Land trust celebrates 50 years of conservation

Jan 9, 2021

A town icon has just reached a new milestone: The Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust is celebrating 50 years of working to preserve land all across the town.

To celebrate its birthday, the DNRT is hosting socially distanced hikes as part of its 2021 “Reserve Retrospective Series.” The first, held on a slightly chilly Jan. 9 morning, took place at the reserve that started it all: the Grosswendt Reserve off Horseneck Road.

“This was one of the first properties along the Slocum River that was protected,” Development and Outreach Specialist Kendra Murray said to the group. “Aside from around 200 feet, this entire river is actually protected.”

New Bedford resident Anna Marie Ventura, who grew up in Dartmouth, said that she didn’t mind the brisk weather during the walk, noting that “it’s not too bad for January” and that walking let her build up “plenty of heat.” 

A big reason she came out to the walk, she said, was her love for the land trust’s work and a desire to see some of the trails she wasn’t too familiar with.

“It’s really interesting to see what the beginning of the whole movement was,” Venutra said. “[Grosswendt] was probably land that couldn’t be developed, but it got the ball rolling and people thinking.” 

During the walk, the small, masked group was able to both learn about the history of the trail and a little bit about the DNRT’s past half-century.

Established in 1971, Murray said the first property the trust tried to preserve was what is now the Star of the Sea Reserve off of Russells Mills Road. Unfortunately, she said, they were unable to do that half a century ago.

“That first acquisition wasn’t successful, but that’s okay,” Murray said. “Since then we have protected 5,500 acres of land here in Dartmouth — so we’ve done pretty good.” 

Executive Director Dexter Mead noted that things for the DNRT didn't really take off until the 80s when the land trust acquired what is now Smith Neck Farm.

“That was really the first property the DNRT actually paid money to buy,” he said, adding that up until that point, most of the properties acquired were gifted parcels of land that likely couldn’t be developed.

By the late 90s, the executive director said, the land trust “really had the resources to acquire properties,”  such as Destruction Brook Woods and Slocum’s River Reserve — and set up what has become the 40-mile trail system.

Moving forward, Mead said the land trust’s goal for 2021 is to encourage more walks along the trails through a challenge that would have people race across all 19 properties. Another plan, he added, is to do a commemorative publication and possibly host larger events later in the year once more people are vaccinated.

“It’s really been quite a 50 years,” Murray said. “A lot sure has changed since 1971.”