1983-1993–The Early Years
“The object and purposes of the Corporation shall be (a) to preserve land in its natural state within the Town of Barnstable, including water resources, woodlands, agricultural and historic areas, marshland, swamps, other wetlands, open spaces, and the animal and plant life therein (b) for the education and training of persons interested in conservation and the biological sciences (c) to acquire property for general outdoor recreation such as swimming, hiking, boating and similar activities.” – Articles of Organization, August 17, 1983
Barnstable Land Trust celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2013. We took that time to look back at the organization’s roots – from 59 members in 1983 to over 1,600, from the first land donation of .69 acres to just under 1,100 acres under BLT’s stewardship.
Barnstable Conservation Foundation was founded in 1983 by a handful of Town of Barnstable residents. “The Town was struggling with problems associated with rapid development,” said Gil Newton, one of the founders and a longtime member. At the time Gil was chairman of the Barnstable Conservation Commission, which was in the process of constructing an open space plan. “Many properties were lost because we were outbid by developers,” he recalled. “Also many residents did not want to sell to the government, which has the ability to change the use of a parcel later on. We decided we needed to create a private, nonprofit organization to help achieve our open space goals and preserve some of the more sensitive parcels in town.”
A public meeting was held, recalled Mark Robinson, Executive Director of The Compact of Cape Cod Conservation Trusts and then member of the Town’s Conservation Commission. “The citizens who showed up,” he said, “became the first Board of Directors.” The organization was born.
From the start, the hope was we would one day own and manage properties, but the barriers seemed insurmountable. “We had no money and no membership,” said Gil. “We sought legal advice from anyone who would help, including experts from some already-established land trusts.” Many evening meetings were held at the Marstons Mills Library, where the founders “argued, discussed and planned” ways to purchase land for open space.
David Rouse, another founder, was at the time the Town’s first conservation agent and became involved with the open space initiative and the fledgling conservation group. His recollection was that trying to get started was frustrating. “It seemed so slow but it’s something that can’t be pushed. It really was a seed and now it’s grown. I’m not surprised.”
Sadly, six of the eight founders are no longer with us. However, their vision and efforts have resulted in a lasting legacy of preserving unique and precious lands within the Town of Barnstable.
“After careful consideration we have engaged a full-time executive director. Jaci Barton of Cotuit is a dedicated conservationist, working hard on efforts to preserve open space within the Town of Barnstable. We are indeed fortunate because, although Jaci is on a salary, it is a very modest one, so to a considerable degree she is working as a volunteer. There is no doubt that her presence will strengthen and speed up our program in a number of important areas.” – BCF newsletter, Summer 1985
The tide began to turn for BLT when it hired its first staff member. Jaci Barton, Cotuit resident and town meeting representative, was hired as Executive Director in 1985. Jaci worked from her home and was paid $5 an hour. “There is no question that hiring Jaci was a major step forward for the organization,” said Gil Newton. “It gave the BLT a level of professionalism that was necessary to build a membership, and apply for grants and donations.”
Jaci had worked for social causes, one of them with Peg Dietzgen, wife of a BLT founder Sepp Dietzgen. Sepp approached Jaci to ask if she’d be interested in running the organization. “I remember thinking that it sounded intriguing,” Jaci said, “and thought, ‘Why not?’” Soon after, town selectman Jeffrey Wilson asked her to work with the Open Space Task Force to help identify important parcels in each village. The selectmen (Wilson, Marty Flynn and John Klimm) needed someone to pull together what became the 1985 Land Acquisition Package.
“When I told the executive board of the selectmen’s offer, they said, ‘Go. The land can’t wait. Do whatever you can do to help purchase town land.’ I juggled my time between developing membership for BLT and educating the public about the open space package.”
With the Town’s successful purchase of 492 acres in December 1985, the Conservation Commission asked Jaci to help create the town’s first land use maps. Jaci reported to the executive board that she had been asked to work on the mapping project. Once again, they said, “Go.” This mapping required painstaking hand-coloring of all the Town’s conservation land; it became the basis for today’s computer-generated Geographic Information System (GIS).
Eventually, the board asked Jaci to return her attention to the land trust. She remains grateful for the knowledge and background the project gave her. “It helped me create a mental image of the Town’s properties that I can still see today,” she said. “I go into my head to visualize a parcel’s location, shape and color.” At that point the push was on to build membership and “get back to basics, which was to create a strong organization to preserve land.”
