Archives & Stuff

Southbridge News/Sturbridge Villager photo spread of Kay & Scott on their Feb. 2013 Hike at Opacum Woods

Southbridge Evening News Article about Claire Birtz

June 15, 2012


Visit the Claire Birtz Wildlife Sanctuary!

April 2012

Have you seen the beaver in Opacum Pond? Even if you don't SEE this critter, you can tell they've been working hard. Due to dam construction at the outlet of the pond, the trail going into Opacum Woods was getting very wet and muddy. A short boardwalk has been installed to keep your feet dry.

Thanks Howie!






Thanks to Bill Cormier of THE BIRD STORE and more, and our own Howie Fife, we can safely cross this bridge. A VERY BIG THANK YOU to Hull Forest Products for the wood!



October 2, 2008

The entire volunteer-board of Opacum Land Trust extends huge and heartfelt thanks to Smith & Jones Advertising  of Sturbridge for an outstanding effort during CreateAthon®. Opacum has received a brand new logo, new brochure, and…drum-roll please…a new website. Smith & Jones’ talented and dedicated staff burned the midnight oil – and beyond – to work on our project and those of five other nonprofits. In fact, the good folks at Smith & Jones went above and beyond their original commitment to Opacum, which entailed creating a new logo and brochure. On the day of the reveal, Smith & Jones staff told Opacum’s president, Jennifer Ohop, “We hope we didn’t overstep our bounds and you don’t mind, but we went ahead and designed a new website for you.” Ahem, um, NO you didn’t! Thank you all for your over-the-top generosity, your playful creativity, and your heartfelt commitment to supporting local nonprofits who could never have afforded to do any of this on their own. Thank you, though little words, means so very much.

Opacum Land Trust Board of Directors

June 21, 2008
Today, twelve people were led by Ted Elliman of New England Wildflower Society and Alan Smith of the Opacum Land Trust to begin the Botanical Survey of Opacum Woods and the adjacent Gaumond Sanctuary. This survey will help Opacum Land Trust to know what is growing on this well-used property in Sturbridge. The survey will help Opacum know how to manage and maintain the property for people to enjoy while protecting the diversity of plant and animal life on this 296 acre preserve.

It was a lovely day. People arrived with lunches, water and Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide to learn more about identifying plants and the plant communities of Opacum Woods. The group made an exciting find: they found three different species of Botrychium, an unusual fern that the New England Plant Conservation Program is focusing on this year. After lunch the group split up and both groups were able to compile lists of over 110 species found on the property.

There will be two more survey dates at Opacum Woods. The next date will be Tuesday July 15th when we will undertake a wetland survey. There are lots of vegetated wetlands, perennial and intermittent streams on the property. According to Ted Elliman “we barely scratched the surface of that habitat” on the first visit. Plants in wetland communities typically bloom in mid-July, so this will be a great time to look at what is happening. Opacum and New England Wildflower Society are looking for people to join Ted and explore the streams and wetlands of Opacum Woods. Anyone interested in going for a walk, learn more about the plants and the communities they make up, or identify plants growing at the site is welcome to join us on July 15th. Bring your water shoes, boots, lunch, bug repellant and sunblock. Please call 508-347-9144 or e-mail Leslie Duthie at

May 18, 2008
Opacum Land Trust Eighth Perennial Plant Sale
May is the month that all gardeners adore! Even people who don’t spend all winter huddled up with the plant catalogs look forward to getting outside. The Opacum Land Trust is preparing for its eighth perennial plant sale. It will be held on Sunday May 18th at the Southbridge Town Common from 8am until 12 noon. Be sure to get there early for the best selection.

Each year the Opacum Land Trust brings volunteers to help people select the right plants for their yard. The Land Trust has landscape designers, growers, and professional gardeners on hand to answer all your questions. There will be a wide variety of plants on hand: Trees such as flowering crabapples (two colors) and shrubs for any garden including the stunning pink beauty bush (Kolkwitzia amabilis) which blooms in late June, native cinquefoil that has yellow flowers, streaked with orange that bloom in August, and the purple sand cherry covered with light pink to white flowers in early spring and purple foliage all year long. As always there will be a wide variety of perennials available including three colors of beebalm, several kinds of native phlox, butterfly weed, columbine, hostas, iris, black eyed susan, purple coneflower several varieties of Epimedium, an unusual Asian and European wildflower found in collectors gardens, and many more species.

“We try to focus on native plants for the home gardener” says Leslie Duthie, plant sale coordinator for Opacum, “Native plants are easier to grow, tolerate our unusual weather, and attract native birds and butterflies.” There are plenty of nice garden perennials available as well.

The plant sale is called “perennial” because we try to focus on perennial plants, things that come back year after year. There will be some annuals, herbs and tomatoes available. Remember to come early to get the best selection. Do you have some old pots or flats cluttering up your garage or shed that you might like to pass on? Bring them too; the land trust can re-use good pots for next year. All money benefits the Opacum Land Trust, a 13 town land trust with properties in Southbridge , Sturbridge, Brookfield , Brimfield and Monson. To learn more about Opacum, please visit our website:

Opacum Land Trust Annual Meeting
Opacum Land Trust will be holding its eighth annual meeting on Thursday, March 27, 2008 at the Hitchcock Academy in Brimfield, MA, from 7:00 - 9:00pm.

Opacum Land Trust is a local conservation group whose region includes thirteen towns: Brimfield, Holland, Wales, Monson, Sturbridge, Southbridge, Charlton, East Brookfield, West Brookfield, Brookfield, North Brookfield, and Warren. Over the past eight years, the trust has protected over 600 acres of land in five of these communities. The annual meeting is an event for members and friends, old and new, to learn more about what Opacum Land Trust is, and what it does.

On the agenda for this evening is the unveiling of Opacum's first strategic plan. Jennifer Ohop, Opacum's Vice President, said, "We are excited about this new, focused direction that Opacum is embarking upon. The board has been working on developing the strategic plan for over a year, and we are beginning to put it into action." Opacum will be announcing, among other things, a new slate of officers, board-level job titles and descriptions, and the addition of its first paid administrative position.

Recently, the founding president of Opacum Land Trust, Carol Childress, stepped down. After further thought and reflection, Carol has decided to relinquish her seat on the board of directors as well, and step away fully. "Carol has provided a solid foundation for Opacum," said Ohop, "and she is stepping back to refocus her efforts in other areas. I look forward to volunteering with her in the future, and I am certain you will find her walking the trails at Opacum Woods." The new president will be announced at the annual meeting.

The featured speaker of the evening will be Opacum's very own Alan Smith, who will be presenting Mysterous Stone Heads. Alan is an archaeologist and a geologist, and has volunteered on Opacum's board of directors since it was founded in the year 2000. His slide show explores the curious stone carvings that turned up in Sturbridge, Southbridge and Brimfield. The stones weigh from two to 65 pounds, and appear to have an Iroquois influence. The Iroquois, a powerful and influential native people, were known to travel and trade in this area. The mysterious stone heads may be ceremonial artifacts.

Bill & Nancy Cormier, of Wild Bird Crossing in Sturbridge will be supporting Opacum Land Trust by donating and raffling off prizes during the annual meeting. Among the array of fabulous items from their store is a brand new pair of binoculars, just in time for spring bird watching.

Join Opacum Land Trust this evening for an intriguing presentation on the Mysterious Stone Heads, and learn about Opacum's past, present and future. The board of directors is hopeful that people interested in becoming more proactive about conservation within Opacum's thirteen town region will attend the annual meeting. "We are looking to increase town representation on our board," said Ohop, "there are new opportunities as the land trust grows, and expanding the board will increase our capacity, diversity and our collective perspective."

Please RSVP by calling 508-347-9144 or via e-mail to

Opacum Land Trust Receives Grant for Stewardship
In January the Opacum Land Trust and the New England Wildflower Society received a grant from the Massachusetts Land Trust Coalition in coordination with the Franklin Land Trust and the Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust for over $8,600. This grant will allow Opacum to “improve stewardship and management of conservation land”, specifically at the Opacum Woods and Gaumond properties in Sturbridge. The money will provide funds for the New England Wildflower Society to complete a botanical inventory and invasive plant study at these properties.

The project will kick off in May with a meeting with New England Wildflower staff. Members of the Opacum Land Trust who wish to volunteer will be invited to learn about botanical survey goals and techniques as well as invasive species identification. The survey of Opacum Woods and the Gaumond property will take place between early June and October. In October, staff of the New England Wildflower Society will make a final presentation of the survey results and provide Opacum with a stewardship plan for these properties. All participants and interested parties will be included in this final meeting.

