Western Woods Preservation
The Western Woods is a large undeveloped block of land (around 500 acres) west of Pine Street, south of Route 128, and east of the town boundary with Wenham and Beverly. Ongoing research has determined that close to 200 acres within the area are Town-owned. Manchester Essex Conservation Trust owns over 100 acres within the area as well including the areas known as Wyman Hill, Great Hill and Brookwood Conservation Areas. The Western Woods include many acres of upland forest with a number of hills, numerous rocky outcrops, streams, and wetlands. Foot paths and a gravel road create a trail network of over six miles that provide for hiking, biking, bird and wildlife viewing in the area.
The Western Woods are believed to have never been cultivated, though there is history and evidence of harvesting for firewood or lumber and a piggery is said to have been in the area near to Route 128. It is believed that the gravel roads provided access for fire protection, to the area’s woodlots, the piggery and a gravel excavation site.
The Town has multiple current and future land needs including for affordable housing, recreation fields, and public facilities. Land parcels within the Western Woods however face a number of development constraints, the most challenging is likely access as no undeveloped lots in the area have frontage and potential road extensions would require passing over permanently protected lands or other privately held properties. Other constraints include wetland resources, steep slopes, and shallow bedrock. Conversely, conservation values are high as large undeveloped blocks of land are crucial for native habitat and for preserving biodiversity and are important for protecting the Town’s drinking water supply and for retaining rainwater that replenishes our aquifers. The Western Woods also offer an exceptional opportunity for increasing the community’s trail network.
Following a land assessment study completed by Cape Ann Trail Stewards in 2019, and the growing understanding of town ownership of parcels in the area, various members of Town Boards and Committees began exploring support for a preservation initiative to protect the Western Woods. Support for the initiative has grown and the Town has taken a number of steps to advance the initiative.
In 2019 Town Meeting voted to transfer several parcels of land to the Conservation Commission and in 2020 approved the purchase of the 12 acre Christian Hill property by the Conservation Commission. In 2021 the Town received a grant from the Department of Conservation and Recreation to hire a Forester to create a Forest Management and Bird Habitat Assessment Plan. This initiative is now underway
- Forest Stewardship Program: Recognizing the public benefits of good stewardship on private forest land, the Massachusetts Forest Stewardship Program (MFSP) supports and encourages private forest landowners' efforts to manage, enjoy, and care for their land using a long-term approach.
- Caring for your Woods - A Starting Point for Private Lands Forestry: Covers the basics of a management plan including the roll of a forester, Chapter 61 tax program and estate planning.
- Caring for your Woods - Working with Nature Private Lands Forestry: Gives a peek into how a woodlot fits into the natural surroundings as well as potential changes from climate change and invasive species.
- Caring for your Woods - A Valuable Resource Private Lands Forestry: Provides a basis for putting a plan into action.
- Caring for your Woods - Setting Goals: To help landowners identify high-priority goals for Stewardship planning, provides questions to ask a forester, and explains the landowner goals sheet found in Forest Stewardship Plans.