Ashby Open Space & Recreation Plan
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SECTION 5
see also Important Lands Ranked for specific parcels

Inventory of Lands for Conservation

Although Ashby has no conservation land of its own, more than 2,500 acres of open space are owned and protected by state agencies: Willard Brook State Park, Department of Environmental Management, and the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. Ashby has been, for the most part, considered too remote for vast development allowing residents to falsely assume that the open space they enjoy today will always be available. Only the state lands are protected from development. The other lands listed here, though not yet developed, are all threatened. The aim of this section is to inventory the lands and their values as the first step for a plan of protection and/or acquisition of open space.

Private Parcels

Chapter Land

Classification Acreage
Chapter 61 - Forestry 1033.35
Chapter 61A - Agriculture 225.94
Chapter 61B - Recreational 326.29
   

Chapter 61, Chapter 61A or Chapter 61B tax status provides an important tax incentive for a owner to keep land in large pieces. Selling large parcels for development is often seen as the highest economic use of the land. Under the Chapter program, landowners are offered significant local tax benefits as long as they are willing to make a long-term commitment to forestry, agriculture, or recreation. This has allowed landowners reduce their tax burden and thus relieve the pressure on them to sell all or part of their land. Because part of the purpose of the Chapter 61 program is to preserve large tracts of land, there are penalties assessed when land is taken out of the program.

Chapter 61 provides a reduced assessment for forestlands. The qualifying parcels are assessed at 5% of fair market value. The program requires a ten-year plan for the harvesting of trees for timber or firewood. The town receives 8% of the stumpage value at the time of the sale. Timber sales are an important source of income from large parcels and help offset the costs of maintaining the land. Ashby has large forested areas and this program helps preserve them.

Chapter 61A provides protection from development and relief from taxes for agricultural land. Under 61A the assessment is reduced depending on what crops are grown rather than on the fair market value of the land. The qualifications require agricultural land to earn at least $500.00 annually for the preceding two years. Chapter 61A encourages farmers to stay in the business thereby helping preserve prime farmland at least for the present. There are penalties for a farmer who sells his land to a developer while in the program. Ashby could augment this program with agricultural preservation zoning and education about agricultural preservation restrictions that protect farmland in perpetuity.

 

 

Chapter 61B reduces the assessment for property classified for recreational use. In this program the parcel must be maintained in a substantially natural state and be open to the public or members of a non-profit organization. Parcels under this program have their assessment reduced by at least 75%.

While beneficial in its own right, Chapter status does not provide permanent protection for land. Owners may leave the program at will as long as they pay the tax penalties incurred. Ashby can strengthen the Chapter 61 program by allowing uses that would not require the owner to remove the entire parcel from the program in order to gain economic benefit from the land.

 

Non-profit/Charitable Parcels

Organization

Acreage

Camp Middlesex 75.20
Camp Lapham 88.61
Shackleton School 70.00
All Others 23.61
   

There are a number of small parcels held by non-profit or charitable organizations such as the Boy Scouts or churches. There are three significant parcels in this category. One is owned by a private school, and private camps own the other two. Middlesex County 4-H Camp holds 75 acres of rolling hills and riverine environment along Willard Brook. The eastern boundary of this land abuts Willard Brook State Park. Camp Lapham is a fifth of a mile west of Camp Middlesex and is comprised of 90 acres of varied upland, wetland, and shore property along the Ashby Reservoir. Camp Lapham abuts 4,000 feet (45%) of the shoreline creating a significant barrier to development around the reservoir. Camp Lapham land also fronts on 4,300 feet of town road reducing development in that area as well. These two camps, along with the Fitchburg water supply area and Willard Brook State Park, provide a significant amount of protection for Willard Brook and its associated bodies of water. The third parcel belongs to Shackleton Schools. It is a 70-acreparcel about three fifths of a mile west of Camp Lapham, on the summit of Spring Hill, known for its views of the surrounding countryside. The school property protects significant upland wildlife habitat. However, both the camps and the school are owned privately and could be sold or put to other uses as their organizations see fit. Again, there is no formal protection for the land. The town is fortunate that the parcels have remained in the hands of organizations that continue to protect them. However these organizations should be informed about ways to permanently protect their land.

Public Parcels

Agency

Acreage

Commonwealth of Massachusetts 2,552.32
City of Fitchburg 540.13
Town of Ashby 214.80
   

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts owns land throughout Ashby but 75% of their holdings are in Willard Brook State Park. The park, shared by Ashby and Townsend, has 1,880 acres in Ashby. Willard Brook State Park provides protection for the lower portion of Willard Brook, Trapfall Brook and the surrounding upland area. The park provides swimming, picnicking, and fishing. About two miles of trail in Ashby and several abandoned roads provide hiking opportunities. Over 15 miles of less charted trails exist and are used by horseback riders and more adventurous hikers. The park is popular with residents of the region and can be quite crowded in the summer.

The Commonwealth’s remaining 630 acres are in two major areas with several parcels scattered throughout the town. The State owns 263 acres around Mount Watatic. This land is accessible from the road but is undeveloped for recreation. There are no trails and only small signs to indicate where the land is located. Close by another 321-acre tract fronts West Road and Pillsbury Road just north of Route 119. There are two other parcels owned by the Commonwealth. One is located along the western bank of Upper Wright’s Pond. This parcel abuts city of Fitchburg land and a 53-acre parcel owned by the Fitchburg Rod and Gun Club. Together these three parcels surround 80% of the shoreline of the pond. The State land has no frontage on the road. The last state parcel straddles Harris Road. This parcel is also unmarked and abuts a 200-acre farm that is in Chapter 61.