The land trust hopes that anyone who is interested will help New England Wildflower staff with the survey and invasive species control on our premier property. This grant will help us by providing:

- A running plant inventory lists throughout the survey

- Documentation of invasive species populations, mapped with GPS

- Volunteers will be trained in invasive species identification and botanical survey techniques

- A complete botanical survey of Opacum Woods and the Gaumond property, including comprehensive floristic list and natural community classification for properties (will be included in Stewardship Plan)

- Management workday with NEWFS staff and volunteers, to serve as a prototype for future management actions

- Preparation of Stewardship Plan, with short and long-term management strategies for preservation of the properties’ native biodiversity

It is a privilege to not only receive this grant but also to be working with a noteworthy organization such as New England Wildflower.

Anyone who is interested in volunteering on this project as well as our current property volunteers should contact Leslie Duthie at to learn more about the project and the opportunities.

January 1, 2008
Dear Members, Friends and Colleagues:
What an exciting and busy year 2007 was for Opacum Land Trust! The 105-acre Conservation Restriction on the Broz/Simon Farm Conservation Project was officially recorded at the Worcester Registry of Deeds on December 28th, 2007. Such a generous donation from Tim Simon and Gwen Broz will pay forward in perpetuity as productive forest and farmland.

As of today, January 1 2008, Opacum Land Trust has succeeded in conserving 603 acres consisting of 8 separate properties in five towns. In addition, since 2003 we have held a trail easement on the Grand Trunk Trail in Sturbridge - a generous donation from the Roscioli family. We could not have done any of this without all of you, and in particular, especially those conservation-minded landowners who have committed themselves to such an act of generosity.

Opacum is just 37 acres shy of actually preserving one square mile of land - what a milestone that will be for a grassroots volunteer organization!

We would like to thank our generous and creative parners in fundraising for the Brookfield project: Linda Early of Nature's Gallery in Brimfield, who created Cups for Conservation, and five local authors: Dennis McCurdy, Larry & Kitty Lowenthal, Rita Schiano and Shawn Cormier, who personally signed their works during our fundraiser at Kaizen Sushi Bar & Grill in Stubridge, donating 30% to the land trust. Due to the icy conditions that night, agreed to continue their sales through the end of the year. Carol will have the final numbers soon, so stay tuned!

None of this would be possible without all of you - our members, friends, volunteers, donors and colleagues. Some of you have been members of Opacum since its inception in 2000. Some of you are new to the organization, and we hope that our continued success will entice you to stay with us while we continue to grow, and perhaps even become involved as a volunteer. You make it possible for us to shine, and with your help, we will continue to build on our successes.

Special thanks go to Mike Sweet, Opacum's attorney and partner in the law firm of Doherty Wallace Pillsbury and Murphy in Springfield. Mike has been with us since day one; we wouldn't be here without his constant and continued assistance to us. Thank you Michael, and your family, too, for allowing us to take part of you from them.

Welcome to 2008! Thanks to everyone from the bottom our hearts for the last 8 years of success, and we look forward to seeing all of you throughout the year.

Best to all of you from the Opacum Board of Directors:
Carol Childress, Jen Ohop, Alan Smith, George Miller, Jennifer Morrison and Leslie Duthie

December 6, 2007
Congratulations to the winners of our Autumn Raffle! First prize: Tim Kane of Brookfield, Clearwater Design "Nunu" Kayak Second prize: Peter Cutting, $75 gift certificate to TipTop Country Store, Brookfield Third prize: Marita Tasse, 2 bottles of homemade wine, flavors: lemon balm and rhubarb, by Dr. Gwen Broz of Brookfield. Congratulations to the Winners! Grateful thanks to all who bought tickets, and to those volunteers who assisted in selling them especially Wildbird Crossing and TipTop Country Store! Final tally of funds raised is $1,145 (this is after our costs!) THANKS VERY MUCH FOR THIS SUCCESS!

November 2007
Good News from East Brookfield! This community will be receiving a Self Help Grant from the Commonwealth to protect open space. The town was eligible for this funding after completion of their Open Space Plan. Opacum Land Trust assisted the town with this endeavor through grant writing to fund both the Open Space and Master Plan. Learn more by clicking here <>

October 2007
A group of " Limber Librarians" did an early morning walk in the beautiful Opacum Woods. They were in Sturbridge for the New England Library Association Conference. The group enjoyed the foilage as well as the beautiful land - it was a great relaxation before a busy day. Librarians in photo were from CT, VT NH ME NY and Canada. Thank You Betsy from the Cora J. Belden Library in Rocky Hill, CT, for the photo.

Please Note: The Opacum Woods Kiosk in the background isn't camera shy- it was vandalized this summer and we were hoping to be able to clean the lexan covering, but alas, we must replace it.

September 5, 2007
Rice Corner Road, Brookfield: Opacum's NEW Conservation Project
Opacum Land Trust is very pleased to announce that it is accepting a Conservation Restriction on approximately 105 acres of land on Rice Corner Road, Brookfield. The generous donors, Dr. Gwen Broz and Mr. Tim Simon, are putting into action their wish for permanent conservation of their farm.

To be able to steward this Conservation Restriction now and in perpetuity, Opacum is immediately launching a fundraiser for $15,000 to pay for this transaction, and to invest in its long-term Property Stewardship Fund. We must complete this fundraiser by December 31, 2007.

The Purposes of the Conservation Restriction will be to permanently preserve the following: the approximate 16-acre pasture and hayfields which provide breeding and nesting habitat for grassland birds including bobolinks and bluebirds; the approximate 89 acres of forestland and treeline that buffer the pasture and function as upland habitat for predatory animals, migratory birds, and for rare and common species of animals and plants including turtles and amphibians; the forest, of mixed age and mixed native species of trees, which will be allowed to mature; a cranberry, black spruce and sphagnum hummock bog; several vernal pools; conservation of this property creates a buffer and expands wildlife corridors for MassWildlife's abutting "Hamilton Woods" located on Gay Road in Brookfield; three old growth trees that dot the treeline at the pasture, and provide shade for grazing animals; scenic views for members of the general public traveling along Rice Corner Road. The permanent protection of the property will preserve these views and contribute significantly to the scenic quality of this public road; this property falls within Supporting Natural Landscape on the state's BioMap published by the Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program of the MA Dept Fish & Game. Preservation of this property will contribute significantly to conservation of the native biodiversity in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

An old sugar maple at the tree line in the pasture on Rice Corner Road, Brookfield, MA

Opacum must complete this transaction by December 31, 2007

Make a donation today. Earmark your contribution for the "Broz/Simon CR, Brookfield, MA"

There are three ways you can contribute:
*Make a secure, online donation right now using the Network for Good
*Send your check to Opacum Land Trust, Inc., POB 233, Sturbridge, MA 01566
*E-mail and pledge a donation to be made no later than December 31, 2007

For more information, visit the Rice Corner Road Project Page. Thank You for doing your part to preserve our beautiful countryside!

August 13, 2007
Thank You for Making Opacum's First Eco-Art Auction a Huge Success!
Opacum Land Trust would like to thank everyone involved in our most recent Eco-Art Auction fundraiser held on July 29th in the newly reopened Oliver Wight Tavern at Old Sturbridge Village (OSV). We thank Jim Donahue and Paul Wykes for generously donating the Tavern, and we send sincere thanks to Craig Arnold, Pam Lozier, Tracy McCormick and other staff at OSV for their assistance in making the event a success. This fundraiser was the first such event held in the Tavern since its reopening, and is a true testament to how perfect the Tavern is for such events. Through OSV’s new food vendor Sodexho, our guests were able to experience a professional staff and fabulous hot and cold butlered hors d’oeurves, including a fried ravioli station which was outstanding. Our 130 guests enjoyed themselves, and we certainly appreciate this generous gift from Old Sturbridge Village .

We also must thank: On-Line Credit Card Services; Globe Sign Company; Southbridge Savings Bank; Savers Bank; Southbridge Credit Union; McCurdy Insurance; Smith & Jones Advertising; Sterling Engineering; Norcross Wildlife Foundation; and Millennium Power.

Also, thank you Senator Stephen Brewer for providing me the opportunity to read a letter regarding your continued efforts in the legislature to conserve the Commonwealth’s natural and cultural resources. Thank you also, State Rep. Todd Smola, for attending this event and speaking to our attendees about the Environmental Bond Bill and other important political conservation issues.

