High Ridge Initiative
What is the High Ridge?
The area where Harvard, Littleton, and Boxborough meet is home to thousands of acres of ecologically important lands that stretch from Oak Hill in Littleton to Great Elms conservation land in Harvard. These lands include essential wildlife habitat, healthy forests, an abundance of stream and water resources, and productive working farms and orchards.
Included in this stretch are the recently conserved Horse Meadows Knoll, Elizabeth Brook Knoll, and Smith Conservation Land properties. SVT helped to protect these three properties with, respectively, the Harvard Conservation Trust, the Boxborough Conservation Trust, and the Littleton Conservation Trust and Town of Harvard.
We call this important area the High Ridge.
SVT and our conservation partners in the three towns (the Harvard Conservation Trust, the Littleton Conservation Trust, the Boxborough Conservation Trust, along with Conservation Commissions from the three towns) have launched the High Ridge Initiative to protect land and improve land management in the High Ridge area in order to maintain and improve ecological health, preserve the agricultural, rural heritage, and character of these three communities, and improve the quality of life of current and future residents.
The High Ridge is an ecologically rich portion of Massachusetts that provides habitat for a variety of species including three threatened and rare species, hosts and buffers critical water resources, and will remain resilient in a changing climate.
The ridge runs southwest to northeast along the Harvard, Boxborough, and Littleton borders and the initiatives 12 square mile focus area around the ridge includes more than 1,090 acres of protected land, and at least 1,950 acres of unprotected land with high conservation value.
Why protect this land
The nearly 2,000 acres of land with high conservation value include important wildlife habitat, drinking water protection areas, miles of public trails, and working farms and orchards, which currently maintain a balance of ecological and economic function. Development trends and climate change threaten this balance if we don’t act to protect it.
Protection of land in the project area will:
- Improve biological diversity and ecological health of the project area by conserving important habitat;
- Improve water quality by protecting wellhead protection areas, aquifers, streams and buffer lands to all important water resources;
- Improve air quality and provide carbon sequestration by protecting forests, shrub lands, grasslands, etc. that have the ability to sequester carbon;
- Protect agricultural resources and the local agricultural industry by conserving working farms and Prime Soils; and
- Improve and increase recreation opportunities in the project area by creating opportunities to install trails on protected land and obtain trail easements for trail connections over private land.
All of the above contribute to mitigating the effects of climate change, making this area more resilient in a changing climate, improving the quality of life of residents of the three towns, and preserving the character of these three communities.
Designations that make this area so important:
- Climate Resiliency: Much of the focus area was identified by the Nature Conservancy as a climate “Resilient Site;”
- Wildlife Habitat: The Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program designated the focus area as a Critical Natural Landscape Block and as a Core Habitat, both important for rare species, for other wildlife, and for climate resilience;
- Water Quality: The focus area contains the headwaters of three river basins, the Nashua, the Sudbury, Assabet, & Concord, and the Stony Brook, all of which drain into the Merrimack River, one of the most threatened in the country. These headwaters filter key downstream resources; and
- Agriculture and Heritage: Agriculture has remained a major livelihood in the area since the eighteenth century, with at least eight working farms still active within the area today. With hundreds of millions of dollars put into commuter infrastructure and two beloved community farms lost to residential neighborhoods for commuters in the area in the last five years alone, the High Ridge Initiative is needed to preserve the natural resources and agricultural heritage that still remain.
Protecting the natural resources of the High Ridge area will provide many regional benefits, from preseving the local agricultural economy to providing additional trails and outdoor spaces for the public to enjoy for generations to come.
How we will protect this land
SVT, the Littleton Conservation Trust, the Harvard Conservation Trust, the Boxborough Conservation Trust, and the three town governments are collaborating on this initiative and seek to advance its goals in the following ways:
The project partners will reach out to landowners in this area to engage them in discussions about conservation options.
The project partners have embarked on a project to assess and improve habitat connectivity through aquatic passage.
Culverts and other road-stream crossings can make it easy for cars to pass over a stream, but they often do not provide safe passage to aquatic creatures and other wildlife. Culverts that sit below water level on one side of a road but sit above water level on the other side, prevent fish from swimming upstream. Culverts that are only as wide as a stream and do not encompass any of the adjacent stream bank offer no help to small animals that need to cross under a roadway.
The High Ridge partners have set a goal to assess every high priority stream crossing in the area, approximately 44 crossings, by the end of July 2020. As of May 2020, 15 key crossings have been assessed. Crossings are prioritized based on their proximity to conserved land and major streams. Following the assessments, HRI partners will identify and work to initiate potential projects for structure replacement to increase wildlife passage and connectivity.
Crossing evaluations are conducted under North Atlantic Aquatic Connectivity Collaborative’s protocols, which HRI partners were trained on in October of 2019. A culvert’s size, shape, and substrate (among other characteristics) are compared to the stream’s width and flow. Once a survey is added to the NAACC database, a score is given based on how well aquatic wildlife is able to pass.
The project partners are working to improve public trail connectivity in the area. Working with private landowners and utility companies, project partners will work to connect trails on conservation lands throught the region for improved public access and availability of open space. With the ability to access natural areas comes the appreciation and support of these natural areas. New trail connections will be created with the consideration of wildlife habitat and a balance between public access and habitat sensitivity.
The partnership will also bring awareness of this important area to the communities and project partners seeks to engage residents in implementing conservation friendly private land management to further benefit the natural resources present.
The High Ridge Initiative's partnership increases the capacity that each partner organization has for conservation and allows the partners to leverage more resources in this worthy endeavor.