Published: 04/17/2022 13:39:35
Modified: 04/17/2022 13:38:17
ATHOL – Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust has entered into an agreement with a local landowner and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) to permanently conserve nearly 200 acres of land including the southeast shore of Tully Lake.
“We are delighted that Mount Grace has stepped in to facilitate the final stages of protecting this integral part of the landscape,” said neighbor Darlene Lawlor Moore. “Living here surrounded by so many gems like Tully Lake and Mountain, our three local waterfalls, and the hundreds of acres of conserved land on our doorstep is truly a blessing!”
Every visitor to Tully Lake – and there are tens of thousands of visitors each year – sees the 207-acre Vento property – a wooded lot that rises along the steep southeast shore of the lake. It’s a familiar sight and a familiar topic of conversation for residents of Athol, Orange and Royalston who have been discussing the possible fate of this land for nearly 20 years.
In 2003, then-owner Gregg Duquette offered to fill this scenic hillside with a 42-lot subdivision, to be called “Grand View Acres.” Over the years, as the subdivision plan grew to 55 homes, neighbors in Athol, Royalston and Orange formed the Friends of Tully Lake and rallied to raise awareness of the environmental risks of the project. The Athol planning board ultimately denied the project its permits.
Over the years other owners and other proposals followed with plans for a gravel pit and then a huge commercial solar array. As her neighbor Johanna Lawlor Moore says, “Safeguarding such an important natural resource has been a long-term challenge. It is a relief to know that not only will the views of Tully Lake and Tully Mountain be preserved, but also that the Tully Lake watershed and the huge variety of wildlife it supports has been protected. So many neighbours, friends and organizations have worked together for so many years to make this possible.
Eventually the land was purchased by Paul and Jill Vento, who began discussing land protection with Mount Grace in 2020. The trust has a long history in this neighborhood, having helped protect 9,000 acres around Tully Mountain nearby during the 2001-2002 Tully Initiative. Mount Grace also worked on a 700-acre collaborative project in Orange, Royalston and Warwick with landowners, conservation commissions, DCR, the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game and Mass Audubon. DCR’s role as the eventual owner of the Vento property means that Tully Lake will be connected to the Lawton State Forest by a forest that will forever be undeveloped and open to the public.
Trust Executive Director Emma Ellsworth summed up the new project saying, “Mount Grace is honored to be part of this decades-long effort to conserve the eastern shore of Tully Lake. Every time I put my canoe at Tully Lake and admire the eagles and herons, or paddle to an island to pick blueberries, I will be grateful to the generations of neighbors and community who have helped protection of this unique place.
The property includes a house on an 18-acre lot and a second 189-acre wooded lot. After meeting Mount Grace in 2021, DCR agreed to purchase the 189 acres in full pending a deal between the Ventos and Mount Grace. After transferring the larger lot, Paul and Jill Vento will live on the remaining 18 acres, which are considered one lot with further development excluded. “Jill and I are so happy to have moved to such a beautiful part of Massachusetts,” says Vento, “and we are honored to be part of this community’s long effort to protect the beauty of Tully Lake. We are delighted that these hectares will be preserved in perpetuity.
This project was supported by a grant from the Community Foundation of North Central Massachusetts, and Mount Grace is now raising the remaining funding needed. The success of this project will end a 20-year quest to prevent the degradation of Tully Lake’s bucolic view and ensure the continued integrity of the lake setting as a habitat for native species and as a destination. recreation for tens of thousands of people. boaters, campers, hikers and swimmers every year.