This auction successfully sold 70 items that were either made from, or inspired by nature. Many were pieces donated from local artists and businesses, and included quite an interesting mix of items which were met with enthusiasm by each auction-goer. We owe special thanks to those artists who helped to make this event a success: Michelle DeMarco, Tobi Hoffman, Charles Gaulin, Richard Johnson, Kathleen Coggins, Matt Burne, Gayle Magwood, Michael Glaser, Phil Eckert tinsmith at OSV, Jean-Jacques Rivard, the Nature’s Gallery & Art and Soul Studio Collaborative: Linda Early, Anna Ozolins, and Trisha O’Brien; Loretta Medeiros, Bee Savides, Glenn Clark, Jen Ohop, Nancy Bryant, John & Jane Freeman, Pat Jeffries, Maryann Adams, Barbara Rhodes, Sarah Jeppson, Sherry Zitter, Darlene Kuliza, Sandy Acly, Jerry Suprenant, Sarah Lyon, Danielle LeMay, and Lorraine Langevin.

Also, Alina Eisenhauer of Sturbridge Bread Company; Auntie Cathie’s Bakery & Roadside Stand, Wales; Rob Morin of Morin Jewelers, Southbridge; Bonnie DiPietro-Lovely of Afterglow Jewelry Designs, Charlton; Roger & Paula Kohler of IndiPendants, Sandisfield; New England Graphics, Fiskdale; Tip Top Country Store, Brookfield; John Meyer and Carolyn Mills Meyer, and Joan Mills Gray of Wildaire West Farm, Southbridge; Capen Hill Nature Sanctuary, Charlton; Artfull Eye Antiques of New Jersey; and Dr. Gwen Broz of West Brookfield.

We must thank our Opacum members and donors who came to support this cause, as well as the newspaper journalists who attended the event.

By the list of individuals and businesses above, it’s plain to see that this event could not have been possible without the support of all who came together. This auction raised $5,200, and was not only a fundraiser, it was also FUN, and we thank all of you deeply and sincerely.

Opacum Land Trust is a grassroots 501(c)(3), all-volunteer charitable organization formed in 2000. In the last 7.5 years, Opacum has successfully preserved 498 acres, all which is open to the public for various types of recreation including hiking, non-motorized biking and boating, bird watching, geo-caching and hunting. Headquartered in Sturbridge, Opacum’s mission is to preserve nonrenewable natural and cultural resources. We assist other groups in conservation transactions plus provide monthly educational programs.

December 27,2006
We've reached our goal for the Brimfield Project- Thank You for your continued support!

October, 2006- Opacum Land Trust Announces A New Project:

From the Autumn 2006 Opacum Land Trust Newsletter

A Conservation Restriction in Brimfield
Writing an article such as this one is enjoyable to me, mostly because it has a happy ending. While writing, I know that these are not just words on a page…conservation is a tangible thing – I can touch this, I can see its colors transforming, and can even taste the edible plants thriving there.

Earlier this year, two dear people I’ve come to know since forming the land trust decided to finalize their plan to donate a conservation restriction on their property to Opacum Land Trust. They’ve mulled it over for awhile - a few years in fact - talked to an estate planner/tax attorney, waited for the right time, and now, it’s happening.

John Worrell & Linda Ammons own a 17-acre parcel on Wales Road (Route 19) in Brimfield. Their property backs to a 350-acre parcel which is part of Brimfield State Forest , and another 135 acres of State Forest property lies across the street. The land on which they are placing the Conservation Restriction, or CR, has enough road frontage and acreage for at least two building lots.

While most people rightly see the dollar signs in their land, John & Linda see something a bit different. They see the land they have loved and cared for being put into an agreement that will permanently prohibit development of that land. That is what a CR is and does- it is a flexible tool which enables landowners who cherish their property to see now, and into the future, that the land will remain free from man-made changes. They can sell this property with the conservation restriction. It remains in effect and enforced by Opacum.

At John & Linda’s place, there are birdhouses in the pasture, a garden in the backyard where they grow vegetables, strawberries and rhubarb (they make a mean strawberry rhubarb cobbler), wildflowers that they pick for their table, plants from which they forage and they enjoy passing time on their quiet woodland trails. One cannot underestimate the

power of a person’s connection to the land, especially those who have dug into it with their hands, harvested their food from it, and drank from its freshwater springs. This connection is what drives landowners to consider the option of conservation instead of selling it for development.

The property falls within the Massachusetts Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program’s BioMap Core Habitat. This is significant because it will provide forested habitat in the long term for rare and common species of plants and animals that live in the Quinebaug Watershed. The area serves as upland habitat for rare species of amphibians and reptiles that shall remain nameless…there is no doubt that this area is ecologically significant.

By accepting this conservation restriction, Opacum once again has a chance to make a positive contribution to conservation, people and wildlife habitat. Though a relatively small parcel, it has huge impact on many levels – size doesn’t matter, it’s an important piece of land ecologically, and it has deep meaning to John & Linda.

Our agreement with John & Linda provides that Opacum must raise the stewardship money necessary to maintain, insure and watch over the property. This is our fundraising challenge to our supporters for the last quarter of 2006, and we are thrilled to be able to bring it to all of you:

Opacum must raise $5,000 by December 31, 2006. Please send your check, payable to Opacum Land Trust, POB 233, Sturbridge , MA 01566 . Be sure to earmark or memo your check for the “Brimfield CR”.

Thank you, John & Linda, for such a generous donation. Collectively, we should thank all landowners who consider conservation as an option. And here lies the happy ending.

August, 2006
Many, many thanks to Fields Pond Foundation, and all individuals and businesses who donated to Opacum Land Trust for signage on two of its properties, Opacum Woods & The Thompson Family Forever Wild Preserve.

We would like to especially thank John Cloutier of Globe Sign Company in Southbridge for his beautiful work, and for donating two of his beautiful signs to Opacum

Left: John Cloutier, Proprietor of Globe Sign Company in Southbridge, stands in front of the kiosk and title panel he built at Opacum Woods, Sturbridge. (yes folks, that's our mascot - a hand painted Opacum on the title panel!)

July, 2006
Opacum Land Trust is happy to report that it has assisted in the acquisition of 826 acres of Old Sturbridge Village land by the town of Sturbridge & the Dept of Fish & Game. Opacum paid $4,500 to the town of Sturbridge toward the cost of the title search on the OSV lands, which will replenish the town's Lucent Gift Funds for use on future land acquisition costs. Opacum Land Trust was then reimbursed the entire $4,500 by the Dept of Fish & Game. We were happy to be able to assist the town and the state agency in this small way, on such a large and meaningful acquisition. Thank you, Phil Truesdell, for asking our assistance.

June 12, 2006
Dear Members, Friends and Colleagues:

I am very pleased to finally send this note telling everyone that the Thompson Family "Forever Wild" Preserve is officially ready to receive all of you.

As of this last Sunday - thanks to our volunteers, a grant from Fields Pond Foundation and matching funds from our supporters - the signage and kiosk is officially installed at the property, as shown in the photo to your right.

The trail begins at the road's edge of Route 198 and passes through the pasture, dotted with milkweed and butterflies, to the kiosk. At the kiosk, pick up a trail map and read the Rules & Regulations for the property. Look for the blue blazes which begin directly behind the kiosk. The beginning of the trail is pictured to your left. Hopping over the damp spots using stepping stones, you will follow the blue-blazed, one-mile loop trail passing old stone walls, and a beaver swamp which is stalked by green herons.

Look for the oval sign just past Two Cousins Restaurant & Pizza as you head south to Connecticut on scenic Route 198. Park on the side of the road. Many thanks and gratitude to Fields Pond Foundation, John Cloutier of Globe Sign Company in Southbridge, and our many supporters and donors who made matching donations, and of course, to Clyde & Denny Thompson and The Nature Conservancy. We hope you all enjoy it!

As of 4 am today, March 31, 2006, Opacum Land Trust has successfully met its goal of $57,500 toward its share of the purchase of the Claire Birtz Wildlife Sanctuary in Southbridge.

At our 6th Annual Meeting last Wednesday evening, 87 members, supporters and stone wall enthusiasts joined Opacum to celebrate its successes (sorry about the standing room only for some of you!). That evening, supporters gave a total of $810 in contributions toward this acquisition. In three days time, $5,260 in donations were either pledged or received in the mail - this must be a record.

The closing will be scheduled for next week. At that time, I will make a formal announcement and provide an opportunity for a guided tour of the property for anyone who is interested. Please disregard any published requests for donations for this project - they are officially outdated as of 4 am this morning.

We thank each and every one of you for responding to this Call to Action, for supporting Opacum in yet another of its endeavors, and for keeping this world a beautiful place to live.

