Even though the namesakes of Rattlesnake Hill are apparently gone — there haven’t been any rattlers spotted there since 2006 — the sprawling conservation area in Sharon has other attractions.
It has rolling terrain with numerous rock ledges and “glacial erratic” boulders — large rocks that were transported by glaciers and deposited when the glaciers melted. It also has seven certified vernal pools and a forest of oaks, white pines, birches, maples, tupelo, and poplar trees, with an understory dominated by huckleberry, low-bush blueberry, grasses, and sedges.
“Rattlesnake Hill is a great place to hike,” said Shaun Provencher, land protection specialist for the state Department of Conservation & Recreation (DCR). “From the summit, there are spectacular views of the Blue Hills to the north, and vast, wide-open views to the south as far as Manomet Hill in Plymouth. It’s a great way to spend a day.”
This summer DCR, in partnership with the town of Sharon and Mass Audubon, announced the successful acquisition of a conservation restriction on Rattlesnake Hill to protect 329 acres of wetlands, woodlands, and hilltop in Sharon.
The property was acquired in February of 2020, according to officials, but had not been properly acknowledged due to the COVID pandemic. The purchase of the property concluded a nearly 50-year effort to protect the rugged and scenic landscape around the 431-foot hill.
Rattlesnake Hill is home to a wide range of animals, including Blanding’s turtles, which are a threatened species, and box turtles, which are listed by the state as a species of special concern, Provencher said. Black bears, coyotes, deer, fox, wild turkeys, fishers, black rat and black racer snakes, and other animals also have been seen on the property.
The state first appraised the property in 1973, according to DCR, but no action was taken until the early 2000s when development efforts gathered momentum with a succession of owners. Most recently, Brickstone Construction of Andover had put forward numerous proposals for the site including golf courses, high-rise apartment buildings, and a potential housing development.
“Conserving development-vulnerable land, particularly in areas where conservation land is hard to come by, is a key part of the Baker-Polito Administration’s efforts to protect vital green spaces while expanding access to outdoor recreational opportunities,” DCR Commissioner Jim Montgomery said in a statement.
Sharon owns the Rattlesnake Hill property, and DCR holds a conservation restriction over it that prevents any future development but allows public access for passive recreation. As part of the project, a similar conservation restriction will be held in the future by Mass Audubon over the town’s 200-acre Interlocken Park, which abuts Rattlesnake Hill to the north, according to DCR. The $10 million dollar acquisition cost of the Rattlesnake Hill property was funded by the town of Sharon ($7,500,000), DCR ($2,350,000), and Mass Audubon ($150,000).
“The acquisition of Rattlesnake Hill is the culmination of a decade-long effort to preserve this major parcel,” said Sharon Town Administrator Fred Turkington. “It was accomplished only through the shared vision and participation of DCR and Mass Audubon, and the town of Sharon is grateful for this partnership.”
“The ecologically diverse site is a big win for conservation, particularly due to its size and location within the ‘sprawl frontier’ between Routes 95 and 495, where large conservation opportunities are very difficult to come by,” DCR said in a statement. “The site rates highly for resilience to climate change and will protect an estimated 55,000 metric tons of carbon.”
Not developing the land and leaving it forested allows trees and other vegetation to sequester carbon, Provencher explained. And boulder fields and various other microclimate areas within the park provide species of plants and animals with refuges that can help them adapt to climate change.
“Rattlesnake Hill also abuts Borderland State Park and Interlocken Park, totaling 2,300 acres of protected land,” Provencher said. “Large contiguous areas of land allow species to adapt and migrate from pressures from climate change.”
Rattlesnake Hill has numerous trails and woods roads running through the property and can be accessed by established hiking trails from Borderland State Park, or from Mountain Road, the designated scenic road that runs between the two properties, according to DCR.
Recreational activities allowed at Rattlesnake Hill include hiking, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing, as well as mountain biking on established trails, said Provencher.
Dogs are allowed, but must be on a leash, and dog owners are asked to carry out any pet waste, said Olivia Dorrance, press secretary for DCR.
“Rattlesnake Hill has been revered as a special place for natural resources and recreation,” said Provencher. “It really is an honor for DCR to be involved in its protection for perpetuity.”
Don Lyman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.