Conservation trust celebrating 35 years, time of transition, with June event

  • The land across from 87 Old Wendell Road in Northfield was acquired by the Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust in 2018. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Bees, bugs and a butterfly inhabit the land across from 87 Old Wendell Road in Northfield that was acquired by the Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust in 2018. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The boulder on the Tully Mountain Wildlife Management Area in Orange that was installed in 2002 to commemorate the inauguration of the North Quabbin Bioreserve. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/19/2021 6:27:29 PM

ORANGE — Do you want to know a secret?

Well, you’ll have to be at Gale Farm in Orange on June 26 to find out what it is. However, due to COVID-19 restrictions, registration will be required. The event has been planned to commemorate the Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust’s 35th anniversary.

Executive Director Emma George Ellsworth said the secret will be revealed as part of the festivities that will also celebrate Leigh Youngblood’s retirement from the Athol-based organization after 27 years.

“I can’t wait to have the community reunited,” Ellsworth said.

Registration will be available on the conservation trust’s website, mountgrace.org.

Ellsworth said the three- to four-hour celebration will fittingly take place at the base of Tully Mountain, where the trust has helped conserve more than 9,000 acres, across from the boulder installed in December 2002 with the participation of state officials, local landowners, environmentalists and staff of the Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust to commemorate the inauguration of the North Quabbin Bioreserve.

“We will go for a hike on properties that are on the verge of being conserved,” Ellsworth said, adding that the hike will be led by Bob Busby and his wife, Maureen Conte. A locally sourced meal will be served.

Ellsworth, who was previously the trust’s deputy director, said there will also be a tribute video dedicated to Youngblood, who has spent all but two of the past 27 years as the conservation trust’s executive director and now serves as a senior advisor. She plans to retire in October, when Ellsworth will have been on the job a year. Ellsworth said Youngblood has been humble and gracious and will leave behind a legacy.

Youngblood mentioned she joined the conservation trust after starting her environmental career volunteering for local conservation commissions and serving as an intern in the wetlands division of the state Department of Environmental Protection. She said she later became a paid conservation agent and encountered many landowners who, not realizing they could sell wetlands for conservation, were applying for permits to develop near their wetlands. Youngblood eventually attended the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s University Without Walls, though she interviewed with Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust founder Keith Ross, who offered her a job as his part-time assistant. Youngblood replaced Ross as executive director six months later.

“It’s been very satisfying,” she said, adding that she has helped hundreds of landowners. “It was just a wonderful fit with me.”

Youngblood said she is not certain of her future plans, though she would like to work on anti-racism, social justice and land justice. She said African Americans own about 2 percent of land in the United States, down from 14 percent in 1920 — a trend attributed to decades of racial violence and unfair lending and land ownership policies.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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