How to spend more time in the woods

Acton's Conservation Lands are ready for more visitors and volunteers.

On behalf of Acton Forum, and as a person who uses and appreciates the trails through Acton’s Conservation Land, I contacted Jim Snyder-Grant from the Acton Land Stewardship Committee to find out more about the trails. I asked him to summarize some the features people may be interested in experiencing and who is behind maintaining the trails.

There are sixteen Town-owned conservation lands in Acton with trails on them. The Acton Land Stewardship Committee (LSC) takes care of all those trails and more. They would be happy to have your help -- there's a lot to be done, including blazing, cutting back vegetation growing into trails or crowding out meadows, putting down wood chips or boardwalks on muddy trails, removing invasive plants, and more.

In many towns, a private group such as a land trust owns and operates most of the conservation land. In Acton, our history is different: the Town used state matching funds in the 1960s and '70s to buy out many large landowners who were retiring from actively managing their land, and all of our conservation lands are town-owned. Many acres were protected this way, but there was almost no formal trail building until the mid-1990s.

The Acton Land Stewardship Committee (LSC) was formed in 1996 by a few members of the Conservation Commission who wanted to spend less time reviewing construction projects near wetlands, and more time developing a trail system to help people appreciate the over 1600 acres of protected land in Acton. The committee now has 7 regular members and 12 associates. There are also many volunteers who help in various ways, in groups or individually. You can sign up to help by filling out the volunteer form at the Committee's website, https://www.actontrails.org/ , or by calling the Natural Resources department at (978) 929-6634. The Natural Resources department provides staff support to the LSC.

There are many more associates than other town committees: being a sworn-in committee member gives people the benefit of the Town's liability insurance as they work with sharp tools out in the woods and supervise the many other volunteers who help keep up the trails and help keep the conservation lands a good home for the plants and animals that live there. The LSC tries to have one land steward for every parcel, including the parcels with trails that are not formally conservation lands, including the Acton Canoe Launch, on Route 62, and Morrison Farm, where the LSC has started maintaining the trail system in the pine woods at the back of the parcel. To become a steward, first try out being a volunteer to make sure the work suits you, and then contact the committee at LSC@Acton-ma.gov to indicate your interest or to ask questions.

In addition to the patrolling parcels and looking out for work that needs to be done, the land stewards also work on other projects, including bluebird recovery, invasive plant removal, updating maps, building bridges, and reviewing locations for possible new trails. The committee meets once a month, usually on the 3rd Tuesday of each month, at Town Hall. All are welcome at these meetings.

A new project is to build online maps that can be used on people's smart phones. The next time you are out on one of the Acton trails, you might try taking out your phone and using a browser to go to ActonTrails.org/map and pressing the cross-hair target symbol in the lower right after the map loads: it should zoom the map to your current location, and show you the trails near you. Each set of trails on conservation lands uses the same blazing system: red for access trails, from streets or other conservation lands; yellow for the main trails, usually loop trails when there is a good place to have a loop trail; and blue for alternate paths. This system should help get you out of the woods if you have lost your way and don't have a paper map or an online map. In the last 4 years, the LSC has also started putting up some maps on trees with arrows to indicate where you are on the map.

The conservation lands vary widely in how heavily they are used, but all of them see daily traffic. The most frequently traveled conservation land is probably Great Hill, accessible from School Street, Main Street, Piper Road, and Kelley Road. If you want open meadows for finding birds, Jenks is a great place to go. If you want to stay by a stream for a while, Nashoba Brook conservation land is a good choice. For overnight camping, consider Camp Acton. Calling the Natural Resources department will allow you to make a reservation for a campsite. If you want to walk into another Town's conservation land system, the edges of Robbins Mill connect to Carlisle conservation lands, and Stoneymeade will get you into the extensive Annursnac Hill conservation lands in Concord. Each conservation land has some special features that make it someone's favorite place to be: please get out into Acton's woods and find your favorite place.

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