“In 1983 when the Barnstable Conservation Foundation was formed, it was our hope then, as it is now, that we should be able to acquire through donation and purchase, lands for conservation. We have to date acquired through donation one piece of property. Our second parcel is in the process of being donated.”– BCF newsletter, Summer 1985
BLT members Charles and Barbara Birdsey donated the first piece of land to the Barnstable Conservation Foundation in 1984. The Birdseys were friends of George Blanchard, who was on the first BCF Board of Directors. “We thought it would be a good way to get the land trust started and give it some visibility,” Barbara said. The .69-acre parcel at the end of Meadow Lane in West Barnstable is an historic piece of property.
“Barnstable Harbor was much larger and boats could have gone up through the Great Marsh as far as Meadow Lane,” Barbara explained. “The pilings, once visible on the property, were likely from an old wharf. At the time we acquired it, the little spit of land was literally covered in wild blueberries, which were favorites of us and our bird friends! It has a beautiful view and good habitat with plenty of wildlife, which is my passion,” said the founder of the Orenda Wildlife Land Trust and of The Pegasus Foundation, an animal welfare organization. “It is really important to save these special parcels.”
Although many people have been part of BLT’s success, longtime member and former board president Anne Gould points to Jaci Barton as a major reason why the land trust has flourished. “I hope people realize that BLT would not be where it is today without Jaci,” Anne stated. “I’m not sure it would even exist. Jaci learned who the people are to go to in order to get things done.”
“People often ask me how I got trained,” said Jaci. “I don’t recall any environmental programs when I was in school. I learned by doing. I like to say that my degree is in interior design but now I practice exterior design.”
BLT’s Founding Fathers & Mothers
Barnstable Land Trust’s success is due to the hard work, generosity and dedication of many people. However, there would be no organization without the vision of its founders. BLT’s first member was Charlton Dascom “Bus” Putnam, Jr., who passed away in 2002, ten days before his 90th birthday. Bus (a shortened version of his childhood nickname, Buster) was truly BLT’s founding father. Founders David Rouse and Gil Newton both identified him as the prime mover. “Bus was very effective in getting the organization off the ground,” Gil said.
Clare Putnam said her husband was “always in nature…a bird watcher from way back.” After the war, his mother, Ethel Riley, bought the house on Prince Cove in Marstons Mills to which Bus and Clare eventually retired in 1981. Living in Rowley, MA at the time, Bus asked his wife if she wanted to move to the Cape. “How could I say no to Cape Cod?” Clare laughed. She credits her husband’s love of nature (in addition to bird watching, he was also a beekeeper) and connection to the Cape as major reasons why he felt compelled to start a land trust in the Town of Barnstable. “I don’t really know how it got started,” she said, “but I guess the time was right and everybody was ready.
“It was kind of flat in the beginning but oh, my gosh, Bus would be dancing on air. No, that wasn’t his style…he would be simply overjoyed to know that the land trust has grown so! I don’t think he ever expected it.”
Barnstable Conservation Foundation Founders
- Robert G. Brown, Hyannis
- Elisabeth Eaton Clark, Osterville
- Joseph Dietzgen, Cotuit
- Stephen P. Hayes, Centerville
- Gilbert Newton, Cotuit
- C.D. Putnam, Marstons Mills
- David Rouse, West Yarmouth
- Jean Whiteley, Marstons Mills
First Board of Directors
- C.D. Putnam, President
- Joseph Dietzgen, Treasurer
- Elisabeth Eaton Clark, Clerk
- George W. Blanchard
- Stephen P. Hayes
- Jean Whiteley
- First Member (July 29, 1983): C.D. Putnam*, Marstons Mills
- First Ten Members (July-October 1983): C.D. Putnam*, George Blanchard, Joseph “Sepp” Dietzgen*, Anne Halliday, Peter Doyle & Maryann Ausiemma, Carolyn Garbutt, Elisabeth “Lis” Clark*, Francis Parks, D.H. Perry Lloyd & Christina Jordan, Cynthia Cole
- First Year Total Membership: 59
- First Annual Meeting: December 15, 1983
- First Year Budget: total income, $2130; total expenses, $359.85; net income, $1770.15
- First Land Donation (1984): .69 acres in West Barnstable from Charles & Barbara Birdsey
- First Conservation Restriction (Winter 1989): 1.1 acres in Barnstable Village from Mr. & Mrs. Paul Turner
- First 30+-Acre Gift (1990): 32.97 acres in Marstons Mills from Joel Holbrook & Nathaniel Davis
- First Fundraiser (November 22, 1986): Cape Cod Radio Mystery Theater, The Case of the Murdered Miser, Sandwich High School, $5 admission
- First Office (Fall 1988): 1 Winter Street, Hyannis
- First Matching Grant to BLT (1990): donation from Graham Harrison; matched by The Property Capital Trust
- Total Acreage Protected (1983-93): 131.57