Woodland to be protected, added to wildlife sanctuary

A 31-acre Marshfield woodland that contains the headwaters of Hannah Eames Brook, a tributary of the North River, is poised to be protected and added to the North River Wildlife Sanctuary.

Mass Audubon plans to close Friday on the parcel, which is owned by a private realty trust. Known as the Spring Street Woodlands, the land has frontage on Spring Street and directly abuts the existing sanctuary.

“People come from all over to explore the woodlands here,” said Elizabeth Welch, who grew up in the area and lives on nearby Summer Street. She said she has not walked the property, but plans to do so in the spring. Neighbors have told her it is untouched, peaceful, and quiet, “a rarity in this day and age,” she said.

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Informal trails through the woods will remain open to the community, according to Audubon.

The trust is controlled by members of the Hale family. Trustee Peter Hale said his father bought the land along with a separate house lot a short distance away in the 1940s. The family kept firewood on the property, and Hale and his seven brothers and sisters used to explore it when they were children.

Audubon had the property assessed at $135,000, the price the group agreed to pay. Around 2007, the land was partially permitted for a single house lot, but the sale fell through when the recession hit, according to Hale. Any attempt to carve more lots out of the property would have required negotiation with conservation officials, he said. Parts of it are wet.

“It just didn’t seem like there was going to be anybody interested in purchasing the property in the near future,” he said. The family wanted to sell. Some of his siblings no longer live nearby, Hale said, and although he takes occasional walks in the woods, not all of the owners use it.

He had been aware since around 2000 that Audubon was interested in adding the land to the sanctuary, and the trustees decided to accept the group’s offer.

Kathy Sferra, the conservation group’s regional director for Southeastern Massachusetts, Cape Cod, and the Islands, said Audubon is working hard to raise $170,000 for the purchase, including appraisal and legal expenses. As of Friday, the group had only $5,000 left to raise after 12 years of working to preserve the property, the largest piece of unprotected land abutting the nearly 200-acre sanctuary.

The Spring Street land is home to fishers, mink, ruffed grouse, and salamanders, Sferra said. Conserving it also furthers Audubon’s goal of protecting water quality in Hannah Eames Brook. Trees on the property include maple, pine, and hemlock.

Dinah Rowbotham, who works in land protection for Audubon and coordinated the project, said wetlands on the property would have made it more expensive to develop than other properties its size. Audubon has no specific plans for the land, but is generally interested in land-protection projects adjacent to existing sanctuaries. The $170,000 in fund-raising includes money for ongoing stewardship of the land, she said.

“We’re very excited about the idea of adding this to the sanctuary,” she said. “It’s been on our list for a really long time.”

A small piece of town-owned land abuts the property, adding to the contiguous green space, she said. Audubon also believes the land will foster wildlife movement to and from other nearby conservation properties.

The North River Wildlife Sanctuary straddles much, though not all, of Route 3A from the North River south to Hannah Eames Brook. It has trails and a nature center, which helps acquaint visitors with the North River, red maple swamp, salt marsh, and other features of the property.

Established in 1977, the sanctuary receives 4,000 to 5,000 visitors a year, not including those who participate in its educational programs, Sferra said.

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