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Treasuring the Open Space in our Towns

Emily Norton moved to Townsend a year and a half ago, because she fell in love with the area where she lives now, near Willard Brook State Forest and Pearl Hill State Park. These two are part of a larger Willard Brook Complex that also includes Ashburnham State Forest, Townsend State Forest, J. Harry Rich State Forest (in Groton), and the Nashua River Trail (Ayer, Groton, Pepperell and Dunstable)-- totaling about 10,000 acres.

Before Norton moved, she headed Friends of Borderland State Park (in Sharon and Easton). When the Nashua River Wartershed Association asked her to help start a similar group for this complex, she plunged right in: contacting Willard Brook supervisors Ed Torcoletti and Bruce Colburn, starting negotiations with the state. On Thursday, February 26, from 7 to 9 pm, at Memorial Hall in Townsend the first meeting takes place: everyone is invited.

Plans and dreams for the group? Natural history programs like mushroom walks and geology walks, mapping the trails, a cross-country race, a winter carnival, more educational display boards, a quarterly newsletter... and much more. What would you like to add to the list of possibilities—or to offer?

On the first day of school every year Norton, a high school biology teacher, takes her students outdoors. "It's amazing," she says, "how little they know. People don't take the time to look and really see."

Gardening taught me to see a little better. But the habit of attention doesn't stop at the edge of the garden: A garden is inseparable from the whole ecosystem.

My favorite part of the Willard Brook Complex is Trapp Falls, just off Route 119 in Ashby. Sometimes it's covered with an incredible mass of ice, sometimes it's a full torrent, sometimes the rocks at the brink divide the stream, growing moss and ferns. Gazing at it, I notice more and more.

A human, too, is inseparable from the whole ecosystem. Our park system preserves resources for health and enjoyment: fresh air, space for distance exercise and for solitude as well, beauty that speaks to us deeply....

But we are just beginning to learn how big the stakes are: the importance of wetlands are to our water, forest to our air.... Valuing the ecosystem for its own sake means we acknowledge how limited our understanding is.

Let's preserve every opportunity to open our senses to a wider reality than exists indoors. We need to cherish these spaces.

© Copyright 2004 Catherine Holmes Clark


Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 20 February 2004

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