For those of you not able to attend our Annual Meeting, we'd like to announce a new kind of family Membership in Opacum Land Trust: Paws Memberships are $30/year and will support Opacum's stewardship activities. We know that many of you bring your beloved furry family members for playtime and exercise to Opacum properties. Here's an opportunity for them to put their best paw forward: buy a Canine Membership and receive a specially-made nature doggie biscuit from Pet Barn of Holden.

Stay tuned for our first Brimfield project........have a great day and thanks again - Carol, and the Opacum Board of Directors: Jen, Jenn, Alan, George and Suzie.

February 10, 2006
Yves Rocher Foundation of Paris, France
Recognizes Executive Director of Opacum Land Trust

Carol Childress took second place in the Yves Rocher Foundation United States <> competition of the Terre de Femmes (Women of the Earth) Environmental Awards held in Paris France from March 5th to March 9th. As part of the event, the Foundation flew all 1st, 2nd & 3rd place winners from 8 different countries to Paris France for this competition. All first place winners went on to compete against each other on March 8th at the Institute de France for the grant prize of 15,000 euro. The third place U.S. winner is Bonnie Hoag from Saratoga New York; the first place U.S. winner is Joro Walker, an environmental attorney who works to protect Great Salt Lake in Utah. First place winner of the entire competition is Olga Cherchneva, who works for Collectif due Centre de l'Education Ecologique in Tcheliabinsk Russia, a remote village where she has been instrumental in creating an ecological camp for children.

Carol received the 2nd place, $5,000 prize from the Foundation, which will be used by Opacum toward acquisition of the Claire Birtz Wildlife Sanctuary in Southbridge. This monetary award will go twice as far, as it will be matched dollar for dollar by the Trustees of the Claire Birtz Estate.

On March 5th & 6th, Opacum's Vice President Jennifer Ohop accompanied Carol on sight-seeing tours of beautiful Paris France. Some of the historic sites we visited include: Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysees, Place de la Concorde (where Marie Antoinette, and others were beheaded), Jardin Des Tuileries, Musee du Louvre, Rue de Rivoli, Seine River, Notre Dame Cathedral, Sainte-Chapelle, Institut de France and last but certainly not least, Eiffel Tower. Jennifer even visited the Catacombs on the way to Charles de Gaulle Airport!

The all-expenses paid trip is truly an event to remember; the Yves Rocher Foundation is a visionary botanical cosmetics company that recognizes nature as an integral part of mankind's continued existence. This is quite a prestigious honor to be recognized for our work, and we're glad that we can come home and pay it forward to our friends, family, supporters and future generations by continuing this great work.

On February 2nd, Carol Childress, the volunteer Executive Director of Opacum Land Trust headquartered in Sturbridge was notified that she would be receiving the prestigious international environmental award Terre de Femmes, or Woman of the Earth, from the of Paris, France. Carol was nominated for the award by Opacum's Vice President, Jennifer Ohop. The Women of the Earth Award honors women who lead initiatives that support the vital link between humanity and nature. Such projects must be unique, original and exemplary. Some examples include hospital and community gardens, environmental education, and the safeguarding of threatened environments.

To receive the award, Carol & Jen will travel to Paris with to participate in ceremonies at the prestigious Institut de France on International Women's Day on March 8th. Other participants and awardees include women from France, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Holland, Canada, Sweden and Russia.

Upon learning of this award, Carol said, "like nature and wildlife itself, the Yves Rocher Foundation recognizes that when it comes to nature, there are no property lines, state boundaries or differences in our countries - we all need fresh air to breath; clean, fresh water to drink; and we all must learn to stop abusing and taking without reservation our pristine environments before they are gone forever".

The all-expenses paid trip to France will include dinner with Yves Rocher Foundation Trustees, various ceremonies and dinners, and organized sight-seeing tours of Paris.

Carol & Jen standing on a bridge that crosses the Seine, in front of the Eiffel Tower. In the background is the Military School (Ecole Militaire)

About Yves Rocher: Yves Rocher creates and produces botanical cosmetics which are distributed worldwide. They use plant extracts that maintain the delicate balance of the earth; they preserve threatened species of plants by using alternate, similar plants; they use certified organic cultivation; use of physical, rather than chemical, extraction processes; biodegradable and plant-based cleansers; and no animal-testing on finished products. Recyclable plastics, eco-refills, no lead containers and mailings used from managed forests are part of their environmentally-friendly packaging. Visit for more information.

December 29, 2005
Courtesy photo
Morse Pond, seen here, is part of a 116-acre parcel of land that Opacum Land Trust and the Trustees of the Claire Birtz Estate hope to preserve for wildlife and recreation.

Birtz estate may sponsor refuge
Late teacher leaves legacy

SOUTHBRIDGE — Claire J. Birtz was a longtime art teacher in the local school system who, upon her death in February 2000 at 92, bequeathed $300,000 in the spirit of beautifying the town.

In her memory, the town of Southbridge, Opacum Land Trust and the Trustees of the Claire Birtz Estate have embarked on the creation of the Claire Birtz Wildlife Sanctuary on North Woodstock Road, Route 169 on the town and state lines between Woodstock, Conn. and Southbridge.

Opacum officials hope to preserve approximately 116 acres of upland hardwood forest and "forested hillside," vernal pools, a red maple swamp, five to six acres of freshwater marsh, and 40-acres of Morse Pond.

"That pond is part of the watershed that feeds the town of Putnam," said Opacum Land Trust Executive Director Carol Childress.

She added the land "offers great opportunities for trails" where "hunting will not be allowed," and noted that the marsh land is "outstanding habitat for birds."

Officials indicated the wildlife sanctuary would be open to the general public for nature activities such as bird watching, painting and drawing, hiking, and kayaking and non-motorized boating.

Childress said last night that the Birtz Wildlife Sanctuary would be the second such conservation property in town. Opacum took control of approximately 40 acres of land on Eastford Road in December 2003.

"Upon her death, Ms. Birtz bequeathed a monetary gift to the town of Southbridge for the beautification of the town," reads Opacum's Web site, "One way in which her bequest may be used is for habitat [and] wildlife protection via land acquisition. While alive she supported various conservation organizations. Permanent conservation of this property will truly exemplify Ms. Birtz' passion for wildlife and nature."

Childress said Birtz' was an exceptional woman whose generosity is out of the ordinary.

"It's an outstanding thing she did," Childress said. "It's uncommon, it's unique — just like Ms. Birtz herself."

Officials must raise $110,000 in order to accomplish their goals by purchasing the properties and caring for "this gem of nature" by March 30.

The trustees of Birtz' estate have pledged to match, dollar for dollar, all donations to the project up to $52,500 — meaning Opacum officials must raise $57,500 on their own to reach their goal.

"We're already one-third of the way there," Childress said. "I'm very confident we'll be able to meet our goal. We will meet our deadline."

As part of their fund-raising efforts, officials have organized "Gems of Nature" at The Vienna Restaurant and Historic Inn on South Street in Southbridge. There will be "classic" Vienna hors d'oeurves butlered throughout the evening, splashed with cocktails and wines.

There will be former students of Birtz in attendance as well as several pieces of Birtz' own art on display. The March 8 fund-raiser has a suggested donation of $100 and is black-tie optional and has a silent auction and cash bar. Those who hope to attend should RSVP by February 28 through Opacum at (508) 347-9144.

Officials hope the sanctuary will prevent, the Opacum site states, "trees cut down and houses dotting the hillside overlooking the pond … this is a green jewel tucked away for habitat and water resource protection, and for the public to enjoy."

Opacum officials and Birtz estate trustees have also put together a presentation on vernal pools for the general public to view at 6:30 p.m. on April 20 in the MacKinnon Council Chambers of Southbridge Town Hall. An outdoor "field session" will also be held on April 22.

For more information on the Claire Birtz Wildlife Sanctuary or the Opacum Land Trust, which services the towns of Brimfield, Brookfield, Charlton, East Brookfield, Holland, Monson, North Brookfield, Palmer, Southbridge, Sturbridge, Wales, Warren and West Brookfield, log onto or call (508) 347-9144.

News Staff Writer Shaun Moriarty can be reached at (508) 909-4142, or by e-mail at

November 27, 2005
Good Stewardship Challenge Grant
We've reached our goal!

We hope this announcement finds all of you having enjoyed a restful and fulfilling Thanksgiving holiday.

I am happy to report to our members, friends, colleagues and especially the Fields Pond Foundation <>, that Opacum has met the FPF Challenge Grant goal one month earlier than the forecasted 12/31/05 deadline.

With the snowy weather setting in, the kiosks and signs will be built over the winter and be ready for installation in the Spring 2006. The brochures will be ordered in ASAP. We wait with great anticipation!

