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Attleboro Land Trust
Helping to Protect Our Own Backyard
Attleboro, Massachusetts, USA

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Reflections On Our First 25 Years

by Charlie Adler

I remember when I first learned about land trusts. It was at a conference held at Wheaton College in Norton on March 3, 1990. The focus of the conference was protecting land in the Canoe River Watershed, but the lessons from the conference could be applied anywhere. With the enthusiastic support of Ted and Debby Leach, I organized a meeting at the Attleboro Public Library on April 11, 1990, to explore the possibility of starting a land trust in Attleboro.

While preservation of the Locust Valley Golf Course, then threatened with a development of 300 homes, was a top priority, the 50 residents at the meeting brought up other areas also worthy of protection, and they expressed a general concern about the rapid pace of residential development and equally rapid loss of open space. There was unanimous agreement to form a local land trust. Larry St. Pierre agreed to head up a charter committee to pursue non-profit status. A hat was passed, and the amount was matched by Locust Street resident Fred Thomson, resulting in a total collection of $251.

Within a few months, the group had incorporated and been recognized as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. In addition to Ted, Debby, Larry, and me, the incorporators were Leslie Leger, Patricia Campbell, Ron Carlson, Howard Bibeault, Carol Haslehurst, Joanne Wright, Eric Brown, and Robert Schoch.

The first two years were focused on attempts to save Locust Valley. At first the land trust tried raising funds to acquire the property, but then decided to support city attempts to purchase all or part of the land. In the spring of 1991, the land trust held a membership outreach event featuring photos of scenic New England by teacher and photographer Bob Thayer. A year later, the land trust received its first gift of land from Adele Colman, a local resident who had attended Bob's presentation.

The 77-acre Colman Reservation was dedicated in 1993 “to all those who set foot here. May they visit this place often, enjoy it, and be its caretakers. And may they pass it on unharmed from one generation to the next.” Those sentiments were soon to motivate other generous donors.

Celebrating Our First Gift of Land in 1993
Board Members and Guests (from left to right): Larry St. Pierre (President), Joanne Wright, George Largess, Carol Haslehurst, Shanthi Raam, Adele B. Colman, Mayor Judith Robbins, Robert Schoch, Ron Carlson, Charlie Adler


There is not space enough here to list all of the donations of land we have received since that first gift, never mind the financial support and thousands of hours of volunteer time that have been contributed in support of our mission.

While land conservation has been and will continue to be at the top of our agenda, the story of our first quarter century includes many other themes:

  • Stewardship: Acquisition of a parcel of land is just the first step. There are species to be identified, boundaries to be monitored, trails to be developed and maintained, invasive species to be controlled, and visitors to be managed.

  • Recreation, Health, and Fitness: Our trails provide passive recreation for many. We are concerned that children in the 21st century are more comfortable surfing the Internet than walking in the woods and are missing the health benefits of being outdoors, in all kinds of weather.

  • Advocacy: Although not our main focus, we occasionally speak out on matters of public policy related to conservation and the environment.

  • Education: Education and advocacy go hand in hand. We can't influence public policy in matters of concern to us unless we educate the public on the importance of protecting the environment. We have stepped up our efforts recently to provide educational resources for the schoolchildren in our community--publishing a brochure inviting them to explore our properties.

  • Partnerships: We often find that we can multiply our effectiveness by partnering with other organizations. Perhaps our longest and most successful partnership has been with the City of Attleboro in creating the Attleboro Area Community Garden in 1998. Another very fruitful partnership has been with Mass Audubon. Over the years we have partnered with many other organizations, including schools, youth groups, fraternal organizations, the Rotary Club, the United Way, and the Attleboro Arts Museum, to name a few.

  • Future Focus: When a generous donor gives us land, we pledge to protect that land in perpetuity. This is an enormous responsibility that our volunteer board takes very seriously, and it requires us to always take the long view when considering the consequences of our policies and actions.

When someone first encounters a land trust, they may be puzzled by the name--it sounds like it has something to do with finance. That's intentional. We think saving land is a good investment from which the public reaps many benefits. To paraphrase advice that may have come from Mark Twain, "Save land, they're not making it anymore!"

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