High Ridge Initiative

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 area the High Ridge, and we’ve been building awareness of its significance with recent events such as our June BioBlitz. SVT along with our conservation partners in the three towns have launched the High Ridge Initiative to protect land in this region. Together, we will be working with local landowners in the coming years to protect as much of the wildlife habitat, working farms, and orchards as possible.

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Property Description

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.

For the residents of the area, the High Ridge Initiative not only will preserve the local agricultural economy and key natural resources but also will improve public health and provide 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. The project partners will reach out to landowners in this area to engage them in discussions about conservation options. The partnership will also bring awareness of this important area to the communities and hopes to engage residents in implementing conservation friendly private land management to further benefit the natural resources present. The High Ridge Initiative's partnership will increase the capacity that each partner organization has for conservation and will allow the partners to leverage more resources in this worthy endeavor.

 

The goal

To protect land and improve land management in the High Ridge focus 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.