We are most grateful to the Fields Pond Foundation for granting this gift to Opacum Land Trust, as it gave us the opportunity to raise the necessary matching funds to meet our goals; it formed cohesiveness in the community that was happily received and supported by our donors with enthusiasm. We are always amazed at how the people in our communities pull together and we thank you for allowing us the opportunity to be witness to that passion once again.

Happy Holidays!

Millennium Power's Jayne Vranos, handing Carol Childress a check to support Opacum's Fields Pond Challenge.

<JMo2.jpg> Jennifer Morrison of Sterling Engineering Co., Inc. <> handing Carol Childress, Volunteer Executive Director of Opacum Land Trust, a $1,000 check as matching funds toward the Fields Pond Foundation Challenge Grant.

This grant and matching funds will provide signage, a kiosk, necessary gates and brochures for two of Opacum's conservation properties: Opacum Woods in Sturbridge and The Thompson Family "Forever Wild" Preserve.

November 4, 2005
‘X' Marks The Spot where our new kiosk is going to be!
John Cloutier of Globe Sign Company, Southbridge, stands beside the kiosk he's building at Opacum Woods in Sturbridge.

The kiosk will be complete in the Spring of 2006. Funds to build this kiosk were made possible through a generous $5,000 Challenge Grant from the Fields Pond Foundation. Matching funds have been provided from businesses and individuals including: the John Lafleche family, Northeast Merchant Systems, Mr. Bernie McHugh, Laurance & Pat Morrison, Paula Raposa and the Employer Matching Incentive Program through the Verizon Foundation, Ruth Boniface, Sterling Engineering Co., Inc., Millennium Power, Leslie Duthie, Dolores Boogdanian, Marita Tasse, Sherri Pelski, and Hal White.

Thanks for helping Opacum meet this challenge!

October 9, 2005
A group of die-hards joined Russ Cohen to search for wild edibles during a Quinebaug-Shetucket Heritage Corridor Walking Weekend Hike sponsored by Opacum Land Trust the Breakneck Woods Wildlife Management Area.
<WW2006.jpg> Photo: Carol Childress
Russ is the wet one in front holding the Sasafrass.

At its annual town meeting in June, residents of East Brookfield appropriated $9,500 toward creation of the Master Plan. Also, residents voted to pass a Rate of Development Bylaw, which gives East Brookfield the time it needs to complete the Master Plan and an Open Space & Recreation Plan.

The Master Plan Committee of East Brookfield, via the Opacum Land Trust, also received a financial boost with a $10,000 grant from the Massachusetts Environmental Trust,, toward creation of a Master Plan for the town of East Brookfield.

"The residents of East Brookfield are aware of the current growth pressure in surrounding towns that is now beginning in our town. Currently, there are two subdivisions under consideration by the Planning Board in addition to a 120 acre parcel purchased last year by a housing developer" said George Miller, chairman of the East Brookfield Master Plan Committee. "Also, the new auto distribution plant has been very controversial with neighboring residents due to noise and lights. The Master Plan will provide a way for residents to better plan and direct growth, protect drinking water resources and the town's outstanding lakes and ponds, and preserve the most significant wildlife resources" said Mr. Miller. "With the auto distribution plant now requesting a temporary expansion of it's facilities onto the "Flats", just west of the town center, we can see that the growth is now here in East Brookfield", continued Mr. Miller.

The Temporary Rate of Development Bylaw will provide the town sufficient time to create a Master Plan for smart growth by temporarily slowing down large scale developments. "Our recent town survey indicated that residents overwhelmingly would like to maintain the small, rural nature of East Brookfield. The Master Plan is one tool residents can use to do just that", explained Mr. Miller.

On July 15th, 2005, Opacum Land Trust was awarded a $5,000 grant toward its Podunk Woods Biodiversity Initiative.

Podunk Woods is a focus area of interest established by Opacum Land Trust, which consists of approximately 5,500 acres around Wells State Park in Sturbridge. According to the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, the area runs from the Connecticut stateline north to Lake Lashaway in North Brookfield, and contains exemplary habitat and freshwater resources which are reported to host rare and common species of animals and plants.

This grant will be gifted to the town of East Brookfield for creation of its Master Plan.

"This grant will serve to provide to the citizens and businesses in East Brookfield, a way to plan and direct growth, protect drinking water resources and the town's outstanding lakes and ponds, and preserve the most significant wildlife resources at the direction of residents in the town" said Carol Childress, Executive Director of Opacum Land Trust.

"At its annual town meeting in June, residents of East Brookfield appropriated $9,500 toward creation of the Master Plan. Also, residents voted to pass a Rate of Development Bylaw, which gives East Brookfield the time it needs to complete the Master Plan and an Open Space & Recreation Plan. These plans and the bylaw, with support from foundations such as The Cricket Foundation, has put East Brookfield way ahead of most towns in this area in terms of planning, which are struggling with growth issues" said George Miller III of the East Brookfield Master Plan Committee.

Total cost of the Master Plan, which will be created by the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission with input from East Brookfield residents is $39,500. Thus far, Opacum Land Trust has been awarded a $10,000 grant from the Massachusetts Environmental Trust and a $5,000 grant from The Cricket Foundation, both which are gifts to East Brookfield, and administered by Opacum Land Trust. Residents have appropriated $9,500 toward the Master Plan, and hopefully, additional funds will be appropriated at next years town meeting.

Incorporated into the Master Plan is the Open Space & Recreation Plan which is underway and scheduled for completion in September 2005. It is being funded through a $10,000 grant from the Quinebaug Shetucket Heritage Corridor, awarded to Opacum Land Trust in June of 2004. Matching funds of $4,000 have been raised from East Brookfield residents and businesses toward creation of the Open Space Plan.

The Master Plan Committee of East Brookfield, and Opacum Land Trust, received a financial boost with a $10,000 grant from the Massachusetts Environmental Trust,, toward creation of a Master Plan for the town of East Brookfield.

According to Massachusetts Environmental Trust Executive Director Robbin Peach, the Trust will provide close to $1 million in grants to over 40 organizations this year, thanks to motorists who choose to purchase one of the many Trust's specialty license plates. "Trust plates, including our signature Whale Plate, are the only specialty plates that exclusively fund environmental initiatives," said Peach. "You purchase a plate from the Registry of Motor Vehicles and half the registry fee is donated to the Trust to fund water-focused environmental education and protection programs."

The Trust has grown to become the Commonwealth's premier environmental philanthropy since its inception in 1988. Its primary source of income is environmental license plate revenue which has funded more than 400 grants totaling approximately $15 million.

"This grant will serve to provide to the citizens and businesses in East Brookfield, a way to plan and direct growth, protect drinking water resources and the town's outstanding lakes and ponds, and preserve the most significant wildlife resources" said Carol Childress, Executive Director of Opacum Land Trust.

"At its annual town meeting in June, residents of East Brookfield appropriated $9,500 toward creation of the Master Plan. Also, residents voted to pass a Rate of Development Bylaw, which gives East Brookfield the time it needs to complete the Master Plan and an Open Space & Recreation Plan. These plans and the bylaw, with support from Massachusetts Environmental Trust, has put East Brookfield way ahead of most towns in this area, which are struggling with growth issues" said George Miller, chairman of the East Brookfield Master Plan Committee.

Former Boston television meteorologist and active environmentalist, Bruce Schwoegler, is an avid supporter of the Massachusetts Environmental Trust. "Trust funding enables organizations from Cape Cod to the Berkshires to tackle critical water-related issues that affect us all," said Schwoegler. "The health and welfare of every living being is dependent on clean waterways and related ecosystems. This inextricable link within our environment is extremely important, and the Trust is offering everyone an easy opportunity to get involved and make a significant difference in the preservation of Commonwealth's water resources."

To preserve the environmental education, conservation or public awareness efforts funded by the Trust in your community is easy: choose a Whale Plate when you purchase a new car or renew your registration with the Registry of Motor Vehicles. The plates cost $76.00, which includes a $40.00 tax deductible donation to the Trust. There is a renewal fee of $81.00 every two years. Visit your local Registry of Motor Vehicles or order a plate online at; or log onto where you can learn more about the Trust, the programs it supports, and the specialty license plate offerings.

About Opacum Land Trust: Formed in January 2000, Opacum has successfully preserved 365 acres in Southbridge, Sturbridge and Monson. The land trust cultivates relationships with landowners and municipalities in an effort to conserve natural and cultural resources including historic and prehistoric sites, fertile farmland, lush green forests, river corridors, wetlands and watersheds, vernal pools, scenic vistas and endangered animals and plants in Southwest Worcester and Southeast Hampden Counties.

