The Franklin Land Trust (FLT) purchased the 82 acre Crowningshield Farm in March of 2015, and added the Desmond property in June of 2016, creating the Crowningshield Conservation Area. The land is located on West Branch Road in Heath just south of the 1,800 acre H.O. Cook State Forest and abutting the 120 acre Coe Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) held by FLT. The property contains over 1 mile of frontage along the West Branch of the North River. The Crowningshield Conservation Area is a classic hill-town dairy farm abandoned since about 2005 and consisting of roughly 11.5 acres of overgrown pasture, 3.5 acres of productive hayfield, early successional upland and wetland, and 60 acres of northern hardwood forest interspersed with healthy stands of eastern hemlock and red spruce of northern aspect. The West Branch and its tributaries are state-listed coldwater fishery resources, home to native brook trout whose habitat is declining.
The property has been acquired and conserved through the generous support of Franklin Land Trust’s members, the MA-RI Interstate Council of Trout Unlimited, the MA Department of Fish and Game and Fields Pond Foundation. It is managed in partnership with these and other organizations such as National and local chapters of Trout Unlimited, the Deerfield River Watershed Association and the Franklin Regional Council of Governments. Funding for stewardship, conservation outreach and habitat management has been provided by MA Department of Fish and game, the Wildlife Conservation Society and MA Department of Environmental Protection.
Activities: hiking, hunting, fishing, trapping, wildlife observation and nature study
Hiking Difficulty: moderate to challenging (steep hills lead down to the river)
Access: Two trail heads on south side of West Branch Road: turn off at eastern corner of property marked by sign (approximately .7 mile southeast of barn); current location of old barn, approximately 300 feet south east of Al Stetson Rd, park along road. Also see trail map for locations.
In June of 2015, the Department of Fish & Game (DFG) purchased a conservation restriction (CR) on the farm property from FLT. The Crowningshield Conservation Area is part of a larger landscape of conserved forestlands, active farms, and abandoned farmland, interspersed by the West Branch North River and its upper tributaries. Also in 2015, a 50 acre parcel located east of the property was gifted to MA Audubon which protects an additional 1,200 feet of frontage along the river and diverse habitat.
The upland acres of the Conservation Area have been identified by MA Natural Heritage Endangered Species Program (NHESP) as Biomap2 Critical Natural Landscape. Additionally, the farm encompasses over 3,700 feet of frontage along the West Branch North River, a state-listed cold water fisheries resource classified as Aquatic Core habitat. FLT worked with naturalist Charley Eisman to complete a cursory inventory of the property in May. Field work revealed healthy examples of both Sandbar Willow, Salix exigua, (listed as threatened in MA) and Balsam Poplar, Populus balsamifera (on state watch list) along the river bank.
Native and beneficial species within the open fields include; Malus species, Common Juniper, Common Milkweed, Rubus species, Alternate-leaved and Red Osier Dogwood, Winterberry Holly, White and Grey Birch, Black Cherry, Sugar Maple, and Quaking Aspen. Invasive species are not surprisingly the serious threat to the habitat we have sought to protect and manage. In the pasture and hayfield, species include; Multiflora Rose, Japanese Barberry, Oriental Bittersweet, and Russian Olive which were substantially removed through habitat enhancement work funded by the MA Department of Fish and Game Wildlife Habitat Management Grant Program. Along the river there are several distinct patches of Japanese Knotweed that will be addressed through a USDA Environmental Quality Enhancement Program (EQIP) grant in the coming years. Restoration of stream habitat through the placement of in-stream wood will be supported through grants provided by the Wildlife Conservation Society and MA Department of Environmental Protection.
MA EEA Announcement http://www.mass.gov/eea/pr-2016/land-protection-project-in-heath-announced.html
MA Woodlands Institute, Fisheries Management Project http://masswoodlands.org/projects/fisheries-management
FLT Protecting Our Waterways http://www.franklinlandtrust.org/news/waterways
Franklin Land Trust, Fly Fishing on Franklin Land Trust's recently conserved property http://www.franklinlandtrust.org/news/fishing
A Hat Trick for Conservation http://www.franklinlandtrust.org/news/a-hat-trick-for-conservation