We did it! An exceptional outdoor destination, where local children have come to play in nature for more than three hundred years, will now be permanently protected thanks to a MA Conservation Partnership Grant and the successful fundraising efforts of Greenbelt, Essex County’s land trust, and Merrohawke Nature School.
Since February 2014, Greenbelt and Newburyport’s fastest growing non-profit organization have been working to raise $225,000 to acquire the unique 28-acre Four Rock property on Boston Road, which includes the historic Devil’s Den limestone quarries. Merrohawke currently uses the parcel as an expansive outdoor classroom.
Their efforts were given a final push to the finish line this week by the announcement of an $80,000 Conservation Partnership Grant from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
“The Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program has identified Four Rock as important habitat. The range of natural communities and native wildlife and plant species on this parcel is highly unusual and significant, making it a strong contender for a grant from the always-competitive Conservation Partnership Program,” said David Santomenna, Greenbelt’s Director of land Conservation.
Once Greenbelt has completed its acquisition, the property will be integrated into the land trust’s region-wide reservation system. Four Rock will be open to the public for wildlife observation, passive recreation and educational programming. Merrohawke Nature School will continue to lease the property, creating a long-tem, sustainable home for its expanded nature-based educational programs.
Merrohawke Nature School has operated year-round youth programs at Four Rock for three years for children of all ages, including a forest kindergarten, an afterschool program, teen wilderness programs and summer programs. “Since 2012 we have grown to love Four Rock as an ideal site for nature connection programs,” said Kate Yeomans, Merrohawke co-founder and executive director. “It’s incredibly important to us and to the hundreds of Newbury children and their neighbors who have built connections to this land to know that it will be protected, and forever available for them as a special place to experience extended, meaningful time in nature. We are grateful for all who supported this project, and for Greenbelt’s leadership and passion for land conservation that made for a strong and successful partnership for the benefit of all children and families in our community.”
The benefits of protecting Four Rock, Greenbelt Executive Director Ed Becker said, “will not only protect at-risk acreage with unique historical significance and safeguard critical wildlife habitat, but it will also provide an opportunity for us to nurture the current and future generations of environmental stewards in the Greater Newburyport community through our partnership with Merrohawke Nature School.”
Included among the donors to the conservation project are an anonymous benefactor with historic ties to the region, the Institution for Savings Charitable Foundation, the Newburyport Five Cents Savings Bank Charitable Foundation, the Merrohawke Nature School board of directors, numerous family and conservation foundations and nearly seventy individual and family donors. “We are very grateful to the many contributors who feel a strong connection to this special place, to Greenbelt’s mission and to the important programming Merrohawke Nature School offers to the community,” Becker continued. “We look forward to preparing the site for public access and welcoming all donors and the public to a formal opening of Greenbelt’s newest reservation in the spring.“
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Since 1961, Greenbelt has been working with local families, farmers and communities to protect the farmland, wildlife habitat and scenic vistas of Essex County. Greenbelt has protected nearly 16,000 acres of local land and has had a direct role in 75 percent of all land conserved in the last decade. For more information about Greenbelt properties and programs visit www.ecga.org or call 978-768-7241.
About Merrowhawke Nature School:
Merrowhawke Nature School is a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to providing programs that inspire a lifelong connection to land and sea. Upwards of 1,600 youth, teens and teachers engage in outdoor programs, ashore and afloat, year-round, through use of passenger boats along the Merrimack River and coastal waters, and on private lands in Newbury and across Essex County. For more information, visit www.merrohawke.org or call 978-463-2233.