Press Releases... May 9, 2005

Opacum Land Trust is pleased to announce that it has received a $10,000 Unrestricted General Grant from the Massachusetts Environmental Trust, through its Ecosystem Health & Biological Diversity Program. The grant will be used toward the land trust's Podunk Woods Biodiversity Initiative.

One of the key components in this Initiative is the creation of an Open Space & Recreation Plan for the town of East Brookfield. The Podunk Woods Biodiversity Initiative is one focus area of the Opacum Land Trust, which concentrates conservation efforts around Wells State Park in Sturbridge, by working with landowners on conservation options to preserve farmlands, woodlands and sensitive freshwater resources.

In June 2004, with support from East Brookfield Selectmen, Opacum Land Trust was awarded a $10,000 grant from the Quinebaug-Shetucket Heritage Corridor in Putnam, CT. The funds have been used to hire Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission ( to create an Open Space & Recreation Plan (see a sample Open Space Plan, and Spencer's Master Plan on-line at CMRPC's website). This grant requires a 1:1, or dollar for dollar, match and the Plan is currently half completed. An Open Space & Recreation Plan, once approved by the Division of Conservation Services at the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, will provide East Brookfield the opportunity to obtain grant funds from the Commonwealth of up to $250,000 to acquire land for recreation and/or habitat/wildlife preservation. Input from East Brookfield residents is helping to create this plan, which will be a guiding document in terms of land preservation efforts for years to come.

In an effort to meet the match requirement, Opacum has been fundraising from individuals and businesses in East Brookfield and surrounding areas. So far, the land trust has raised $4,000, and must raise an additional $6,000 by September 1, 2005. Donations may be sent to: Opacum Land Trust, POB 233, Sturbridge, MA 01566.

Be sure to earmark your donation for "Podunk Woods - East Brookfield"

The $10,000 grant from Massachusetts Environmental Trust will be used toward creation of a Master Plan for the town of East Brookfield. A Master Plan is a document created with input from residents which will guide East Brookfield's growth by analyzing its present and future environment; it defines its short and long-term goals and objectives, and develops a plan based on priorities and available resources to attain these objectives and goals.

Having an Open Space & Recreation Plan, which is an integral part of a Master Plan, will allow East Brookfield to be competitive with other towns in the Commonwealth toward obtaining grant monies, and meet the current Commonwealth Capital Smartgrowth Initiatives promulgated by the Romney administration.

About Massachusetts Environmental Trust: The Unrestricted General Grants program is funded solely through the sale of the three specialty plates - the Northern Right Whale, Leaping Brook Trout, and the Blackstone Valley Mill. The Trust has grown to become the Commonwealth's premier environmental philanthropy since its inception in 1988. Its primary source of income is environmental license plate revenue which has funded more than 400 grants totally approximately $15 million.

Former Boston television meteorologist and active environmentalist, Bruce Schwoegler, is an avid supporter of the Massachusetts Environmental Trust. "Trust funding enables organizations from Cape Cod to the Berkshires to tackle critical water-related issues that affect us all," said Schwoegler. "The health and welfare of every living being is dependent on clean waterways and related ecosystems. This inextricable link within our environment is extremely important, and the Trust is offering everyone an easy opportunity to get involved and make a significant difference in the preservation of the Commonwealth's water resources."

To preserve the environmental education, conservation or public awareness efforts funded by the Trust in your community is easy: choose a Whale Plate when you purchase a new car or renew your registration with the Registry of Motor Vehicles. The plates cost $76.00, which includes a $40.00 tax deductible donation to the Trust. There is a renewal fee of $81.00 every two years. Visit your local Registry of Motor Vehicles or order a plate online at; or log onto where you can learn more about the Trust, the programs it supports, and the specialty license plate offerings.

To learn more about Opacum Land Trust and its local initiatives, visit

April 2005
Trail Maps now available on- line for Opacum Woods & Thompson Forever Wild Preserve

July 2004 - The following appeared in the Spencer New Leader:
Grant to identify town's open space
EAST BROOKFIELD- Suburban sprawl will meet its match when it tries to mess with the forested lands so treasured by East Brookfield because Opacum Land Trust, a 501C3 public charity, has earmarked the town's untouched land to benefit from a one-to-one matching $10,000 grant it has just recently received.
Through a multi-partner effort, Opacum Land Trust, the East Brookfield Board of Selectmen, the Zoning Bylaw Committee, the Master Plan Committee, the Conservation Committee and several outside expert organizations have secured this grant in order to develop a much needed and desired open space and recreation plan for the town.

According to Carol Childress, the founder and executive director of Opacum Land Trust, the grant will be used to hire consultants to devise the plan, along with input from community members, to see what lands the town wants preserved. "It will give the town the ability to set their own destiny over the next five or 10 years," said Childress. "The plan will allow the residents to decide how open space will be part of the community menu."
Once the plan is devised and approved by the Division of Conservation Services at the Executive Office of

Environmental Affairs, the town will be able to apply for grants up to $250,000.
Childress explained that there are two types of grants for which East Brookfield will be eligible, each depending on how or what the town decides to develop or preserve. The first grant is titled Urban Self Help and is used to develop recreational projects such as parks, public pools or playing fields.

The second, Self Help, is used for preservation purposes only for entities such as watersheds or habitat protection.
"It is usually one or the other," said Childress of the two grants. "It's really what you need or the purchase price of the property, but the most the town can get is $250,000. But with the property values these days, they will need as much as they can get."

"East Brookfield is starting to feel the development pressures from both the east and the west. The Land Trust focuses on East Brookfield, and also Sturbridge, because this town still has large tracks of un-fragmented land that is home to both common and uncommon species," Childress pointed out.
Now that the grant money is almost in hand, the consultation will begin, but not before several public forums will be held and attended by Attorney Robert Levite. Levite- who wears hats at UMASS Extension Services, Green Valley Institute and the Quinebaug-Shetucket Heritage Corridor, the federally funded program through which the grant was obtained- will provide the expertise for both the preservation and real estate agendas in acquiring the properties.

George Miller, a member of the Planning Board, the Opacum Land Trust, the Zoning Bylaw Committee and founder of the town's Master Plan Committee, said that the amount of expertise behind this initiative will serve the town well.

"It is one thing to sit in an ivory tower and think things through when everyone forms their own opinion, and it's another thing to get the right information from experts in the field," said Miller. "I think the whole thing has just been a wonderful idea - the workshops, especially, because it will give better information for the town to base their decisions on." Childress added, "The forums will be a good way for residents to learn how to protect their properties if so inclined."

Since the funding for the open space plan is a one-to-one matching grant, the Opacum Land Trust must first raise $10,000 before the matching amount can be expended. Childress said she is very positive that the money will be raised and has just started going door to door as a first step.
"We just got the letter informing us that the grant was ours at the end of May, so we are really at the beginning," said Childress. "We are starting to ask local businesses for donations because we feel the outcome will greatly benefit them. Most of their constituents live right in town."

Childress said she is also optimistic about raising the money because she feels people generally have an interest "in their own back yard."

"The Land Trust was formed in January 2000 and is made up of all volunteers. We now have 190 members, and that alone shows public interest," she said. "Because you know what - once the land is gone, it's gone."

If you would like to make a donation towards the required $10,000 match, or learn more about ways you can help preserve open space in your community, call (508) 347-9144 or e-mail

Opacum Land Trust Receives Environmental Award

Opacum Land Trust and Moss Development are once again working together, but this time it is to be recognized for the cooperative effort that resulted in Opacum Woods, a 266 acre wildlife sanctuary located off of New Boston Road in Sturbridge. OLT and Moss development are among six winners of the 14th annual Environmental Awards, sponsored by the Worcester Business Journal and the Massachusetts Audubon Society.

Award winners "have shown exemplary environmental leadership and commitment in preserving our environment", according to the article on the front page of the April 19 issue of the Worcester Business Journal . The full text of the article can be seen at

April 19, 2004
From the Worcester Business Journal:
Saving the salamanders together
Land-use management: Developer Robert Moss,
Westboro, and Opacum Land Trust, Sturbridge
By Micky Baca

It took an unusual alignment of forces to spare a rare species of reptile and 266 acres of woods in Sturbridge from the development bulldozers. After all, it's not every day that a seasoned developer with a penchant for making savvy middle-man deals and a fledgling land trust named after a salamander find themselves on the same side of the environmental vernal pool, so to speak.

But Westboro developer Robert Moss describes the effort he spearheaded, which permanently preserved the woods and wetlands now known as Opacum Woods, as a "feel-good project the whole way through for everybody."

