Ashby Open Space & Recreation Plan
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SECTION 7 - Analysis of Needs

Resource Protection

Since this is the first time the town of Ashby has prepared an Open Space and Recreation Plan, we find some overriding needs in the area of protecting our natural resources. We currently have 1,586 acres in Chapter 61, Chapter 61A, and Chapter 61B, as well as extensive other open land. It is neither reasonable nor desirable to attempt to acquire them all. We need a systematic way to identify and rank the parcels that are the most in need of protection. Parcels that fit within an over all open space preservation plan or abut existing public or otherwise protected land should rate high on the priority list for acquisition or protection. Second, we need to develop funding mechanisms for land acquisition and management.

Analysis of the Assessor's Maps shows that most development has taken place in the eastern third of Ashby and along Route 119 towards the center of town. Relatively little development has taken place in the western third of town. The protected parcel map shows three large areas of land already permanently protected in Ashby: they are Willard Brook State Park in the southeastern portion of town, the state lands around Mount Watatic, and the land protecting the water supply for the city of Fitchburg. Interspersed between these three protected areas are large parcels of Chapter 61 land. We would like to create contiguous corridors between these three large areas.

There are two ways to connect Willard Brook State Park to the city of Fitchburg land. The Wright’s Pond area has no roads and is unlikely be developed in the near future. Another area for potential linking is through the two private camps, Camp Middlesex and Camp Lapham. Securing development rights to the camp lands would protect about two-thirds of the distance between the State Park and the Fitchburg land. However, this corridor could be broken in two places where there are private land holdings that have development potential.

A corridor between the Mount Watatic land and the city of Fitchburg land could be established through properties abutting Ashby’s border with Ashburnham. Shackleton School and several private landowners own property in this area. The only road in this area ends at the Shackleton School. This area includes Blood Hill and Spring Hill. The steep terrain and lack of roads makes it unlikely that this section will be developed in the near future. A combination of conservation easements and the purchase of development rights may be adequate to protect the land in this area.

Creating a corridor from Mount Watatic to the State Park is the most challenging. However, a large parcel of Chapter 61 land holds the key. This parcel, the Western Middlesex Stock Farm, is 8/10 of a mile from the state's Mount Watatic holdings and 9/10 of a mile from the State Park. This parcel also abuts 44 acres of municipal land and an isolated 48-acre parcel of land held by the state. These parcels combined equal 292 acres of land under public control of which 248 acres would be protected. The Stock Farm has frontage on Route 119, and its upland forest and fields are suitable for development. The farm is currently on the market and likely to be developed in the near future. Moving to acquire this property and its abutting parcels as they become available is probably the single most important land acquisition project before the town.

Open lands now exist between the Stock Farm and the Mount Watatic property. Much of this land is steep and unsuitable for development. A combination of acquisition and development restrictions could secure a continuous protected corridor between the Western Middlesex Stock Farm and the Mount Watatic land. Heading from the Stock Farm toward the Willard Brook State Park, the corridor could be protected along Trapfall Brook. This brook passes through the farm and the 48-acre state parcel that abuts it. After coursing through vacant private land, Trapfall Brook enters Willard Brook State Park just west of the Townsend/Ashby boundary. Two of the private parcels along the brook are in Chapter 61, and it may be possible to permanently protect the portions of these parcels that border the brook because they would be difficult to develop.

The corridor along Trapfall Brook opens up the possibility of protecting other land, in particular the area extending from the brook to the town landfill. The landfill is slated for closure in 1999and will see a change of use as it evolves to a probable transfer station. It is located on a 90-acre parcel about 5,000 feet from Trapfall Brook. Between the landfill and the brook are two land-locked or nearly landlocked parcels of land (now in Chapter 61) and an abandoned apple orchard. Protection or acquisition of these parcels along with protection of the landfill parcel would create an additional 215 acres of open land along the Trapfall Brook corridor.

The strategy of connecting vacant parcels would create a continuous corridor between all the major protected land in Ashby. It would also provide a connection to the Pearl Brook section of the State Park in Townsend and the State Forest and Wildlife Management lands around Mount Watatic in Ashburnham. This approach envisions that private land would be protected by conservation restrictions or, as in the case of Trapfall Brook, by the Rivers Protection Act. After the key central parcel is protected, the land acquisition required to complete the corridor would be minimal. The Western Middlesex Stock Farm is essential to open space protection in Ashby. On a larger scale, it is the key link between the State Park in Townsend and the Wildlife Management areas of Ashburnham.

In addition to these two major needs, we need to proceed with and improve on our development planning in order to protect the rural character and natural resources of our town. A variety of approaches must be developed to address our desire to preserve and protect these resources. On the regulatory side, our current zoning should be analyzed in light of its impact on rural character as well as its effectiveness in protecting natural resources. In addition the Future Growth Committee survey of 1987 asked people how fast they wanted the town to grow. 96% of respondents (113 out of 117) said they wanted a growth rate of less than 20 houses per year. Our current growth rate hovers at around 22 houses per year. We need to investigate creative ways to manage this growth.

We also need to increase our knowledge base around water and habitat protection and to locate potential aquifer sites for increased protection in the event of future public need.

Summary of Community’s Needs

The community survey results can point us in the direction of our land protection priorities. A wetlands preservation project could be undertaken whereby the owners of significant wetland parcels could be identified and approached with information relevant to creating conservation easements of their wetlands. Secondly, an agricultural preservation project could be undertaken in a similar way where farmers as well as other owners of agricultural lands could be approached to consider agricultural preservation easements on key parts of their property. The community is clearly interested in some amount of open space acquisitions, a large piece of agricultural property such as the Western Middlesex Stock Farm could provide space for a variety of the passive recreational uses desired by townspeople. The Board of Assessors should review the regulations surrounding the assessment of land with development or deed restrictions.

Ashby is small and our active recreation facilities are limited. Twenty percent of survey respondents indicated that they felt there was a need for more sports fields or tennis courts. The primary need at this time is to better maintain what we have, both the fields and the courts. The recreation needs most often cited in the survey were the desire for more passive recreation options, specifically hiking and cross-country skiing trails, conservation areas, and public access to lakes for boating/fishing. There is some desire also for family picnic areas and public swimming areas. Recreational opportunities for senior citizens will become increasingly important, mandating certain types of facilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act lends weight to the desire for a wheelchair accessible nature trail.

Townspeople clearly value the open space our town affords and wish to retain as much of it as possible. They also do not like people telling them what to do with their land. Many strategies will help maintain our rural town, but the most effective way to limit growth is to remove land from the option of development, that is, through permanent conservation easements or purchase with permanent restriction. We will be more effective in accomplishing this if we also implement an active public education program about the financial value of open space. There is much information available to help inform residents about their land preservation options; the need for such information is clear.

Management Needs

We have a need to expand our base of people willing and able to help do the work of developing and managing open space and recreation areas. We need a fully functional Parks Department. We need people who have time to seek out and write grants. And we need to create the capacity to maintain new acquisitions. Our town boards enjoy cordial working relationships with each other but would do well to coordinate more effectively in the areas of development policy.

Ashby Open Space & Recreation Plan
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