Reconnecting People and Place: The Conway School Comprehensive Plan for Ebenezer Keyes is Released

Cover of the Reconnecting People and Place report prepared by The Conway School students Claire Baglien and W. Kyle Finnell.
Link to the Reconnecting People and Place report prepared by The Conway School students Claire Baglien and W. Kyle Finnell.

In early April, we met our Conway School student team. North County Land Trust (NCLT) chose to work with a team of two graduate students, Claire & Kyle, from The Conway School to create a master plan for the Ebenezer Keyes Conservation Area located in west Gardner, MA (off of Keyes Road). The plan included multiple stakeholder outreach efforts, including an online survey. Our ad-hoc committee of board members and staff then assisted them over the course of the next 10 weeks as they explored and discovered the opportunities and challenges we face as we seek to make this area a robust community resource and beautiful conservation area.

Project Background

In December 2020, North County Land Trust accepted a donation of 157 acres of land on the west side of Parker Pond (Ebenezer Keyes Conservation Area webpage). This area had been permitted for a 100+ house subdivision in 2004 known as the Cedar Hills development. After some site work preparation, including clearing, construction of stormwater catchment basins, and installation of underground utilities, the project was abandoned. The land lay disturbed and fallow until NCLT’s acceptance of the donation 16 years later. This land is not the typical conservation acquisition, but the public benefits of this property are many, including:   

  1. Public access to Parker Pond for fishing or canoeing/kayaking 
  2. A paved walking area for those with mobility challenges, bikes or strollers
  3. Unique sand features, fun for kids of all ages
  4. Accessible vernal pool for educational programs
  5. Further protection of the Otter River and our water resources
  6. A variety of habitats for a diversity of wildlife
  7. Protection of the historical homesite of Ebenezer Keyes (a founding Town member). Because of this feature, we decided to name it Ebenezer Keyes Conservation Area.

After three months of intensive effort, Kyle and Claire pulled together a comprehensive plan using the deep contextual analysis and working with NCLT and the community. Their plan “Reconnecting People and Place”, is the result of their final graduate project and reflects their intensive work.

“The site of an abandoned subdivision has over fifty years of history with nearby communities. Ebenezer Keyes Conservation Area hosts multiple species of conservation concern and supports multiple regionally uncommon habitat types. The recreational legacy of the site and its conservation value is an asset to the broader community and presents North County Land Trust with the opportunity to reconnect people and place.” -Reconnecting People and Place, page 10.

We were excited to hear about the opportunities to enhance and promote rare, emerging natural communities as well as hear from the survey participants how they like to use the area and what they would like to see.  We will use this analysis and plan and work with the city to prioritize our next steps in furthering the vision for the Ebenezer Keyes Conservation Area.

This plan, and the improvements we’ve made to date, would not be possible without generous grant funding from The Community Foundation of North Central Massachusetts, an anonymous Gardner foundation, and our amazing volunteers, neighbors and the Gardner Police Department. This is truly a community project and we are so thankful to all who support our efforts!