NCLT will use the farmhouse property for conservation education programs and will grant DFG a conservation restriction on the 15 acres to preclude further development.
“I want to thank the North County Land Trust and the people of the region who contributed their time, money, and energy to complete the acquisition and permanent protection of this incredible property,” said Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Ron Amidon. “The property and the larger network of protected open space in the region support all types of wildlife and recreational opportunities, such as fishing, hunting, hiking, and wildlife observation.”
“The Mikes Trust property was the last major piece of land needed to conserve the entirety of Mt. Watatic. North County Land Trust was intent on using all our resources, tools, partnerships, local relationships, and abilities as a private land conservation organization to see that it was permanently protected,” said Anna Wilkins, Executive Director of the North County Land Trust. “The dedicated staff at the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife were phenomenal to work with. We are thrilled to have seen this accomplishment through and look forward to continued collaboration and partnership with the state.”
The property acquired contains a mix of mature and young forests, fields, and ponds valuable to many types of wildlife. Waterfowl and furbearers such as river otter, muskrat, mink, raccoon, and beaver are common, as well as white-tailed deer, Eastern coyote, fox, and wild turkey. Moose and black bear have also been reported, and several species of conservation concern, such as Eastern towhees and Nashville warblers.
“We are so fortunate to have such fantastic stewards on the local and state level that have a similar goal in mind, conserving land for people today and for future generations to enjoy,” said State Senator Anne Gobi (D-Spencer).
“It is wonderful to see this conservation area expand,” said State Representative Jonathan Zlotnik (D-Gardner). “The last few years have proved just how valuable these resources are. It is great to have this available not only to residents of our region, but as we have seen recently, it has been a draw for visitors from across the state.”
As part of the Ashby Wildlife Management Area(WMA), the property is now open to the public for passive recreation, including fishing, hunting, hiking, wildlife observation, and environmental education. The property includes the south peak of Mount Watatic and provides important and improved connections to the Wapack Trail and Mid-State Trail located on the abutting Mount Watatic Reservation. The Ashby WMA offers excellent fishing opportunity on the upper portion of Watatic Pond, Bennetts Brook, and the south branch of the Souhegan River. Opportunities for hunting on the wildlife management area include waterfowl, furbearers, deer, wild turkey, and stocked pheasant. The area is also popular with bird watchers, particularly during the hawk migration season from the peak of Mt. Watatic.
–Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game