A History of Barnstable Land Trust
1994 - 1999
By the end of BLT’s first decade, the organization had preserved 130 acres in its own right and assisted with the preservation of another 900 acres.
The Town of Barnstable’s population had grown by 33 percent; over 3,000 acres of land had been developed. Countywide, from 1985 to 1999 over four acres of forested land a day were lost to development, according to a study by Massachusetts Audubon Society (“Losing Ground: At What Cost?”).
As individuals and village groups realized the importance of achieving a balance between growth and conservation, they rallied behind major efforts to preserve Cape Cod. In 1989 the Cape Cod Commission was created by the voters and granted the power to review major projects whose impacts transcend political boundaries. Nearly ten years later in 1998, the Land Bank finally passed and brought with it much needed revenue to help purchase important open land.
By the mid-nineties, BLT projects had increased in cost and complexity. A few notable projects – based on size, location or history – are highlighted here.
Focus on Sandy Neck/Barnstable Harbor ACEC
1994: Elizabeth Paul of Mercer Island, Washington donated 40 acres along Bridge Creek in West Barnstable, land that had been purchased by her father-in-law in 1910. Through research by Martin Wirtanen, BLT learned that the location was part of the historic homestead of the Colonial patriot James Otis, who lived there in the 1700s.
Mrs. Paul believed in the notion of preserving land for wildlife; she fulfilled her vision by donating the parcel to BLT. In the broader context, her gift focused BLT on the Sandy Neck/Barnstable Harbor “Area of Critical Environmental Concern” (ACEC), which lies behind Sandy Neck and protects the Great Marsh and Barnstable Harbor. Its 9,000 acres span the Towns of Sandwich, Barnstable and Yarmouth, protect vital wildlife habitat and offer breathtaking views to the northern reaches of the villages of West Barnstable and Barnstable.
In colonial days, the marshes were important areas for feeding livestock; as farming died out, so too did the desire to hold on to “unproductive lands.” Many of the parcels in the ACEC that had been abandoned by their owners were acquired by the Town through tax title proceedings in the 1980s.
1995: The Handy family donated a 35-acre parcel at the foot of Sandy Neck in memory of Edward Otis Handy and John Littlefield Handy. The brothers had been avid outdoorsmen and according to Edward A. Handy II, were very much attached to the beauty of Barnstable Harbor.
The Paul and Handy gifts further increased the focus on this unique and fragile environment.
Focus on “Undevelopment”
In the conservation world, undevelopment means removing existing manmade structures to allow the land to return to its natural state. Undevelopment and reclamation are often just as complicated as development due to numerous jurisdictions, regulatory filings, inspections and the like.
1995: The 100-year-old Cobb Boathouse in Barnstable Village had become a source of local controversy. Owners John and Sally Dale wanted to improve the historic boathouse so they could enjoy it more; neighbors feared a major renovation and conversion to a residence. It was a standoff.
During the Halloween Nor’easter in 1991, Mother Nature intervened. The structure was lifted from its footings and blown high into the adjacent marsh. The controversy was settled when BLT proposed to purchase the 3.75-acre property with financial assistance from the neighborhood association and The Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank.
And the boathouse? The structure had been pushed so high into the marsh by the high winds and floodwaters, the only way to remove it was to tear it down. It became BLT’s first “undevelopment” project.
Today, a beautiful view exists at the end of Rendezvous Lane, courtesy of the owners, the neighbors, BLT and Mother Nature, who all came together to achieve the happy ending.
1996: “Willow Bank,” a stately historic home on scenic East Bay Road in Osterville was destroyed by fire in 1995. The property, which borders Parker Pond, was slated for auction. An anonymous donor offered to help BLT purchase the property for conservation. A host of details was quickly worked out; an offer was made and accepted, and the land was purchased - rubble and all. To complete the undevelopment project, funds for reclamation were raised from the community. The burned building was bulldozed, debris was removed, and an undamaged building was relocated by Hayden Building Movers to a site in Cotuit. The property was then regraded and reseeded with native grasses. Later that year Mary and Peter Standish donated an abutting .36-acre parcel to BLT by, creating a 600′ green corridor overlooking Parker Pond with distant views to West Bay.
Focus on Mitigation
Mitigation is a philosophy of progressive community land-use laws, requiring developers of large projects in sensitive areas to soften the impact by providing something of public benefit. For BLT that translated into protected land.
1998: The Cape Cod Mall sought permission from the Cape Cod Commission for a major expansion. In exchange for anticipated impacts on already clogged roadways and the aquifer, approval included off-site open space mitigation of at least seven acres. BLT was asked to help find land to meet the requirements of this complicated project, and quickly identified three pond-front lots – 9.75 acres – located around Little Hathaway’s Pond. In exchange for BLT’s assistance, the Mall paid for the land and provided additional funds for land management and future acquisition.
1998: Sencorp Systems and Excel Switching Corporation, two companies wishing to expand in Independence Park, also provided off-site mitigation. Excel was in the midst of a $5 million master plan expansion. With the assistance of BLT and The Compact of Cape Cod Conservation Trusts, the required six acres of off-site open space were manifested by the purchase of a conservation constriction on an 8.95-acre parcel in the Old Jail Lane Corridor of Barnstable Village.
To mitigate its $3.3 million expansion project, Sencorp was required to provide 4.38 acres of preserved open space; in fact, the company bought 6.25 acres of land, which abuts the Cotuit wellfield off Sampson’s Mill Road, and conveyed the valuable parcel to BLT. Sencorp also gifted BLT with a modest sum for its land management fund, noting that 90 percent of its employees lived in the Town of Barnstable.
A Decade – and a Millennium – Come to a Close
As the decade came to an end, Jacqueline Simpkins completed her vision to protect “Onion Acres,” in Barnstable Village. In 1991 she had placed a conservation restriction on the 7.4 acres of her land that ran seaward from her house into the Sandy Neck/Barnstable Harbor ACEC; in 1999 the remaining 6.71 acres – highly visible from Route 6A – were also protected by a conservation restriction. The Simpkins site met virtually all of the important conservation values: scenic, historic, wildlife and water quality.
By the end of 1999, the number and acreage of BLT’s holdings were growing; increasingly, they were connecting parcels – creating a mosaic of protected land.
As BLT prepared to enter the new millennium (remember Y2K?), over 435 of the Town of Barnstable’s 40,086 acres – more than one percent – were under BLT’s stewardship.
A Few Notable Acquisitions
1994: H. Gates Lloyd III of Cotuit bequeathed nearly 29 acres of land at Meadow Point, the southernmost point in the Town of Barnstable. BLT’s 33rd acquisition, it was the single largest piece of land donated to BLT.
1997: Mary and Wade Staniar deeded a conservation restriction on nearly six acres of land in Warren’s Cove, Osterville. The land links to nearby Turtle Island, donated by the Davis family in 1990, and added to BLT’s 38-acre Marstons Mills River preserve.
1998: 26 upland acres in West Barnstable were purchased from Virginia Smith for a “bargain sale” (under $1000/acre) of $25,000. The land, with beautiful views north to a distant Sandy Neck, was BLT’s 4th purchase and 62nd project, and was transferred on Mrs. Smith’s birthday.
1998: Cape Cod Cooperative Bank donated “Pond Field,” a 5.57-acre grassy open field on Route 6A in West Barnstable. “Development seemed less important than keeping the land open,” Bank President Joel Crowell said at the time.