Need & Opportunity
According to the Massachusetts Audubon Society report, Losing Ground, Harvard is within the “sprawl frontier” – where important natural resources are under the greatest threat of being lost or degraded due to impending rapid growth and development.¹ In the past five years over $350M has been invested in road and rail improvements that will move commuters more quickly and easily along the Route 2 corridor. At the same time, the latest projections from UMass’s Donahue Institute show Harvard’s population increasing by just shy of 2,000 people over the next 20 years. In Harvard, land prices are climbing, number of days properties spend on market is falling, and speculative developers are buying. Population growth and new development are on the horizon.
Hillside cleared for subdivision development in Littleton near Harvard line (2016)
Harvard is home to 20 different state-listed rare and endangered species, but over half of the 4,800 acres that support these species are unprotected. Orchards, pastures, and farm stands are a hallmark of Harvard’s landscape and a cornerstone of the local economy, but they are often the most prized for development purposes, and close to 1,500 acres could still be subdivided into hundreds of small parcels. Acquiring and holding land for conservation purposes is one of the most direct and effective ways of preventing degradation and loss of important natural resources, and ensuring the integrity of the agricultural landscape. The Harvard Conservation Trust (HCT) has been doing so since 1973, and has played a pivotal role in protecting many of Harvard’s most cherished conservation lands. Each project comes at a cost, but it pales in comparison to the long-term value we all gain. We need to continue the legacy of those who had the foresight to proactively protect land in town, and one of HCT’s founders – Erhart Muller – has given us that opportunity. Erhart bequeathed $1.5M to HCT solely for land protection in Harvard; in order to be used, these funds must first be matched 1:1 by private individual or foundation contributions.
Over the next 5 years, the Harvard Conservation Trust will use the $1.5M Muller matching bequest as a catalyst to strategically protect land in Harvard for the greatest ecological and community benefit. In addition to the 1:1 match for individual gifts, we will also leverage public funding and foundation grants whenever possible.
Preserving Harvard’s natural resources and unique character is about more than keeping the town unchanged. In fact, it is about anticipating change, and working to shape a sustainable future for Harvard. It is about ensuring clean air and water, natural biodiversity, and an outdoor culture that are key to good health for people, ecosystems, and local economies. The expanding local food movement; natural, inspiring places that complement today’s creative economy; the boom in outdoor recreation activities such as paddling, hiking, birding, and riding – all of these trends require intact, open land. Many communities are working to reclaim and restore such a landscape. We have the opportunity to simply ensure what already exists is not lost, and is even ecologically and recreationally improved through greater connectivity. The broad vision behind the Muller Conservation Collaborative is one of clean water, fresh air, working farms and market gardens, abundant wildlife, and a community of people with a deep sense of place.