Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust reaches $3.5M fundraising goal

By GREG VINE

For the Recorder

Published: 02-19-2023 3:05 PM

PHILLIPSTON — The Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust celebrated the end of its Land Forever Campaign last week, a years-long effort that raised more than $3.5 million for the creation of an endowment to support land conservation in central and western Massachusetts.

In addition, a revolving loan fund was created to facilitate engagement with new projects, and additional funds will be committed to upgrades at the Mount Grace headquarters at Skyfields Arboretum on Old Keene Road in Athol.

Speaking before a celebration at Red Apple Farm in Phillipston, Mount Grace Communications and Engagement Coordinator Jessica Bryant recounted how the campaign began in 2001.

“The money raised was almost entirely from individual donations,” Bryant said. “It was raised largely by cultivating good one-on-one relationships with individual donors. Some had been with the organization since we got started back in the ’80s. And of course, we picked up new folks along the way who were interested in our land conservation mission and connecting people with the land.”

Bryant said that $3.5 million was the goal set by the originators of the campaign 22 years ago.

“We have been raising money more specifically for individual projects, individual conservation projects, over our history,” Bryant said. “But ... when you get to a certain scale of lands conserved, you have a responsibility to make sure that land continues to be taken care of well, even after it’s protected.”

Mount Grace has helped conserve some 37,000 acres of land, and it’s estimated the organization is “directly stewarding in one way or another” roughly 4,000 of those acres, according to Bryant.

Plans for the money

A statement from Mount Grace explains $2 million of the money raised will be committed to a strategic endowment to fund the group’s work in perpetuity. The money will be used to support “annual monitoring, managing the transfer of affordable farms where the trust holds options, trail work and sustainable forest management, signage and safety, defending beloved local landscapes from powerful threats and responding to climate change impacts.”

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Another $500,000 will go to the Leigh Youngblood Conservation Opportunity Fund. The fund, named in honor Mount Grace’s longtime executive director who is now retired, will allow the group to move quickly when land becomes available or is threatened.

The remaining $1 million will pay for repairs, insulation, and other energy and workspace efficiency upgrades to Mount Grace’s headquarters at Skyfields Arboretum, and will also provide the funds needed to pay off its loan on the downtown Orange building that is home to the Quabbin Harvest food co-op. Lastly, Mount Grace plans to construct “a new, energy-efficient, accessible barn ... to create meeting and event space.”

A community celebration

“Tonight is really about all of you in this room,” Mount Grace Executive Director Emma Ellsworth told those gathered at Red Apple Farm last week. “It’s a celebration of the Mount Grace community, the strength and the vision that all of you had in imagining The Land Forever Campaign — having that bold vision and making it happen.

Ellsworth mentioned how her predecessor, Youngblood, used to talk about “the difference between ‘conservation conversation’ and ‘conservation.’ Conservation conversation is when you like to talk a lot about it, but you don’t get a whole lot done. And Leigh, as you know, is all about getting the work done, and this fund that you all have built is about getting the work done.”

Youngblood then addressed the crowd of about 100, saying, “I want to thank everybody for not just getting this right to the top, but way beyond our goal. It means a lot to me to finish what I started.”

Over the years, she continued, “I kept valuing the unique involvement that every single person brings to the table — and I would say that is the recipe for success. And look what we have accomplished.”

Keynote speaker state Sen. Anne Gobi, D-Spencer, said her commitment to conservation comes in large part from the influence of Bob Wetmore of Barre, a former state representative who went on to represent the area in the Senate. Gobi said as she was considering a run for state representative, “Bob said, ‘You need to come with me today, we’re going to go for a hike.’

“Guess where he drove me — Tully Mountain,” she continued. “When we got to the top, and looking out over the vista and seeing how beautiful it was — you’ve probably heard the saying that you can’t be what you can’t see. You also can’t understand what you don’t experience. And I understood.

“We then had an opportunity to meet Leigh. He made a point to make sure I knew what Mount Grace was doing, the great work that was going on in the North Quabbin area, and it really made a great difference,” Gobi added. “So, when I got into the State House to advocate for things, I kind of knew what I was talking about.”

Gobi praised new Gov. Maura Healey for signing an executive order creating the office of state climate chief. The cabinet-level position is the first of its kind in the country. Healey tapped former Environmental Protection Agency executive Melissa Hoffer as the first climate chief.

Gobi also mentioned she was appointed as Senate chair of the Legislature’s Agriculture Committee. It will be the first time agriculture will be the concern of a single committee, having previously been a topic of oversight for the now-former committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture. She noted that preserving agricultural land is a priority for herself and for groups like Mount Grace.

“I look forward to working with everyone going forward,” Gobi said. “We’ve got a lot to work on. Tonight really gives me the opportunity to say ‘thank you’ to all of you for the great work that you’ve done. You’ve been conserving about 1,000 acres a year, and that is darn good.”

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.

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