Great River Preserve, Bridgewater, MA
In 2009 Wildlands Trust and the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game completed the acquisition of 230 acres along the upper Taunton River in Bridgewater. Purchased from the Lehtola family, Wildlands' 125-acre portion of the acquisition is now known as the Great River at Conihassett in recognition of and respect for the site's Native American history.
The Great River Preserve encompasses a range of habitats and features that few other properties along the river main-stem can equal. It includes over a mile of pristine river frontage along one of the most scenic and undisturbed stretches of the entire Taunton River, expansive open fields, mixed pine/oak woodlands, vernal pools, and habitat for several rare species, including Eastern box turtle. It is a vital link in a 1400-acre stretch of river corridor extending from the Cherry Street Bridge on the Halifax/Bridgewater line downriver to the Summer Street Bridge and the extensive fields of the Bridgewater MCI Complex. First-time visitors to the preserve often remark on its rural feel, which is attributable in part to the demise of the nearby Auburn Street Bridge, and the consequent lack of auto traffic through the area.
This preserve offers one of the most diverse and inviting opportunities for walking and nature study anywhere along the Taunton River mainstem. Trails will carry visitors through woodland, riparian, and open field habitats.
The project was borne of two fortuitous occurrences: Wildlands Trust board member Howard Randall facilitating a conversation between Wildlands Trust and the Lehtolas, and Wildlands' board agreeing to modify our long-standing hunting policy in 2008, following extensive review by a subcommittee comprised of board and staff members. Until this policy revision, Wildlands Trust prohibited hunting on all of its preserves. Wildlands now permits hunting on select preserves only, including Great River Preserve at Conihassett.
As DFG’s Joan Pierce related, “The Lehtola acquisition represents a real victory for land conservation along the upper Taunton River. This project wouldn’t have been possible without [Wildlands'] willingness to revise its hunting policy, and we appreciate the diligence and foresight [Wildlands Trust] exhibited in amending the policy. Hunting is an integral component of managing and maintaining healthy ecosystems all across the Commonwealth, but particularly in Southeastern Massachusetts, which presently supports an abundance of white-tailed deer”.