IN THE NEWS: Beaton Farm Property

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Outdoors: Hoping someone can save this land from development by July

Mark Blazis Outdoors

Today’s column was supposed to be about great fishing — the first big surge of stripers, mackerel, squid, the Canal, Barnstable Harbor, huge flocks of terns feeding over bait, tired casting arms, local mayfly hatches, and shad runs.

That news is temporarily on hold for a much more urgent matter. A Sutton wildlife treasure is on the precipice of development. It’s the bottom of the ninth for Beaton Farm. Without immediate intervention — i.e., $1.325 million — we’re going to lose it forever.

July 16 is D-Day. Without someone coming to the rescue and having all formalities completed by that date, Holy Cross stands ready to take over the land — and build on it.

In lieu of what could or should have been done long before now, we need a deus ex machina — a wealthy benefactor or a conservation rescue team from the DCR, MassWildlife, MassAudubon, the Nature Conservancy, a land trust or Trustees of Reservations — to again step in at the proverbial last minute, as some have done so many times in the past. But most public and private organizations are now cash-strapped. Many Wall Streeters and Dow manipulators could do it, but they live in a different neighborhood. It’s sad that local steps were not taken in time to address a moment like this.

Some residents tell me it’s a pity conservation leadership was never persuasive or had enough foresight in Sutton to establish a land trust, as neighboring towns like Grafton successfully have done to step in when urgent cases arise.

I’ve heard desperate suggestions that the town of Sutton could yet agree to purchase the land and then create a limited development so there would be no new taxes and the majority of the land could be saved. The town of Grafton did so with the Hennessey Farm not long ago. It’s not a perfect solution, in that frontage land is generally sacrificed. But at least with that scenario, a majority of the wild land could be preserved.

Because of inaction, though, the continued existence of Beaton Farm — “the jewel of Sutton,” as many residents lovingly refer to it — is now improbable. The land may well be a Hopeless Diamond. The unique, nearly 100-acre property with 875 feet of shoreline on Manchaug Pond has a breathtaking hilltop view. The town of Sutton, having recently spent money on a new school, allegedly didn’t care to further increase residents’ taxes to save the land for its future generations. Many share that without selectmen leading the way, there remains little hope.

Residents have told me that the land is crying out for preservation for future generations. Manchaug Pond Foundation’s Phyllis Charpentier writes that its hilltop overlook of stonewalls, fields and forest provides a stunning scenic view of the lake. Its network of streams and small ponds are cold-water fisheries habitat for native brook trout and tributaries, which feed the lake. I know it has turkeys and deer. The late Brad Beaton, former owner and hunter, was a great steward of that land.

A large portion of the farm, I’m told, is priority habitat for endangered species as designated by the state Natural Heritage Endangered Species program. Located in the Lake Manchaug Greenway and Wildlife Corridor, the Beaton Farm is a valuable wildlife link that presently prevents fragmentation between the Sutton State Forest, Purgatory Chasm State Park and Douglas State Forest. Large, contiguous tracts like these properties are even more valuable in their collective totality, exponentially increasing their wildlife’s security and productivity. When contiguous areas of this magnitude area diminish in size, their wildlife value diminishes proportionately.

Charpentier further notes that this property directly abuts the 120 acres of Sutton conservation land on the Waters Farm, a 1757 homestead on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

The Sutton Board of Selectman assigned the Manchaug Pond Foundation the town’s right of first refusal to purchase 73 acres held under Chapter 61A. To save the farm, the foundation needs to raise $1.3 million and close by July 16 — or, as Charpentier fears, “the entire property will be lost forever to development. Should we fail, Holy Cross has signed a purchase-and-sales agreement with an initial 30,000-square-foot facility planned.”

Anyone capable of helping save this land should immediately contact the Manchaug Pond Foundation president David Schmidt at (508) 981-3820 or treasurer Andrew Mosher at (508) 865-6242.

Timing is everything. According to Ken Crater of the Grafton Land Trust, if the Trust for Public Land had been contacted earlier — before the town assigned its right of first refusal — it could have tried to engineer a solution, assuming Sutton would consider making an investment.

Crater suggests the best hope now may be to work with Holy Cross, encouraging the school to preserve conservation land and buffers to the pond in the permitting process. The crusade to save this land now needs some real Crusaders to do the right thing for our local wildlife and future generations.

Let’s go ’Saders!

Contact Mark Blazis at