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Brockton

A new trust restores the city’s link to the wilderness

Wildlands Trust volunteers gathered to clean up the Brockton Audubon Preserve last spring.

Wildlands Trust volunteers gathered to clean up the Brockton Audubon Preserve last spring.

Lovers of the Brockton Audubon Preserve, a neglected resource that recently changed hands in a cash-strapped city, say the parkland’s new trustees will help reconnect the city to its lost natural paradise.

“It’s a very beautiful piece of property once you get inside of it,” said Scott Ford, a lifelong Brockton resident and a board member of the Wildlands Trust, the regional land preservation agency that just added the Brockton preserve to its holdings.

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“You step off the street in a well-developed area, and suddenly it’s very quiet,” Ford said.

Founded 93 years ago, the 124-acre preserve boasts a network of trails, a stream, a scenic bridge, a wildlife population, and a landmark glacial erratic: a giant boulder standing alone amid the trees on the leaf-strewn forest floor.

The preserve’s upkeep was neglected in recent decades as the founding group, the Brockton Audubon Society, slipped into dormancy. To convey the land from an old charitable trust to a new trust with the resources and know-how to take care of it required a decade-long legal trek. But now that the transfer is final, both the city and the new trustee say the land will be cleaned up and upgraded to attract new visitors.

“It’s an unknown jewel for the city of Brockton,” said City Councilor Tim Cruise, who helped shepherd the transfer through City Hall.

“When you get out into the middle of this property, you will not believe you are in the city of Brockton,” said Karen Grey, executive director of the Wildlands Trust, which has nearly 10,000 acres in conservation. “You will feel you are in the middle of Vermont.”

Grey acknowledges some differences. An early cleanup effort encountered debris such as a burned-out car and beer cans from the 1970s. 

With trash cleanup well underway, the Wildlands Trust’s volunteer trail maintenance group, called Trailblazers, will hold a work day on Friday in the preserve. Plans for the day’s work include creating a new trail extension, installing a bench and two bog bridges, and maintaining the current trails. Trailblazers is reaching out to the local community to draw attention to the work day — and to the charms of the preserve. Work gloves are recommended, said the group’s coordinator, Lianna Lee. 

Volunteers will meet at 9:30 a.m. in the back of the parking lot off 35 Pearl St. “We’ll be in a Wildlands pickup truck and unloading tools,” Lee said. For more information, call her at 781-934-9018, ext. 118.

Cynthia Brown, a Brockton resident whose grandmother Amelia Carroll (Tinkham) Brown was one of the founders of the local Audubon society that put the 124-acre preserve together, said the trust will help restore the founders’ hopes for a natural corridor in an urban place.

“I think that the Wildlands Trust has my grandmother’s ideas foremost in mind,” said Brown, a retired music teacher. “To have a [natural] place that should be visited by the people of the city.”

Established at a time when the farms of the city’s west side were falling under development, the preserve reflected the ideals of a national conservation movement, Brown said: to give people even in urban spaces a place to experience nature in the wild. Scout groups learned woodcraft in the preserve. People picnicked.

Over the decades, however, the generation that created the preserve passed away, development rolled on, and lifestyles changed. The preserve fell off the popular radar, and its grounds were neglected. As community ties weakened, the litter piled up.

“It was all on paper,” said Brown. “The land sat there,” with no one overseeing it.

Ford, who is also a member of the Brockton Planning Board, remembers playing there.

“We were kids at a time when we were all Boy Scouts,” he said. “We had our [walking] sticks, packed a lunch, and went into the woods. There’s a giant rock in the woods” — the glacial erratic — “and when you’re 12, it looks like Mount Everest.”

Older kids went to the woods, too, Ford said, and one would find signs of fires, and bottles.

“There are a lot of people who have attachments to this last piece of wilderness inside the city of Brockton,” said Grey, who also grew up in Brockton but without knowing of the preserve’s existence. “Most people don’t even know about it.”

Becoming the trustee for the Brockton Audubon Preserve was one of Grey’s first projects after she took over leadership of the Wildlands Trust five years ago. 

“We had to usher this through the city, get lots of approvals,” she said. The trust made sure the easement on the property, or conservation restriction, went to the city of Brockton to forestall any chance of losing the land to development.

The trust’s plans for the preserve call for creating a small public parking area (the site currently lacks one) and upgrading the walking trails.

Brockton officials point out that the city is not without nature resources, including the extensive Olmsted-designed D.W. Field Park and the Stone Farm, located off Pearl Street near the preserve.

But it’s a “godsend,” said Brown, that “the Wildlands Trust has been willing and able to take over the responsibility and protection of this parcel of land dedicated as a sanctuary for birds and intended to be a place for the people of Brockton to visit and enjoy.”

People need to get outdoors, get the scent of a wild place in their nose, look for birds, and listen for a rustle in the brush, she said. “Or else they miss much of the best part of living.”

Robert Knox can be reached at rc.knox2@gmail.com.
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