For his part, Moss was able to take a golf-course project stalled by endangered-species restrictions, reconfigure it to accommodate a housing development and conservation area and sell the developable land to another developer to build out. In doing so, Moss made a decent middle-man profit while doing his part to preserve a natural setting for future generations. For Opacum Land Trust, increasing its open-space holdings nearly five-fold in one fell swoop was an "unbelievable" opportunity, according to its president, Carol Childress. And for the Town of Sturbridge, the Opacum Woods arrangement was a way to achieve its preservation goals without having to assume liability for the property.

As a result, the general public will now be able to explore a diverse property that includes uncommon plants and animals, old-growth trees, prehistoric rock shelters, old fieldstone walls and even a thriving cranberry bog. And the marbled and four-toed salamanders that live there, though they may be unaware of their good fortune, will be able to keep their homes rather than being displaced by a fairway.

But creating Opacum Woods, which became a conservation area under Opacum Land Trust in June 2003, was not without its hard work, frustrations and detractors.

A frustrating process

For one thing, Moss notes, it took one year and three months from the time he purchased the land to work out the arrangements for the parcel to become permanent open space. The state Department of Environmental Management "seemed to flip flop" regularly on what its obligations should be in preserving the property, he says, as DEM negotiated the legalities at length with Opacum Land Trust. At one point, he says, he was so frustrated with the process, he threatened to make the tract one big house lot with conservation restrictions attached.

"It got everybody moving," Moss says, seated in the clubhouse of the Kettle Brook Golf Club in Paxton, which he developed, owns and operates. "The irony is that it's frustrating to give away land and to make sure it stays open space."

While those involved in the Opacum Woods effort - as well as Moss himself - describe him as a developer and businessman first and foremost, it was his idea to pursue establishing open space on the Sturbridge site. He did so, he says, partly because it was a smart approach to the project and partly because he does believe in preserving undeveloped open space for future generations and channeling construction to already-developed areas.

Moss was in the Sturbridge planning office one day, he recalls, working on another prospective deal when he spotted the stalled plans for a golf course on the 318-acre site off New Boston Road. He contacted the owner of the property, who was engaged in a legal dispute with the state over conservation restrictions imposed on the site following the discovery of the marbled salamander there. He offered to take it off the owner's hands for a "fair price" of $1.5 million, he says, and then set about talking with the town planning and conservation officials and state wildlife regulators about what they would require on the property. Setting aside a substantial portion of the land as open space, he says, was a much more practical approach than trying to battle for what could have been several hundred house lots on the site.

"Remember, I"m a facilitator of solutions," Moss says, shrugging off the suggestion by some that his motivation was strictly financial and not environmental. "And I had to make a profit. I'm somewhat of a juggler - I throw everybody in the air and make sure everyone lands softly."

Moss got a subdivision permit for 70 half-acre lots on one end of the site in July 2002 and simultaneously sold that portion to Brendon Properties in Southboro, which is currently building the development, christened The Preserve.

With the remainder of the land, Moss notes, he insisted on taking steps to make sure Opacum Woods would remain open space permanently by splitting the rights to it between Opacum Land Trust, the deemed owner, and DEM, the deemed holder of the conservation rights. A resident of Westboro, Moss says he was taken aback a few years ago when land set aside as open space there was developed into a new school by the town. He says he wanted to make sure that wouldn't happen in Sturbridge.

High praise and skepticism

Moss' conservation efforts get mixed reviews from regulators. Patricia Huckery, endangered-species project analyst for the National Heritage Endangered Species Project under the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, says he may be a developer first, but is the kind of developer she would like to see a lot more of. In fact, the veteran wildlife regulator terms Moss "one of the outstanding permit holders I've seen in the eight years I've been [issuing] permits."

Moss could have tried to get more homes by putting in roads between vernal pools but, Huckery says, it would have been a long, difficult process. But, she says, he "chose a route of least resistance," making concessions quickly instead of "fighting for every square inch. I wish every developer was like Bob Moss. He listens to what the state agencies are saying ... and then he seeks alternatives to meet the conditions."

David Barnicle, chair of the Sturbridge Conservation Commission, is less enthused about Moss" environmental contribution, contending that Moss got the maximum amount of homes allowable out of the site. "What Mr. Moss did was not necessarily to be a good citizen," Barnicle says. "What Mr. Moss did was what was necessary to get his development up and running."

But Barnicle adds that Moss "was reasonably creative in the way he did it," worked with the Conservation Commission to resolve problems and had a great deal of patience in the process. Barnicle flatly admits, however, he would have rather had a golf course on the land.

Salamander discovery sparks trust

Around the same time Moss was formulating a deal for the Opacum site, Childress was in the throes of an endeavor of her own - the establishment of the Opacum Land Trust. Ironically, it was Childress, whose wooded yard abuts the Opacum Woods, who stopped the site from becoming a golf course.

In the summer of 1998, Childress recalls, she was walking a wooded section of her backyard damaged by bulldozers that had infringed over the boundary line with a road for the golf-course development. That's when she spotted a three-to-four inch salamander. She showed it to a friend, who knew it was a threatened species, and alerted state wildlife officials.

Childress, a real-estate appraiser, says she had no idea that her discovery would stop the golf course, already well along in the permitting process and favored by many town officials. She was labeled a NIMBY in the local press and, she says, followed the resulting controversy over the salamanders' fate only a distance in the next year or so. But a land agent at the state Fisheries and Wildlife agency, Childress continues, planted a seed in her mind. He suggested that the Sturbridge area needed a non-profit land trust and the she should be the one to start it. A year later, she began looking into the idea, attending other land trust meetings. She found several local volunteers who supported the idea and, in early 2000, they launched the Opacum Land Trust. Named for the marbled salamander, or Ambystoma opacum, it's now a 182-member, volunteer support organization.

Childress says she was thrilled when Moss contacted her about donating 266 acres to the trust. Prior to Opacum Woods, the trust had acquired a total of 58.5 acres, including some 1.5 acres of trail easements along the old Grand Trunk railway bed.

But making Opacum Woods a reality was a challenge, Childress says, largely due to the complexity of negotiations with DEP and the other entities involved. "There were too many hands in the pot," she says, noting the involvement of four different lawyers.

A piece of the pie

Childress credits Robert Levite, a West Brookfield lawyer who volunteered his time on behalf of the land trust, with bringing all sides together. And she terms Moss "generous" and "always open to negotiations."

Huckery, of Fisheries and Wildlife, notes that Childress herself deserves recognition for going beyond stopping a development in her own back yard to create the land trust to preserve open space for everyone.

As for Moss' take on the effort, he says his philosophy is striving to strike a balance. "It's better to come up with things that everyone is happy with," he explains, "so everyone gets a piece of the pie."

However Moss is labeled by himself and others - juggler, solution finder, land-acquisition expert or opportunistic developer - those involved in Opacum Woods agree he did a good thing in preserving this natural resource. Huckery adds one more label to Moss' repertoire. "Do I think Bob Moss is an environmentalist?" she says. "He'd probably laugh, but yes I do."


Land Protection: Now or Never...Forever

Mass Audubon report shows trend toward large house, large lot development statewide; habitat loss greatest in Southeast, Cape Cod and I-495 corridor; rare species habitat in Connecticut River Valley goes relatively unprotected. Massachusetts continues to lose 40 acres per day to development.
View the Mass Audubon report: Losing Ground: At What Cost?

February 11. 2003
Land Preservation Award Given to Opacum's Alan Forrest Smith

Alan Forrest Smith, with his much deserved Land Preservation Award
On February 11, 2003, Opacum Board Member Alan Forrest Smith was among those honored by a gathering of Central Massachusetts conservationists at the Bancroft School in Worcester. The event was well attended by members of the Massachusetts Land Trust Coalition, including almost the entire board of Opacum Land Trust. We couldn't miss one of our own receiving such an award!

Carol Childress, President of Opacum Land Trust, nominated Alan for his lifetime commitment to open space protection. Others honored that evening were former EOEA secretary Bob Durand and our friend, Attorney George Dresser.
Geologist Alan F. Smith is a lifelong resident of Worcester, and has been volunteering in different environmental causes for over 30 years. Primarily, his activities focus on basic land protection efforts including certification of vernal pools and reporting rare species to the Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program, redefining wetland boundaries, and registering historic and prehistoric sites with the Massachusetts Historic Commission.

There have been numerous parcels all over the state - too many to list - that he has had a hand in protecting by performing these activities. And though these activities are very basic, they are of ultimate importance as without them, numerous vernal pools, rare species, and cultural resources would have been bulldozed by now.

