On Saturday morning, June 2, I joined a crowd of over 100 supporters and staff for the opening of a handicapped and wheelchair accessible nature trail at a farm in Northfield, Massachusetts, contiguous to property owned and cherished by Bill and Nancy Ames. The Gunnery Sergeant Jeffrey S. Ames Nature Trail is located at Mount Grace’s new conservation property, the Alderbrook Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary, and is dedicated to the Ames’ son Jeff, a retired Marine who is 80% disabled.
The loop trail, its history, its location, and its construction demonstrate a rich and inspiring example of private and public collaboration, enormous sensitivity to Native American heritage and the needs of the environment, inspiring dedication and hard work of both adults and youth, the honoring of and respect for our veterans, and multi-source funding. When I arrived at the event (greeted by police cars with blue lights flashing, volunteers in bright orange shirts, and a contingent of fellow parishioners from St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Brattleboro, Vermont), I knew that something big was about to take place. It was during the opening remarks, though, that I knew I was witnessing something special: almost immediately, the audience was brought into the embrace of the grace, spirituality and hospitality of several Tribal Nations representatives who had been essential partners in the venture. It has truly been rare in my life to attend a celebration of any kind that honored Native Americans so completely and thoroughly – and the references continued, with the beautifully-wrought signs along the trail that paid tribute not only to the first peoples that inhabited the land for over 12,000 years but also the flora and fauna with which they coexisted (and coexist today).
Landowners Bill and Nancy Ames have long invited Scouts and the New England Wildflower Society to conduct nature walks on the land. Mr. and Mrs. Ames have now protected most of their 142 acres with a conservation restriction: the woods and wetlands that contain the new trail route are now donated to Mount Grace. The couple had earlier been similarly generous with property they had owned north of Boston. The Alderbrook Meadows Sanctuary includes five acres of public land where the trail winds through “a stunning grove of white pines and culminates at an observation deck overlooking a beautiful hidden pond,” along with permanently protected private land nearby.
Volunteers from Lane Construction, a local company, met with Mount Grace and representatives of the Nipmuc and Wampanoag nations in October 2017 to examine and assess the site. These groups have collaborated on the creation of the trail to ensure, among other things, that “no potential artifacts on site would be impacted by digging.” At the dedication ceremony, words of greeting were offered by Elizabeth James-Perry of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), Martha’s Vineyard, and Rich Holschuh from the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs. A statement by Doug Harris of the Narragansett Indian Tribe was read by Mount Grace Executive Director Leigh Youngblood. Signs along the trail not only provided information of what we were seeing along the way – trees, the pond, the beaver dam – but also some of the history of the Tribal Nations who lived in the area before European intrusion.
Further examples of cooperation and collaboration were demonstrated by the following:
- volunteers from the North Quabbin Trails Association;
- students at nearby Pioneer Regional Regional School who constructed beautiful trailside benches and the observation deck;
- a trails grant from the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation;
- volunteers from the Carson Center for Human Services and North Quabbin Trails Association, who tested the trail last fall;
- generous funding from the Ames family;
- the Northfield Community Preservation Act funds;
- gifts from the Snowmobile Association of Massachusetts;
- funds from the Northfield Area Tourism and Business Association;
- financial support from members of the Northfield community; and
- a Massachusetts Local Acquisition for Natural Diversity Grant.
The trail will meet the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act and will allow people of all ages and abilities to immerse themselves in nature. During the morning program, attendees learned that the trail is one of the few conservation properties located on a numbered route, Massachusetts 63, which runs north-south between Amherst, Mass., and Northfield, continuing into southern New Hampshire. The trail is certain to bring peace and an appreciation for nature to many in the years to come. Thank you, Nancy and Bill Ames!