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The Trustees of Reservations are on a mission to make you care about the environment.

The Great House on Castle Hill

Wandering the manicured lawns surrounding the Crane Estate in Ipswich, the Trustees of Reservations’ most-visited property, visitors would never guess what’s just beneath the surface: a cavernous brick-lined chamber holding up to 135,000 gallons of water.

When Chicago industrialist Richard T. Crane, Jr. built his palatial summer home in 1928, he planned carefully for the estate’s water needs, using state-of-the-art technology-after all, the Cranes made their fortunes manufacturing plumbing supplies. As part of a plan that included wells throughout the estate, he arranged to harvest rainwater from the roof of the Great House and store it in an underground cistern next door.

Over the years, that cistern was forgotten, says Robert Murray, superintendent of the Crane Estate, as water lines easily brought potable water up Castle Hill. The echoing chamber stood empty, just below the surface, for perhaps 60 years, until plans got underway for a major replanting on the Allee-the storied tree-lined lawn that rolls from the Great House down to the sea.

“As we were planning for the Allee restoration, we knew that we had to make provisions for irrigation Â… in the event of a mandatory town-wide water ban,” Murray says. A drought would be the undoing of the substantial investment in new trees along the half-mile landscape. The organization estimates they could collect 180,000 gallons of rainwater a year from the roof-enough to take care of those young trees until they can stand on their own.

The cistern revival is symbolic of a rethinking of the mission and goals of the Trustees of Reservations, a 120-year-old organization dedicated to preserving and protecting more than 100 special places in Massachusetts-some 20 of which are found on the North Shore. It was one of the first land trust organizations in the country, so shifting its time-honed methods wasn’t a natural move. But in response to changing times that demand more agile environmental action, the Trustees launched its 2017 Strategic Plan to make the organization more relevant in an age of eco-upheaval. The emphasis on the environment is not just a feel-good plan-the Trustees have 75 miles of coastline property that they are the first to admit could very well be radically altered by global warming.

The organization is now halfway through this ambitious four-part plan, adopted in 2007 and which involves accelerating the rate at which land is protected throughout the state, engaging more people in the organization’s mission and becoming leaders in conservation and sustainability.

While the Trustees have been using the plan as a blueprint for the past five years, a lot has changed since it was put forth. Its aggressive membership and volunteerism goals-and its stated aim of making Massachusetts the nation’s leader in environmentalism-appear out of reach. As Trustees President Andy Kendall wryly notes, “The 10-year plan was adopted right before the recession, at a point in time when we thought the world was going to continue to expand forever.”  “Things have changed dramatically,” he adds, admitting that the plan was considered bold even by 2007 standards. While Kendall says they still enjoy the backing of a lot of very supportive donors, the current economic climate is a far cry from those heady years.

The organization is still very much devoted to the 2017 Strategic Plan, but these unanticipated challenges have caused the Trustees to consider extending timelines and putting focus on locations where they can have the most impact. “If we can demonstrate success in those places, we can use them as lever points to excite [visitors] about our overall vision. Then, people can be inspired to help us replicate and expand beyond those places.”

Fortunately for denizens of the North Shore, several places in the area represent just that kind of opportunity for the Trustees. About a year ago, the organization combined its properties-Crane Estate, Appleton Farms, Hamlin Reservation, and Greenwood Farm, all in Ipswich, and Pine & Hemlock Knoll in Wenham-into the Center for Enterprise and Engagement. These places together account for about 60 percent of the Trustees’ earned income each year and are among the non-profits’ most visited properties-accounting for well over 300,000 visits each year. By emphasizing this collection of lands, the Trustees hope to broaden enthusiasm from visitors there into interest in their statewide efforts-and make a difference in their own communities.

“These properties feature, in a relatively small geographic area, a range of natural, cultural, and historic resources that are representative of the Trustees’ broader network of properties: historic structures like the Great House on Castle Hill, the Paine House on Greenwood Farms, and the Old House at Appleton Farms; important historical collections; significant natural and planned landscapes; coastal habitats, grasslands, marshlands, and agricultural lands,” notes David Beardsley, director of the new center, who is tasked with encouraging visitors to reflect on the Trustees of Reservations’ efforts after they leave for the day.

Throughout the state, a number of high-visibility projects are specifically geared toward engaging the public while driving sustainability goals, Kendall says. In Cohasset, they are planning to erect a wind turbine, which will help establish the Trustees as carbon neutral. They are also planning six to 10 solar installations at properties around the state-both to act as good environmental stewards and to attract attention to alternative energy sources.

Specifically at Crane Beach, a new “carry-in, carry-out” trash policy has been very successful, cutting the number of trash cans from 24 to six, and other environmental initiatives, including a composting toilet, are on the drawing board. New signage will explain the estate’s renewal of the old cistern and why it’s important. Beardsley says the Trustees hope to eventually make Crane Beach a model for environmentally responsible beach management and a site for educating the public about coastal ecology, climate change, and sustainability. It’s a big stage; Crane often tops lists of best beaches not only in the state, but in the country.

