GUEST COLUMN: Caring for Marblehead’s great outdoors

Maybe it’s because I’m a fan of author Nevada Barr’s mystery novels featuring national park ranger extraordinaire Anna Pigeon that I came to volunteer with the Marblehead Conservancy. Over the years I’ve enjoyed living vicariously through Anna as she explores beautiful parks around the country. So when I learned that the Marblehead Conservancy had a Trails Crew Committee, I decided to give it a try. I was going to be an “amateur ranger” right here in Marblehead, just like Anna! (Minus the mystery and crime fighting, of course.)

Founded in 2001, the mission of the Marblehead Conservancy is to protect, acquire and enhance Marblehead’s natural resources for the benefit and enjoyment of the public. With five miles of trails on 165 acres of land, its focus involves maintenance and improvement of trails and keeping areas accessible and safe, both now and in the future.

My first day on the volunteer job I was greeted warmly by Conservancy President Bob French, Trail Committee Chair Don Morgan and a group of dedicated men and women, all with smiles and a very welcoming attitude. Every Wednesday and Saturday, the group meets in front of their tool shed at Robinson Farm to discuss what areas need attention, and who would like to volunteer for each task.

Jobs might include planting new shrubs and trees, spreading wood chips, clearing invasive species, cutting back and pulling weeds, mowing lawns, removing trash and debris, building stone steps and sealing and repairing wooden bridges and boardwalks.

Being a member of this group has pushed me outside of my comfort zone in many ways. For example, before joining the trails committee, I had never operated a lawn mower! Knowing a boy when I was young who had an unfortunate accident with his toe and a lawn mower really had made an impression. But I eventually conquered my fear and gained the confidence to use a mower — and many other tools — with the expert guidance of the group leaders and members. Loppers, hedge trimmers and pitchforks? No problem. I still haven’t tackled a Pulaski ax, but maybe someday!

Volunteering in the town’s green spaces is enjoyable for many reasons. It’s a way to get fresh air and exercise in beautiful locales, to socialize with a group of volunteers with diverse career backgrounds and interests, to meet community members out on the trails, to learn new skills and to discover a lot about plants and their care. I’ve also gained confidence as a woman that I can handle many of the tools that I previously found intimidating and dangerous.

Since I never know which nature preserve we will be visiting, or what new job we will be undertaking, each time I volunteer it’s new and exciting. I have discovered new trail entrances and visited green spaces in town that I used to just drive by, unaware of the treasures that were in my midst.

For example, though I’d been to the Village School countless times, I had never explored Robinson Farm, which lies directly behind. While we were clearing both litter and invasive bittersweet from Robinson Farm, I learned a great deal about the history of the farm and the land. 

It might be surprising to hear that if you’re a history buff, this is also a great group for you. The team members are quite knowledgeable about the history of the open spaces in town and are very happy to share what they know. Just visit and you’ll get a sense of what I mean. You’ll find a wealth of maps, information and history about the land and its usage, and much more.

Even though I can’t commit to trail work every week, I am greeted enthusiastically each time I can attend. Their motto is to come and work when you can, with no pressure. Being a busy mom with even busier kids, this flexibility has been very welcome.
I am humbled to volunteer with a group who has been dedicated to the green spaces in Marblehead for decades. I consider myself fortunate to learn from them and help preserve natural areas in town for the enjoyment of all. I encourage Marblehead adults young and old, men and women alike, to give it a try. We may not be Anna Pigeon in Yellowstone National Park, but we can certainly make a big contribution right here on our own preserved land.

Elaine Leahy is a volunteer with the Marblehead Conservancy.

Elaine Leahy
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