WESTPORT — Meadow grasses sway in the wind on Westport Land Conservation Trust’s key property, Westport Woods Conservation Park.
The planting of warm season native grasses has created a spectacular habitat at its peak in July and August with an abundance of birds, insects and small mammals contributing to the functioning of the ecosystem.
General Manager Ross Moran invites the public to listen to the sound of the grass and watch the birds searching for their prey at 573 Adamsville Road. Bird watchers may see a few ospreys and bald eagles in the area with the West Fork of the Westport River nearby.
“I tell people it’s like an airport here,” he said. “You have to duck because of all the birds preying on insects in the meadow,” he said.
They have also planted more than 100 trees in Westport Woods over the past two years with a specific focus on native plants, including some that have a more southern range to cope with climate change.
At its heart, the Westport Land Conservation Trust is an organization that invites the public to join in preserving farmland, open space and other lands in Westport while welcoming new residents and preserving its assets and resources. despite tremendous development pressure in southeastern Massachusetts.
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5,000 acres in 50 years
“We’ve supported the protection of 5,000 acres here in town in various ways, and we own 1,600 acres and about 15 miles of trails,” he said. “This property itself is an example of everything we do. We want people to get out there and enjoy it, interact with it.
“We are very fortunate that Westport is a community that believes deeply in its heritage and has a huge connection to agriculture, so much of the work that we do to preserve farmland is very widely supported here,” he said. -he declares. “It’s important to everyone, just like open space.”
Moran said its founders represented the many people in the town who wanted to preserve its character, active farming and beautiful woods.
“The feeling from the start of the Land Trust was that everyone realized Westport was such a special place,” he said. “There aren’t many communities like this left that have this active farming, miles and miles of stone walls that you can see from the road.”
In the 50 years since its founding in 1972, the leaders and supporters of the non-profit, tax-exempt charity have preserved more than 5,000 acres in Westport, and they’re not done yet.
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WLCT’s new chair, Tina Schmid, has been a board member since 2013 and has been an active member of the organization for many years. She shares the fondness that many have for Westport, whether they are residents, have spent summers in town, have a strong family connection or have moved to town. developed areas.
Schmid, who has lived in Westport for 50 years and her husband, Representative Paul Schmid, who has lived in town since he was a teenager, own a farm where they raise organic, grass-fed Angus beef cattle along the Westport River. She said it’s an incredibly special farming community near both arms of the river and the ocean.
While celebrating the past, Schmid looks to the future. The dozen properties owned by the Conservation Trust offer a variety of experiences. The Herb Hadfield Conservation Area is 239 acres with hiking trails through the woods along Angeline Creek.
“We look back to our history and celebrate incredible accomplishments including preserving over 5,000 acres, having so many different places that are also open to the public with over 15 miles of trails, and being really focused on making it possible for people to get outside and appreciate nature and appreciate the open space,” she said.
The emphasis on programs connecting people to the land will carry on the legacy of the Land Trust.
“We are also implementing a variety of programs to help connect people to the land through educational programs, activities and events that take place on the properties. So it’s really about providing that opportunity for people to take advantage of the types of properties that the land trust has. been able to protect, preserve and open for them,” she said.
How farmers work with the Land Trust
Through an agricultural preservation restriction, the Schmids have ensured that their property will not be developed in the future and will remain a farm. The Land Trust supports farmers who also want to protect their land.
A farmer can work with the Land Trust to help raise private funds while pursuing a Commonwealth Agricultural Preservation Restriction to keep the land under cultivation. The Land Trust can also buy the farm and impose a similar restriction on it, then sell it back to the farmer. A non-agricultural storage restriction is also a possibility.
The Land Trust began as an all-volunteer organization but is currently run by three full-time staff led by Moran, an accountant and three part-time staff. The first staff member was hired about 20 years ago.
Moran started working for the Land Trust about five years ago after working for the Reservations Trustees as managing director. He used to associate with the Land Trust and said he liked working for them because he thinks Westport is a really special town.
“We’re lucky it’s one of those places where agriculture extends to the ocean,” he said. “It has spectacular resources and spectacular habitat, and that’s something people can really appreciate. In some respects, therefore, Westport is very well suited to land preservation work. The community believes in it and there are still huge resources to preserve.
This year, the Land Trust plans to protect Berry Hill Farm by buying the farm, placing a perpetual restriction on it, then selling it to a local farm at a restricted value.
“Many local farmers cannot currently afford to buy at market value on the south coast. The project not only preserves a significant agricultural parcel, but it also provides access to people looking to grow food locally at a reasonable price for the land,” he says.
Property of St. Vincent De Paul Summer Camp
The Conservation Trust acquired the former property of St. Vincent De Paul Summer Camp in 2018 from the Catholic Diocese of Fall River to create the public park. Approximately 100,000 square feet of impervious surface was removed, including 11 buildings and a swimming pool.
“We wanted to mix the ecological component, i.e. a grassland, a large forest habitat and a wetland habitat, with recreation, so we have an open space that is active recreation including a mowed field, a picnic area and a children’s garden which also has an accessible path through it,” Moran said.
The new children’s discovery garden offers children the opportunity to connect with the earth. He said they were working in partnership with the city’s Disabled Persons Commission to make the trails through the woods accessible to everyone.
Moran said they hope to inspire the next generation of conservationists to continue the tradition that began 50 years ago.
Five-year strategic plan
A new five-year strategic plan is in place to guide the Conservation Trust’s pace of preservation, creating a blueprint for sustainable growth and reaching new heights in connecting people to the land.
“In this 50th year, we celebrate the past a lot and past accomplishments, but we are really looking to the future,” Schmid said. “Our goals for the future are really fourfold, and one of them is to continue to preserve land. There is land that can be preserved in Westport. It’s a rural town, and we’re really looking forward to it. to preserve the land in the future.
She said they work hard to manage their properties, and managing really means taking care of them and making sure they are using best practices so they can be open to the public in terms of trails.
“The four pillars of our direction for the future are land preservation, land stewardship, connecting people to the land, and growing land trust resources,” she said.
“We want to do everything we can to preserve agriculture in Westport,” she said.
Standard-Times editor Kathryn Gallerani can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @kgallreporter. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Standard-Times today.