“All our efforts are with an eye toward engaging our neighbors and our members,” Kendall says. “We want to provoke and provide an example of what can be done.”

There are some pretty steep goals for measuring how well the organization is getting the attention of its visitors. By 2017, the original strategic plan calls for 50 percent of visitors at high-engagement properties (like the Crane Estate, which attracts 250,000 visitors a year) to be members, and a total across the board of 80,000 household members. As of 2010, membership stood at 45,500 households. This year, a family membership costs $67 a year.  The plan also calls for volunteers to provide 300,000 hours of work per year. In 2010, volunteers contributed 59,000 hours of work-more than double the amount in 2006, but still a long way from their goals.

While Crane is certainly the crowning jewel, the Trustees also shepherd a number of other North Shore properties, including the Cape Ann Discovery Center at Ravenswood Park in Gloucester, which opened two years ago and holds year-round programs for adults and children. The park recently opened a new hiking trail specifically designed for young families. The Trustees also operate Long Hill in Beverly, a former estate of the Atlantic editor Evelyn Sedgwick, where the Trustees are aiming to generate more hands-on interest through efforts like pick-your-own flower fields, newly opened public gardens and sustainable gardening demonstration beds.

Because of its popularity, the North Shore is also attracting a good amount of the Trustees’ limited resources. The restoration of Appleton Farms, from the planned implementation of a dairy farm to its groundbreaking high level of energy efficiency, has garnered a lot of press lately, including from Northshore (see our August/September issue).

Crane Estate is the property that the Trustees have the most riding on, however. For one, it is the most visited property that the Trustees own, and the $2 million Allee Restoration project is one of the most expansive restoration efforts ever undertaken at the property. The most visible effect of the project is the removal of the towering pines lining the lawn. Originally intended as a hedge that was trimmed to a height of about 12 feet, superintendent Murray says the trees were likely “released” in the 1940s, perhaps because labor was hard to come by during the war. Since then, these “wild” trees have grown to 50 feet tall in some cases. While they looked grand, they caused many headaches, among them being susceptible to the violent weather of the past few years, as well as blocking some of landscape architect Arthur Shurcliff’s original site lines and casting a pall over the delicate statues that line the lawn. Now the overgrown trees will be replaced by six-foot-tall spruce. In another nod to sustainability, several of the hulking trees were cut up to make a new lifeguard station at Crane Beach and used by Essex master boat builder Harold Burnham for schooner spar rigging.

What do all these efforts have in common? “We want to make sure people are inspired by our properties,” says Kendall. “Historically, we’ve been Â… thinking of our work as basically being done at the point that the place is acquired and that green sign is put up so people can come and visit. That was the end point, not the beginning.” Now the goal is to create places that encourage people to become more active in their own communities. “The real power for us is helping people be concerned about their own special places, too,” Kendall adds.

Achieving that difficult balance between engaging the public and protecting special places is not easy, Kendall notes, and it’s rather unusual in land trusts. “We are unique in that we preserve special places while ensuring the public has access. Many organizations seek to protect but don’t focus on the public engagement.”

If you’ve ever stood on Crane’s Beach or enjoyed farm-fresh veggies from Appleton Farms or brought your kids to hike the new nature trail in Ravenswood Park, you’ll feel very glad the Trustees are dedicated to maintaining that balance.


Holiday Happenings Several of the Trustees of Reservations properties run special events over the holidays. Here’s the rundown:

Greening of the Great House, Castle Hill on the Crane Estate, Ipswich Celebrate the holidays at the Great House on Castle Hill, festively decorated by area florists and designers. Enjoy live music, a dance performance, a children’s Eye Spy, refreshments, and more throughout the weekend. On Friday evening, stop in for live jazz music and a drink at the cash bar. On Saturday and Sunday, visit the Gift Gallery for distinctive holiday gifts. December 4-6, Noon-6 p.m. Members: Adult $8; Child $5. Nonmembers: Adult $12; Child $8. Ipswich residents: $5 with proof of residency. Ravenswood Solstice Stroll, Ravenswood Park, Gloucester Celebrate the Winter Solstice with a candlelight stroll at twilight in Ravenswood Park, followed by a cozy fire, s’mores, and hot chocolate. December 18, 4-6 p.m. Members: free; non-members: adult, $5. Free for children. Pre-registration required. New England Sled Dog Races, Appleton Farms, Ipswich If the snow flies, it could attract close to 10,000 people. Also depending on snow, the farm is hosting a number of guided cross-country ski programs, using the Old House as the meeting location/warming area. The property will also be offering winter kids’ programs, as well as maple sugaring programs. January 14-15.