He is part of the reason why Green Hill Park in Worcester has a conservation easement on it now; and he's part of the reason why there isn't an 18-hole golf course on a 320-acre site in Sturbridge. That golf course would have destroyed 21 vernal pools and wiped out two rare species. Instead, there are now 270 acres of open space and trails available to the public to enjoy nature's beauty.

Alan is Chair of the North Worcester Resource Preservation Society; Trustee of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society and Chair of its Site Conservation and Legislative Action Committee; and he is a member of Opacum Land Trust's Board of Directors - these are all volunteer positions. He is on-call with Tri-State Bird in Newark, which rescues and treats birds and other wildlife endangered by oil spills and other disasters (he actually hops a plane at a moment's notice!). He also received an environmental award from the Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissioners in the 1990's.

He volunteers in various communities all year long giving free programs to teach children and adults about vernal pools, rare species, Native American culture and lifestyle, and he even brings along real artifacts for show and tell, which are a hit with the kids who get to grind their own acorn flour!

When Alan spoke out in the 1980's on an environmental matter, he found himself the victim of what is now known as a SLAPP suit (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation). A SLAPP suit is a civil complaint or counterclaim that is systematically used by large corporations, developers, etc., to silence community activists. In Alan's case, the suit was filed by a real estate developer for interfering with a prospective economic advantage. But Alan slapped back: he went to the American Civil Liberties Union, who won a dismissal of the suit. As a result, the ACLU gathered information from other SLAPPED citizens across the country, drafted the first anti-SLAPP legislation for Massachusetts, and saw it become law.

Alan Forrest Smith was born in Worcester, went to Quaboag High, Clark University, served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam Conflict, and attended Worcester Polytech. His middle name, from his grandfather, must have set his life's focus. His enthusiasm, unlimited energy and sense of humor have survived the many scars he's earned during this life's work.

Congratulations, Alan, you certainly deserve it!

October 3, 2002
Grand Trunk Trail Update
The Bridge Is In!
Ed Calcutt Bridge Spans The Quinebaug River

The 85-foot bridge connects the Towns of Southbridge and Sturbridge via the historic Grand Trunk Trail. This trail received the National Recreational Trail Designation in 2001.
The long awaited installation of a bridge across the Quinebaug River is now complete. It was dedicated October 2, 2002 to Ed Calcutt, President of the Grand Trunk Trail Blazers, a non- profit group that promotes bike trails and events in the Southbridge and Sturbridge area. The rail trail is not yet finished, but this represents a large step forward for the groups who have worked so diligently to make this trail possible. Opacum Land Trust, Grand Trunk Trail Blazers, US Army Corps of Engineers, and the towns of Sturbridge & Southbridge have been working cooperatively for 3 years to make this trail possible.

The Quinebaug and Shetucket Rivers Valley Massachusetts Heritage District Commission provided state funding of $50,000 for this project through the Office of the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs & Department of Environmental Management. The US Army Corps provided an additional $50,000 for engineering, site preparation, abutment work and overall general contracting to see the bridge through to its completion. It is located 100 yards upstream of the original 160-foot railroad timber bridge crossing.

The bridge was installed using an existing road crossing to minimize any impact. The original stone abutments were restored and supports a concrete insert to which the bridge is attached. With the bridge installed, we can now focus on trail building. Work is scheduled this year on the trail south from the bridge to Westville Park . A grant is in the works, made possible thru a joint effort of Opacum Land Trust and the town of Sturbridge, to begin work from Ed Calcutt Bridge north to Farquhar Road.

Please be advised that the grand trunk trail is under construction. Use at your own risk.

Pictured left to right: State Senator Richard Moore, State Rep Reed Hillman, State Rep Mark Carron, Merlon Bassett USACE, State Senator Stephen Brewer, Southbridge Town Manager Mike Coughlin, Tom Chamberland USACE, and Ed Calcutt of Grand Trunk Trail Blazers, to whom the bridge was dedicated.

The Grand Trunk Trail

Bargain Sale to Protect 43 Acres in Southbridge
OLT teams up with The Nature Conservancy to Protect Land
The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is working to preserve a large forest block in NE CT and the southern parts of Southbridge and Sturbridge in Massachusetts, which fits right in with our mission and territory. We viewed this as an opportunity to work with a large, established, successful land trust, and to benefit from that experience and knowledge. Bill Toomey and I (Carol Childress) are working on this project; I'm just ecstatic to know that TNC is here to stay, and that my hometown of Southbridge and adopted town of Sturbridge will benefit from our hard work in open space protection.

July, 2002 - The Nature Conservancy and Southbridge resident Clyde Thompson recently signed an agreement for TNC to purchase 43 acres in a bargain sale, which is a land conservation option involving selling property at less than market value and includes certain tax benefits for the seller. The property lies within TNC's Quinebaug Highlands project area, the heart of which is a 34,000 acre forest stretching across four towns in Connecticut and two in Massachusetts. The land is adjacent to 2,300 acres of watershed land owned by the Town of Southbridge, and will be conveyed to Opacum Land Trust.

"This is an important step in our effort to protect this spectacular forest block," said Quinebaug Highlands Project Director Bill Toomey. "I hope Mr. Thompson's generosity will serve as an example and help us to protect more land in the area, as well as to raise the funds needed for this important purchase."

"Having grown up on the farm and the surrounding woodlands, I have grown to appreciate the importance of trying to keep parts of the town forested and rural," said Mr. Thompson, who is inheriting the family lands from his parents, Roger and Elinor Thompson and currently lives next door. "When you have spent as much time as I have in the woods, you really appreciate how important the forest is to wildlife, and to the people in town. I decided to work with The Nature Conservancy and Opacum Land Trust so that a portion of my family's land would be protected in it's natural state forever and I hope other landowners in the area will consider doing the same."

"The Opacum Land Trust is thrilled to be working with TNC on this project.," said Carol Childress, president of OLT. "In particular, I am very happy that the Thompson's have agreed to sell this property to TNC, because it goes a long way toward protecting the watershed in Southbridge."

Press Release dated 3/20/2002
Opacum Gains Ground in Podunk Woods

Opacum Land Trust to receive 30-acre donation; Fundraising to purchase 13.5 acres. Both abut potential donation of 280 acres, which will be the beginning of the Podunk Woods Bioreserve.

Sturbridge, MA - In January, the Opacum Land Trust (OLT) publicly announced it's Podunk Woods Biodiversity Initiative, a project encompassing over 5,000 acres in Sturbridge & East Brookfield. Since then, OLT has been reaching out to landowners in an effort to protect these undeveloped woodlands.

Those efforts have not gone unnoticed, as OLT is the recipient of a 30-acre donation on New Boston Road, consisting of woodlands vernal pools, and is critical upland habitat for two state-listed species. The donors, 4 siblings who inherited the property about 3 years ago, were resigned to the fact that their 35-acre family farm would end up being sold & subdivided into at least 30 house lots. It was their inheritance, but all have busy lives with families, jobs and school – none of them are farmers, and they would surely miss the family farm.

That was when one of the siblings contacted OLT. Paul Gaumond of Southbridge expressed an interest in selling the property to the land trust, hoping there was some way for the siblings to receive the inheritance while still keeping the family property in tact. However, the price tag was too steep for OLT.

After learning about the many ways to protect property, the donors decided to sell off 5 lots along the road, while preserving the remaining acreage in its natural state. The landowners worked out an agreement with a developer, who agreed to purchase 5 one-acre frontage lots, leaving the remaining 30 acres with the sibling landowners.

The end result? The Gaumond family received what they needed from their monetary inheritance, and the remaining 30 acres will be donated to Opacum Land Trust to be protected in perpetuity. They will be able to offset the estate taxes on the inheritance with this tax-deductible donation, and can continue to enjoy and cherish the family land.

It doesn't stop there: The developer that the Gaumonds worked with, Robert Moss, of Westboro, MA, has stated publicly that he would like Opacum Land Trust to receive 280 acres leftover from his proposed subdivision, "The Preserve", which will be located off of New Boston Road. These 280 acres abut the 30-acre donation of the Gaumonds.

With the combination of this potential 280-acre donation and the 30 acres donated to Opacum Land Trust, the Podunk Woods Bioreserve is taking shape in the form of over 300 acres of protected land. To keep this project growing, OLT needs your support and donations to pay for acquisition and its costs. Please contact us for information by calling (508) 347-9144.. Donations can be sent to POB 233, Sturbridge, MA 01566.

Podunk Woods Biodiversity Initiative
January 2002- Opacum Land Trust announces a new land protection project focusing on 5,000 acres around Wells State Park.
Visit our Projects Page for details & maps.