Monday, December 18, 2017

Walking on the wilder side

By Beth Sullivan
Every steward with a land trust knows the importance of monitoring the boundaries of a preserve. It is important to view all aspects of the land, not just the trails. One of the main reasons for doing so is to make sure there are no encroachments onto the property. We are tasked with ensuring that the conservation of the land is carried out as we may have promised a donor, and in accord with our mission. As an accredited land trust, we are now obligated to review the boundaries, for every property, at least once a year. That is a lot of miles.
Historically, many properties were designated by stone walls. Those walls remained as demarcations through multiple sales and owners and are often listed in the deed. These walls are sometimes marked with drill holes to designate survey markings. As stewards we are always grateful for stone walls and drill holes. So much easier than trying to follow an irregular line through unmarked dense brush.
Sometimes we walk with maps and deeds and compass. More often now we walk with GPS or a smart phone with an app that allows us to visualize a map of the boundaries and our position as we move along them.
Finding a boundary line marker in dense thicket is almost impossible.

Historic stone walls, corners and drill holes are recorded in deeds and are easy to follow.

Wet lands rule

Many of our properties protect significant wetlands. There are headwaters of brooks, ponds, streams, and swamps. Many of our deeds refer to boundaries that “meander generally along the brook center “. That gets a little tricky. We try and post our boundaries as close as possible to the actual line, and in the case of such a meandering line, we use a tree that is inside the preserve and hopefully visible from the other side of the brook, Interestingly, over decades, brooks often carve out new paths, especially after floods making the line even more difficult to pin down.
We try to do as much as we can when the leaves are off the trees as it certainly improves visibility, but the briars, brambles, and multiflora rose thorns persist anyway. Beating through bushes to get to a boundary can actually be painful. At this time of year, the ground is beginning to harden with the cold, but even still it is tricky to walk through wetland areas. The ground is uneven, and a false step can land you through ice and into puddles.
The saddest part is finding encroachments. They are much more visible at this time of year. It might be a simple as someone dumping their Christmas tree on preserved land. No matter how organic it is, it is still illegal. Many places take trees to recycle into chips-a much better use.
Dumping leaves and yard debris is also not allowed. The worst is garbage: plastic, glass, and metal trash that somehow people seem to think is appropriate to dump over walls. What are they thinking? Just because the land appears unused, it doesn’t mean it can be abused. If people know we, as stewards, will be walking off the trails and closer to the boundaries, hopefully they will refrain. Often times it is the volunteer stewards who must return to remove the mess.
One false step will leave you with a wet foot.

Sometimes the boundary line is in the center line of a meandering brook.

Always watching

As we wander the outer edges of a preserve, we also need to look for illegal hunting stands and motorized recreational vehicle trails that may come from surrounding properties. It surely must be tempting to make use of large tracts of open space for such uses; however, these activities are not approved and most frequently are in direct conflict with our mission to preserve and protect the land and the wildlife within it.
This sounds like a lot of negatives, but it really isn’t always the case. The majority of our neighbors are very happy to have Avalonia as a neighbor. They understand our mission and recognize the increased value of their own property when protected open space is in their area. Many of our neighbors help us by being eyes and ears when we can’t be on site.
Walking off the trails and along the boundaries can be very enlightening. It can also be challenging and at times truly difficult. But we all enjoy doing it: getting to see parts of the land that others may not and sometimes finding surprises along the way.
If you are a neighbor of an Avalonia preserve, you may see us walking the boundaries. Please forgive us if we stray over the line. It might just be easier walking! Come out and say hello. You might be able to help us too.
If you are interested in joining our stewardship team, especially for a preserve near you, please contact us here. We would be happy to take you for a walk on the wilder side too.
If we hadn't walked off the trail, we might never have discovered this beautiful patch of Princess Pine.

Sometimes we just have to view the boundaries from afar.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

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