The city of Fitchburg holds 540 acres around the Fitchburg Reservoir. This land helps protect the water quality in the reservoir. The 130 acres immediately surrounding the reservoir are posted against trespassing, but the remainder has no restrictions keeping people off. The Fitchburg land, while contributing to open space and water protection, has no recognized trails and does not contribute to the recreation needs of Ashby. However, it is home to an endangered specie and provides stunning views across its waters.

Town of Ashby owns 215 acres. Nearly all of this land is developed for various municipal needs. Allen Field, the Town’s primary active recreation area, is located on 16 acres on West Road. There is one 13-acreundeveloped parcel on the east boundary of Ashby. It has no access from a road.

On first glance Ashby appears to have adequate open space. However, while the acreage is substantial, nearly all the public land in the town is allocated to state or water supply protection needs rather than the needs of the residents of Ashby. In fact, several important town recreation and open space needs identified in succeeding sections are not being met.

 

Inventory of Recreation Interests

Ashby has several active recreation facilities. Allen Field, operated by the Town, has three little league fields and a softball field that are used regularly in the summer. It also has a bandstand that is used occasionally and a horseback riding rink that has fallen into disrepair. The Town Common is used as a picnic spot and park and hosts the very popular weekly band concerts in the summer. There are tennis courts and a basketball court in the center of town near the elementary school. Both suffer from lack of maintenance. The school playground is available for use after school and during the summer. These facilities are located either in the center or on the western side of town. Unfortunately, the Ashby is more heavily populated on the east requiring most residents to travel some distance to use the available facilities. Our survey results show a strong interest in children’s playgrounds. These should be located close to the growing areas of Ashby and could be part of future subdivisions.

Another area of strong interest shown in the survey was public access to lakes or ponds for boating or swimming. Swimming areas, in particular, require safety and maintenance issues be addressed. The Parks Department will have to have greater support to successfully manage a swimming area. This does not mean that the town cannot be looking at suitable sites and funding for acquisition in the interim. Ashby’s lakes are fairly shallow and are not suitable for powerboats or sailboats. This fact has actually kept most of Ashby’s pons relatively free of invasive aquatic plants. Only Little Watatic Pond has become choked with millfoil and other exotic water plants to the point of becoming disturbing enough to residents for them to fund chemical weed control. The main use of a boat ramp would be for fishing. The primary costs would be in acquiring land access and parking. A swimming area could be adjacent to a boat ramp. Willard Brook State Park has a swimming area, Damon Pond, but it becomes quite crowded on summer weekends. Most Ashby residents do not use Damon Pond except on weekdays. A town swimming area would relieve some of the pressure on the State Park and be accessible all day.

Increased popularity of soccer has generated interest in having a soccer field in town. Currently there are none. Other than that, the existing playing fields appear to be adequate for the current needs of residents. There was some interest expressed in tennis courts. The town currently has two tennis courts, but they are in such poor condition that they are rarely used. The courts could be put to use if they were resurfaced and maintained regularly. The little league fields are enough for now, but maintenance of the ball fields is done voluntarily by the Little League Association. Maintenance is a major problem. The Parks Department must develop a plan to upgrade and maintain sports fields, or they will fall into such disrepair be that they will be unusable.

Passive recreation received the most support from residents on the survey mailed to each household. The survey reflected an interest in more informal, individual recreation opportunities such as hiking, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, snow shoeing, horseback riding, hunting, and fishing. These all call for trail systems. Lands owned by the State are managed with wildlife conservation in mind and no formal trails system has been developed on these holdings. The town owns no land devoted to passive recreation. Most informal trails use old cart roads over public or private land. On private land there is no public right to use the trails, and they may be closed at the discretion of the landowner. Given the history of maintenance of the existing active recreation facilities, a firm plan would have to be in place to ensure that trails are adequately maintained. It is worth noting that a fair number of residents felt that some trails should be handicapped accessible. Respondents also gave strong support to conservation areas. When the elementary school was asked what the town could provide in the way of recreation, the top priority given was nature trails accessible to students. At this time, there is no group or agency within the town that addresses this issue in a systematic way. If the need for passive recreation is to be fulfilled, the town will have to work with the State and with private landowners to initiate and maintain trail systems. Another possible approach is to coordinate with existing private trail associations and the Conservation Commission on the development of a trail system.

General Organized Activities and Organizations in Ashby

Organizations for youth include Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Townsend-Ashby Youth Soccer Association, Little League and T-ball, Children’s Story Hour at the library, private horseback riding instruction, Camp Lapham, and Camp Middlesex.

Activities for adults include coed volleyball, basketball, and badminton, The Fitchburg Rod and Gun Club, Ashby Garden Club, Historic Society, Senior Citizens, the Grange, and Ashby Land Trust.

Residents of all ages enjoy Ashby’s Memorial Day ceremonies, July 3rd celebration and bonfire, Wednesday night band concerts in July and August, Pumpkin Festival in October, Halloween on Main Street, Congregational church flea market, First Parish Church summer sales, Broadway night, Cultural activities sponsored by the Public Library, The Friends of the Ashby Library Book Sale, Barn Tour, sugar supper, pizza nights, pancake breakfasts, corned beef and turkey suppers, auctions, and more!

The town will have to take a proactive approach towards addressing recreation needs. This will require a strong Parks Department and some new ways of approaching passive recreation issues.

Ashby Open Space & Recreation Plan
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