Mass Audubon’s plan to restore country club to its natural state could receive community preservation funding

Jul 28, 2021

The Massachusetts Audubon Society is now one step closer to securing $400,000 of the town’s Community Preservation Act funds for its efforts to restore more than 50 acres of land at the Little Harbor Country Club to its natural state.

Representatives from conservation organization attended the Community Preservation Committee’s July 28 meeting to make their case for the funding, and the committee ultimately voted 3-1 to approve Mass Audubon’s request. Committee treasurer Sandy Slavin was opposed to the idea. 

If it successfully purchases the land, Mass Audubon plans to restore the Little Harbor Country Club to its natural state of forest and salt marsh. The organization also plans to convert the cart paths to accessible walking trails if the purchase goes through, representatives explained. 

“The existing cart paths on the property are particularly well-suited to converting them to accessible trails,” explained Nick of Mass Audubon, noting that the organization could provide a larger number of accessible trails on the Little Harbor Country Club property than it could on, say, the Sacred Hearts Seminary property on Great Neck Road.

Mass Audubon’s Bob Wilber explained that purchasing and restoring the Little Harbor Country Club land would be a step toward preserving the larger ecosystem in the area. It would act as an addition to Mass Audubon’s other nearby conservation land, Wilber said.  

“The opportunity to acquire and restore the country club property and essentially add it to the former seminary property at Sacred Hearts is a really exciting opportunity,” Wilber said. “There’s a big concept right now in conservation science called ‘resilience,’ and the term [...] has a lot of important meaning in conservation science. The larger and more connected conservation lands are, the better they are because it gives plants and animals the chance to shift around a bit in the coming years as climate conditions change — the chance to find a more comfortable location to continue thriving.” 

With that in mind, Wilber said restoring the country club land is “the only chance that we see to acquire 54 acres” to add to Mass Audubon’s Sacred Hearts property and restore it so the land can function as “one, connected ecosystem.”

Select Board Chair Judith Whiteside attended the committee meeting to express her frustration that Mass Audubon — an organization that she noted had a gross income of $64 million in 2019 — was asking the town for $400,000 “to take a community, well-loved resource, which is recreational” and turn it into conservation land. 

“It doesn’t make sense,” Whiteside said.

She said that the town has already expressed its lack of desire to partner with Mass Audubon on the project. 

“We believe that the community amenity of Little Harbor golf course is far more important than a few walking trails,” Whiteside said.

Jim Giberti said he objected to tax money being “wasted” on the proposed project. 

“The property at Little Harbor has been either a farm or a golf course since the 50s,” Giberti said. “The usage that area has had for the public has been phenomenal over the years. I find that it’d be desecration to allow Audubon to destroy it the way they’re talking about.” 

After hearing attendees express their desire that the country club remain a golf course rather than be turned into conservation land, Community Preservation Committee Chair Joan Kinniburgh emphasized that the committee has no control over what happens to Little Harbor Country Club.

“The discussion isn’t the purchase of it,” Kinniburgh said. “[Mass Audubon has] a purchase and sale agreement for this property. We have nothing to do with that. [...] This committee has nothing to do with what that property becomes. Our decision is whether or not we are going to grant $400,000 to Mass Audubon Society.” 

She explained that the committee has “no control over what that property ultimately becomes” and noted that no one attempted to purchase the land with the intention of keeping it a golf course.

The $400,000 request from Mass Audubon will now head to the Select Board for approval. If the Select Board approves the request, the issue will be put before voters at Town Meeting.