OUR OPEN SPACES: Forebears, foresight and the birth of Marblehead Conservancy

Native Americans and early Marbleheaders enjoyed lots of open space. In fact, most of Marblehead was open space used for farming or for drying fish.

By 1895, though, the town had grown so much that our forebears felt the need to set aside some land at the edge of town to form Seaside Park. That seemed to be sufficient for the next half century, but with growth from returning World War II veterans, open space preservation continued when a private group set aside the Goldthwait Reservation.

Map of Marblehead showing development of the town with each century’s growth in a separate color. Dark green areas are preserved natural open spaces.  For a video of Marblehead’s growth, see the Marblehead Conservancy’s YouTube channel at youtube.com/@marbleheadconservancy. COURTESY PHOTO / MARBLEHEAD CONSERVANCY

It didn’t take long for the preservation movement to take hold, and in 1953 the Audubon Society set aside the sanctuary on the Neck.

Two years later, the Trustees of Reservations set aside Crowninshield Island.

Then the town got into the act.  As a result, Wyman Woods, Steer Swamp, Ware Pond, and Hawthorn Pond were set aside in the ’60s, with more to follow in the final decades of the century.  

Preserving open space may seem an obvious choice now, but it took hundreds of dedicated volunteers and many generous property owners to make it happen.

That same volunteerism and generosity have continued into the 21st century with the preservation of the Lead Mills, Turner Woods and Gerry Island.

For a two-minute animation that shows the growth of the town and the preservation of open space, see the Marblehead Conservancy’s YouTube channel at youtube.com/@marbleheadconservancy

Interest in access to natural open space was captured in the town’s Open Space and Recreation Plan, while a public survey showed that walking trails in Marblehead’s open spaces were in bad shape and often overgrown. By the year 2000, a small group of volunteers formed the Marblehead Conservancy to address the issue.

 Created in 2001 by a small group of volunteers, ‘Discovering Marblehead’ has helped hundreds find their favorite Marblehead open spaces and historic places for over two decades.  Copies are available at the Conservancy’s booth at the Farmers Market, Shubie’s Marketplace, and Marblehead Mercantile.

To help the organization get started, the authors of the popular book “Discovering Marblehead” donated proceeds from its sales.

Although grants from the state have provided some early support, the organization largely relies on support from memberships and donations. Since its beginning, the Conservancy has been staffed by volunteers, with only minor exceptions for occasional contractors and student summer help.

During the past two decades, the Conservancy has maintained the trails in town-owned natural open space. Because most of these fall under the oversight of Marblehead’s Conservation Commission, the commission oversees Conservancy activities as well. A future article in this series will talk about the work performed by the Conservancy and how you can help.

While trail work continues to be a main focus of the Conservancy, the organization helps preserve additional land when opportunity arises and provides numerous ways to learn about Marblehead’s natural resources.

The Conservancy assisted financially with the purchase of Lead Mills by Marblehead and Salem and with the purchase of Gerry Island by the Trustees of Reservations. It also helped with the preservation of the Turner Woods land and of additional land adjacent to Ware Pond.

If you’re interested in learning more about Marblehead’s natural open spaces, the Conservancy provides a variety of resources: 

  • Visit the Conservancy booth at the Farmers’ Market.
  • Check out one of the many open-space-related books donated to the Abbot Library by the Conservancy.
  • Visit the Conservancy website (marbleheadconservancy.org) and YouTube channel (youtube.com/@marbleheadconservancy).
  • Volunteer to work with school students.
  • Volunteer to work with our trail maintenance crews.  
  • Contact the Conservancy with your question or comment. The email address, info@marbleheadconservancy.org, can be found on each page of the Conservancy’s website.
Marblehead’s open space is your open space. To find an open space near you, visit the Marblehead Conservancy website at marbleheadconservancy.org or scan this QR code to take you directly there.

The Marblehead Current publishes Our Open Spaces in partnership with the local nonprofit Marblehead Conservancy. Robert French, the author of this week’s column, is president of environmental organization.

Robert French

Leave a ReplyCancel reply

Exit mobile version