Greenbelt’s Essex County Open Space Conference

Second Biennial Conference a Success

Over 70 participants from 19 cities and towns attended Greenbelt’s Second Biennial Essex County Open Space conference in Haverhill earlier this month. Sessions included volunteer recruitment and management, land conservation and stewardship, addressing climate change in municipal land use planning, and discerning if your municipal open space is permanently conserved.

The conference encourages peer learning among municipal staff, volunteers, and residents involved in open space use and protection.  “We have such a tremendous pool of talented people working on all aspects of open space acquisition, planning, preservation and management across Essex County,” says Greenbelt’s President, Kate Bowditch.  “Until our Open Space Conference, there was not a central gathering space for these folks to meet with and learn from each other.”

Understanding the role of open space preservation in climate resilience was a consistent theme.  “The conference really underscored the important of protecting open space as a means to develop resiliency to our changing climate, “ said participant Rob Moore, who works for the City of Haverhill.

Noting that the past 60 years has seen a 55 percent increase in heavy precipitation and more dangerously hot days, keynote speaker Katie Theoharides, Massachusetts Assistant Secretary of Climate Change stressed that cities and towns are on the front lines of climate change.  Theoharides stated that more than 70 communities have joined the Commonwealth’s Municipal Vulnerabilities Preparedness program, which offers planning and implementation assistance to address sea-level rise and flooding.

Theoharides’  talk “provided excellent information for resilience planning,” said Susan Stott of the Andover Village Improvement Society.

“West Newbury will (now) be explicitly including  the role a parcel plays in climate resilience when evaluating open space parcels,” said Patricia Reeser, Chair of the town’s Open Space Committee.  New, free mapping software is available to help municipalities make these evaluations, and allows communities to best prioritize open space for climate change resiliency, said Abby Hardy-moss, Greenbelt’s Conservation Planner and GIS Director.

Conference participants also learned that preserving open space is just the first step.  Detailed monitoring to insure compliance is required.  “Too often there are insufficient procedures in place to manage a conservation restriction,” said David Rimmer, Greenbelt’ Director of Stewardship.  “Good record keeping, mapping and monitoring schedules are required once there is an understanding of what is prohibited and allowed.”

Greenbelt hopes to continue this biennial conference to encourage dialogue and sharing of resources across Essex County and statewide.  For a complete list of presenters and materials,  visit www.ecga.org/conference.

About Greenbelt:  Greenbelt – Essex County’s Land Trust works with local individuals, families, farmers and communities to protect the farmland, wildlife habitat and scenic vistas of Essex County. Since 1961, Greenbelt has protected more than 17,500 acres of local land. For more information, visit ecga.org or call 978-768-7241.